Funding for the Aboriginal Legal Service’s Custody Notification Service CNS will cease on June 30.
Myles Morgan

4 Jun 2015 - 4:03 PM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2015 - 8:32 PM

Since 2007, the CNS has been funded by the Federal Attorney-General’s Department through annual grants. The Commonwealth took over funding for the CNS when the New South Wales government stopped funding it, even though it was NSW legislation which saw the service's creation.

The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) Acting Chief Legal Officer Jeremy Styles said, "Unlike past years where we've managed to get the Commonwealth to come to the table and fund the service, there’s no money coming in our direction this year and we’re really concerned about managing to continue the service.

"[It provides] access to a partisan voice, a friend, a person who can guide them through the system, with welfare issues, with family issues and also give them direct legal advice about their rights."

The ALS has gone public with its calls for about $500,000 in funding through an online petition that has already gathered over 30,000 signatures.

"This is a really inexpensive service in our view; this is legal advice and welfare checks. The per call cost is around $32 a call," Mr Styles said.

Under New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory law, police agencies are legally obliged to call the Custody Notification Service if it has an Aboriginal person in custody. The CNS also allows Aboriginal people to receive culturally appropriate legal advice from ALS lawyers. According to the ALS’ last annual report, the CNS fields about 300 calls per week.

There have been no Aboriginal deaths in custody in NSW and the ACT since the creation of the service in 2000.

There have been no Aboriginal deaths in custody in NSW and the ACT since the creation of the service in 2000.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was unaware the service was about to lose its funding.

"You are putting a matter of detail to me that I haven't been briefed on but we are very determined to ensure that we fund the services we need, provided they're working well," he told NITV News at a press conference in the Canberra suburb of Holt on Thursday.

"Just because a service has previously been funded doesn't guarantee it will always be funded. It's got to be working well and it's got to be supplying a contemporary need," he told the media.

The Aboriginal Legal Service said the need for continued funding for the CNS was urgent.

"If there’s any argument about contemporary or current need, I think it's fairly simple but horrific to say that other states, without this service, have had deaths in custody in the last couple of years. That horrific fact speaks volumes about the need for our service," Mr Styles said.

In the last year, two Aboriginal people have died in police custody: one in Western Australia and the other in the Northern Territory.

The ALS claimed it did apply for continued funding through the Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy but was unsuccessful.

In a statement, the Attorney-General's department said the "Commonwealth has committed $1.6 billion for legal assistance in the next five years, including $300 million for Indigenous legal assistance services."

The department said indigenous legal services, including the ALS, should "prioritise their funding to where the need is greatest to ensure Indigenous Australian’s legal needs are met."