• Custody Notification Services are just one of many life saving measures that often fall through the cracks in State and Commonwealth funding. (Richard Milnes/Alamy Live News)Source: Richard Milnes/Alamy Live News
The federal government says it's listened, as it announces continued funding for community and Indigenous legal services.
24 Apr 2017 - 9:01 AM  UPDATED 24 Apr 2017 - 12:39 PM

Australia's most vulnerable people will keep their access to legal services with the federal government announcing it will continue funding for another three years.

The government will include $39 million of funding for community legal centres and $16.7 million for Indigenous legal services over three years in its May 9 budget.

The money takes funding for the services to 2020, when a national partnership agreement with the states and territories ends. Afterwards, all jurisdictions will have to negotiate a new funding deal.

The new money for community legal centres will be prioritised for services that help domestic violence victims and their children.

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“The government has always recognised the essential role of the legal assistance sector in providing access to justice for the most vulnerable Australians," Attorney-General George Brandis, Minister for Women Michaelia Cash and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said in a joint statement on Monday.

"This record funding acknowledges this and has been achieved despite strong budgetary pressures."

Labor has labelled the decision a win for campaigners across the country and a humiliating back down for Attorney-General George Brandis.

The coalition has come under sustained fire from Labor, minor parties and community groups for not guaranteeing ongoing funding to the legal services, with previous commitments set to end on July 1.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said while the reversal of the expected cuts was welcome; it was beyond time for the coalition to stop toying with funding for such vital services.

"The uncertainty faced by the centres in recent months and years has been incredibly damaging, with many already losing experienced staff and unable to plan for the future. It's unacceptable," he said in a statement.

Comment: Every State and Territory must roll-out the Custody Notification Service
Several recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987 to 1991) screamed for the enabling of immediate support to detainees through highly skilled advocates. Today, this support exists through the Custody Notification Service (CNS), but only in NSW and the ACT. With nearly half the nation’s arrests comprising of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, it is unjustifiable that the rest of the nation has not implemented this service.
Federal funding saves Indigenous Custody Notification Service
The federal government has stepped in to fund the Aboriginal Legal Services' Custody Notification Service until 2019, while chastising the NSW government for not stumping up the money itself.

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie in March accused the government of "sledging welfare recipients with a hammer" and said everyone should have the right to legal representation whether they had money or not.

Senator Brandis said he had been working with community legal groups, as well as the Indigenous legal sector, to secure the outcome.

"The government has decided to make this announcement today because it is an important announcement for the sector," he told ABC radio on Monday.

"The sector has been waiting, hoping that the government would see their point of view, and we've done and we've delivered for them," he added. 


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