Australia's first on-demand Aboriginal video interpreter service has been launched in the Northern Territory.
Laura Morelli

28 Nov 2016 - 6:15 PM  UPDATED 28 Nov 2016 - 6:15 PM

NT Housing and Community Development Minister Gerry McCarthy says the free Aboriginal Interpreter Service will help those who do not speak English as a first language to access government health, housing and legal systems.

"Interpreters and clients can access these services remotely as long as they have technology, while cutting costs, travel expenses and travel time for both parties," he said in Darwin.

"There are more than 35,000 Aboriginal people in the NT who speak an Indigenous language at home."

Mr McCarthy said Territory Aboriginal patients in interstate hospitals will be able to understand medical information with assistance from the service.

There are more than 35,000 Aboriginal people in the NT who speak an Indigenous language at home, and the AIS will cater for about 35 languages via video and telephone.

"Sound interpreting services in our courts, provided by the AIS, contribute in a most fundamental way to the administration of justice, the maintenance of fair procedures in courts and rule of law generally," she said.

The AIS has installed audio and visual software in its Darwin, Alice Springs and Katherine offices, provided staff with 12 months of video interpreter training and built soundproof booths to ensure confidentiality.

There are plans add further languages in the coming months.

NT Supreme Court Judge Jenny Blokland says the AIS provides an invaluable service to the community.

Inspiration for other states

The Kimberley Interpreting Service CEO, Dee Lightfoot says everyone has a right to speak and be spoken to in their first language.

"Language and cultural interpretation is central to both the legal and ethical process in such circumstances. Interpreters for Indigenous persons are vital to the enactment of due process, natural justice and equality before the law."

Ms Lightfoot says she thinks it's a great initiative from the NT and hopes WA will one day be funded to have a similar service. 

"It's incredibly valuable... Naturally the preference is to always have an interpreter on site but that's not always possible, so this is the next best option," she said. 

"It's important to have that visual capacity to see their emotions, facial expressions and interpret their body language."

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