Labor calls on the Turnbull Government to immediately reverse its damaging cuts to community legal services for Indigenous Australians, as an important first step in addressing the systemic failures in our justice system exposed by last month’s ABC Four Corners program.

The Government need not wait until the conclusion of the Royal Commission to act, and undo its grievous mishandling of indigenous justice funding. Under the Abbott-Turnbull Government, $13 million was cut from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services nationwide and $19 million cut from Community Legal Centres. Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services, which represent Indigenous victims of domestic violence, also had $3 million cut from their small budget. While funding for all these vital services has been slashed, demand has only increased.

Over the next few days Mr Dreyfus and Senator Dodson will visit a number of organisations and services in Broome which do important work to reduce Indigenous incarceration rates, including Kimberley Community Legal Services and the Broome Aboriginal Legal Service. Labor believes that engaging directly with the people who are involved in the Indigenous justice system is the only way to understand and solve problems and calls on Prime Minister Turnbull to do the same.

These services are crucial to reducing the shockingly high incarceration rates for juvenile Indigenous Australians. They offer free legal help when no other services are available, and are frequently the difference between purposeful rehabilitation and an extended jail sentence for Indigenous youth. Many services are on the brink of closing thanks to the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s funding cuts.

Undoing these cuts would be an important show of faith on the part of the Turnbull Government of its commitment to indigenous justice and a way to start fixing problems now, rather than in six months’ time. Stopping indigenous youth from ever entering institutions like Don Dale Detention Centre is a first step to making sure the abuse that occurred there never happens again.

Labor also calls on the Government to reconsider its opposition to the inclusion of Indigenous justice targets in its Closing the Gap reports, so the depth of the problem can be measured, and to explore alternative measures to incarceration such as justice reinvestment programs. The opportunity to act is there now and must not be wasted.


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