Justice investment in community legal assistance not enough

 

Aboriginal Family Legal Services WA (AFLS), a key legal assistance provider in the Pilbara, West Kimberley, Mid-West Gascoyne and Goldfields regions, congratulates Community Legal WA on its successful lobbying for a funding investment from the State Government in the legal assistance sector, as recently announced by the Attorney General. AFLS welcomes the investment in Community Legal Centres which, like AFLS, are severely underfunded.

Nevertheless, AFLS has expressed disappointment over the limited reach of the funding into the legal assistance sector over the next four years. The introduction of four-year funding agreements, and an additional $1.85 million for the community legal sector this financial year, will only be extended to Community Legal Centres. Specialist Family Violence Prevention Legal Services like AFLS and Southern Aboriginal Corporation, which provide legal assistance, preventative education and intensive support for Aboriginal victims of family and domestic violence, will not receive any funding under this deal. This is particularly disappointing when the services are members of Community Legal WA, but not ‘member enough’ to receive funding under this State Government arrangement.

AFLS CEO Corina Martin said that critical underfunding of Family Violence Prevention Legal Services in WA has placed constraints on the ability of the services to provide support for clients in need and created uncertainty about their future. “Family Violence Prevention Legal Services are in a particularly strong and unique position to drive systemic change and make a significant impact for Aboriginal people, yet we have been consistently underfunded and under-resourced. The State Government has never funded our services, yet they expect us to share our data, participate in their reference groups, and shape their strategies. This continued ignorance of the critical work we do to support some of the State’s most vulnerable and at-risk people is disheartening and shows continued systematic racism within Government, with an apparent distrust of Aboriginal Controlled Organisations to manage services for Aboriginal people.”

Ms. Martin emphasised concerns about non-Aboriginal organisations receiving funding to deliver services to Aboriginal people. “I am particularly concerned that there has been limited consideration of the demand for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to provide services to Aboriginal people, and instead a preference for non-Aboriginal organisations to receive that funding, despite not being Aboriginal controlled and often without an understanding of the particular culture, history and trauma of the Aboriginal people in the regions they operate.”

The growing disparity in demand for high-quality legal services in regional and remote Western Australia and the service gaps created by the State Government’s refusal to make long-term funding commitments to specialist Family Violence Prevention providers will only risk more harm to the communities who cannot be reached, or who only have access to culturally un-safe services.

“The barriers faced by Aboriginal people in accessing legal assistance and the justice system generally are well-established,” Ms. Martin said. “Lack of cultural competency and mistrust of mainstream legal services and their inability to respect the needs of Aboriginal women are issues that will not be resolved by throwing more funding at non-Aboriginal organisations.”

Ms. Martin urged the State Government to make long-term funding commitments to Family Violence Prevention Legal Services in WA, to provide the kind of steady income needed for the services to focus on improving and expanding service delivery across the state. “We look forward to seeing what investment the State Government makes in ensuring the sustainability of the service providers, and its commitment to improving outcomes for Aboriginal people, in the September State Budget,” she said.