In Western Australia, one in fifteen Aboriginal men will spend tonight in jail, more women and children are being locked up, and deaths in custody remains a tragic reality that continues to change lives forever.
Amid this turmoil, the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA) struggles on with business as usual, all the while playing an anxious waiting game until the full extent of funding cuts is known, when the Budget is handed down in May.
For ALSWA CEO Dennis Eggington, the uncertainty about ALSWA’s future operations began back in 2013 when the Federal Government announced cuts of over $13 million to ATSILS around the country. It may surprise some to know that ALSWA receives no funding from the WA State Government and is funded solely through the Federal Attorney-General’s Department.
“What we’re dealing with is the drastic prospect that vital services could be denied to our society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Make no mistake, any cuts to our funding, whether large or small, will have a disastrous effect not only on those who depend upon our services, but also on WA’s justice system as a whole” said Mr. Eggington.
In Western Australia, Aboriginal people are incarcerated at an overwhelmingly higher rate than other groups, many winding up in court or prison without interpreter assistance, for there is no Statewide Interpreter Service for Aboriginal people.
“Any one of our lawyers could be required to take instructions from over 100 clients in one day in regional WA. That workload, coupled with the fact that the court system would grind to a halt if our lawyers and court officers were not in court for a day should ring loud warning bells to Government about how essential our work is and that we are already doing more, with less. There is no legal service in WA that could come close to the diverse, complex and challenging work that we do on a daily basis” said Mr. Eggington.
ALSWA implores the Federal Government to show strong leadership and recognise that any funding cuts to the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA will have dire consequences for those who so desperately need and deserve access to justice.