‘Time to act now’: Next iteration of NLAP should prioritise self-determination and access to justice for Aboriginal Communities 

In the middle of Reconciliation Week, the Attorney General’s Department has released the final report of the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) independent Review.  

The NLAP Review, led by Dr Warren Mundy, has made a suite of much-needed recommendations to better provide access to justice for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Many of these recommendations are focused on the Federal Government’s commitments under Closing the Gap Targets 10 and 11 and working towards achieving Priority Reform Two.  

While VALS welcomes the Review’s 39 recommendations, we question why the Government have not yet committed to implementing the recommendations from a review that they commissioned themselves. The Federal Attorney-General has had the final report since March.  

VALS has previously expressed our disappointment with the Federal Government’s lack of transparency around the future of our funding, including their decision to not publish the final report of the NLAP review until after the Federal Budget.  

With the measly $15.4 million allocated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) in the 2024-25 Federal Budget, VALS hoped that the NLAP Review and the Government’s subsequent response would bring the commitment to longer-term funding that we need to continue meeting community demand.  

VALS urges the Federal Government to work with ATSILS to ensure that the next iteration of the NLAP, as recommended by Dr Mundy, prioritises self-determination and increased access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities, including through pay parity across the Community Legal Centre (CLC) sector.  

VALS’ high-quality, culturally safe services should be available to every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person in Victoria who wants to access them, but we need to be able to retain staff to deliver them. In a sector where vicarious trauma is high and our workers are vulnerable to burnout, we need stability and security to ensure that we can continue supporting our people to the best of our ability. VALS has been calling for pay parity between ATSILS and Legal Aid Commissions (LAC) to address the historical disparity between these two providers.  

Pay parity would address burnout and vicarious trauma, as well as acknowledging the unique and often complex needs of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.  

Access to culturally safe services is also a key measure to enliven the rights expressed by several Articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and essential to overcoming the generational impacts of colonisation. 

VALS welcomes the Review’s recommendation of an urgent injection of $12 million for ATSILS over 2024-25 to ‘expand their frontline workforce’ in order to address the level of unmet legal need currently experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.  

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service: 

“The Attorney-General’s Department has no defined strategy on how to engage with the sector to deliver on these reforms. Shame on them to release this report during Reconciliation Week with no plan or strategy to implement.”  

“I hope the Attorney-General has been following the Redistribution Week campaign and commits to transferring funding and resources to the essential services that support our community.” 

“I echo Dr Mundy’s calls for this review to lay the foundation for governments across all jurisdictions to reform how people access legal supports. This is yet another example of Aboriginal voices being loud and clear on what supports our communities need. It’s time to act now.” 

“VALS is a staunch advocate and we must be funded in a way that will allow us to continue upholding the rights of our communities. Informed by our clients and communities, VALS has advocated and achieved remarkable outcomes such as repealing public drunkenness laws and replacing it with a health-based response, or the amendments to Bail laws that mean people will be safer and less likely to enter custody.” 

“We look forward to working with the Attorney-General to ensure that the next phase of NLAP is meaningfully responsive to community needs and enables self-determination, so that we can have a stronger voice to make decisions on issues that affect us.” 

WE ACKNOWLEDGE AND PAY OUR RESPECTS TO THE CUSTODIANS OF THE LANDS ON WHICH WE WORK, COLLECTIVELY THE ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES OF SOUTH-EAST AUSTRALIA.

273 High St, Preston VIC 3072

vals@vals.org.au

1800 064 865

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