Aboriginal legal aid ‘not fit for purpose’

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By ERWIN CHLANDA

The troubled Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), which also services Central Australia and claims to be “back on track”, has only one of the 17 full time lawyers required for regular operations and only three short term lawyers on call.

This is disclosed by NT Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Shadow Attorney-General Michaelia Cash who say in a media release the information comes from the Attorney-General’s Department.

They say NAAJA is not fit for purpose as “75 Aboriginal Australians have been left to face local courts without representation since November 20 last year, 21 of whom have been remanded.

“Officials also revealed that core services are still months away from operating at the required level, with youth services resuming on March 1 and adult services to be gradually phased in from April 1,” says Senator Price.

Senator Cash says: “It is unbelievable that the situation was allowed to become this desperate. The warning signs were there, and they were ignored.”

IMAGE from the NAAJA website: 10 women graduated from the month-long Kunga Stopping Violence Program at the Alice Springs Correctional Centre in October last year.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Senator Cash is quoted as saying: “The warning signs were there, and they were ignored.”
    The fraught law and justice situation that Central Australian Aborigines find themselves in is nothing new. The warning signs have been ignored for a long time.
    It was in 2017 that the Turnbull Government’s Attorney General, George Brandis, pulled the rug from under Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS).
    Senator Brandis wrote to CAALAS: “I acknowledge CAALAS’ long history in providing legal assistance services to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Central Australia.
    “This is a decision I have not taken lightly and I understand that you will be disappointed.
    “I have decided to offer the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency Ltd (NAAJA) grant
    funding under the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program for the provision of Indigenous legal
    assistance services. NAAJA will be the funded provider in the southern region of the
    Northern Territory from 1 January 2018 to 30 June 2020.”
    I venture to suggest that the current dire situation may to a significant extent have its genesis in Senator Brandis’s shift of funding north of the Berrimah Line.

  2. The successor of George Brandis as Attorney General was Christian Porter who served on both the Turnbull and Morrison Governments. On April 9, 2019 on the ABC TV NT News there was an item featuring Yuendumu.
    NAAJA advised that due to insufficient funds it was unable to meet its obligations in the bush and that many of its clients would have to go to court unrepresented.
    When asked about this, Christian Porter responded by stating that funding for Aboriginal legal services had increased (by 43% in a decade).
    He did not mention the % increase in policing and incarceration of Aborigines over the same period. What I did not mention in my previous post is that when CAALAS’s client base was dumped on NAAJA it was done with inadequate funding.
    In an accompanying article NAAJA’s Principal Legal Officer, Jared Sharp, pleads that the current situation is not NAAJA’s fault and outlines what they are doing to deal with it.
    Now is the time to support them in their valiant efforts and not to take cheap potshots at them.

  3. Governments seem to like the lowest value$. Then governments blame those accused clients who regularly are under-supported. Worse, they blame in particular Australian defendants by racial tagging.

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