Sir,– The Commonwealth Government has shown its disrespect and disempowerment of Aboriginal people with its decision through the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) to cease funding Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid (CAALAS) as of 31 December 2017. From 1 January 2018, relevant funding has been awarded to North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA).
“This is another slap in the face for Aboriginal people by the Commonwealth Government who are showing their true agenda of creating disharmony, division and contradicting their supposedly community-led decision making reforms such as ‘Empowered Communities’ and ‘capacity building of local Aboriginal people’ . It again shows the true spirit of the Commonwealth Government to neglect Aboriginal affairs which was recently demonstrated through the rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Referendum’s Council’s recommendation for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament,” said Chairperson Mr Terry Tilmouth.
CAALAS is proud of the high quality legal service it has provided to Aboriginal people of Central Australia over 43 years. We have led the development of cultural appropriate and relevant legal services, ensuring Aboriginal languages are part of all processes.
Since 1 January 2017 to present, CAALAS has conducted a staggering 7,631 legal matters.
“Aboriginal culture is not homogenous (one size does not fit all). Our service delivery recognises this. Aboriginal people in Central Australia see themselves as a distinct desert group, separate from the rest of the NT. Our Culture, languages and kinship systems are different to the NT and other states,” said Mr Tilmouth.
“We are deeply disappointed and upset that one of the oldest Aboriginal community controlled services that our old people from Central Australia fought hard for has been undermined by the AGD and other non Central Australian organisations,” Mr Tilmouth said.
This destructive agenda towards Central Australian Aboriginal people is devastating and will have long lasting affects across our region.
The Board acknowledges over recent years there have been issues with governance and management matters however significant steps recently have been made including a change in the constitution and a new composition of the Board. There were improvements being made to continue our strong service and strengthening our governance. Government has consistently recognised the high quality of our service delivery to our clients.
The Board over the next few weeks will consider the direction of CAALAS and what positive steps can be taken, in the interest of our community.
Leeanne Caton , Acting CEO, on behalf of the CAALAS Board
Images: CAALAS premises in Alice Springs (top) and Tennant Creek, from the CAALAS website.
FROM NAAJA CHAIRPERSON (excerpt):
“We feel extremely privileged to be extending our service into Central Australia and welcome the CAALAS team to NAAJA” said Ruby Stanley, NAAJA Chairperson.
“I would like to thank the CAALAS previous Chairperson Deborah Booker, previous CEO Eileen Van Iersel, current CEO Leeanne Caton and all the CAALAS staff for providing a valued service to Aboriginal people in Central Australia.
“NAAJA is led by an Aboriginal board and the increase of regional and remote representation, and specifically from the Central Australian region, will strengthen and enhance this focus.
“NAAJA is known across the Territory and across Australia as a high quality Aboriginal Legal Service provider and is well positioned to extend its legal services and provide a strong voice for the Territory.
“We will work closely with the CAALAS Board, Management and staff and the Central Australian community to ensure a smooth transition.
“Our priority is to ensure Aboriginal people have access to a range of Aboriginal legal services to meet their needs and help our communities stay strong”, said Ms Stanley.