The Guardian 16 March, 2005

Indigenous legal services
to be run by non-Indigenous

More Aborigines will wind up in jail if Aboriginal legal services are tendered out, a legal expert has warned.

Non-Indigenous legal services would not be as culturally aware and Aboriginal people would lose faith in them, lawyer Cleonie Quayle said.

Ms Quayle, a National Network of Indigenous Women Legal Service (NNIWLS) delegate, said that Indigenous crime statistics would most likely get worse if non-Indigenous Australians were allowed to run Aboriginal legal centres.

"The whole point of the Aboriginal Legal Service is that it was for Indigenous people to have a voice... and say 'this is where the legal system fails us'", Ms Quayle said.

"So Aboriginal people feel quite confident to be able to approach the Aboriginal Legal Service and say 'these are the areas you have to address'."

"If you've got non-Aboriginal people taking up tenders, not aware of the cultural issues, not aware of all the legal ramifications, Aboriginal people might be without a voice altogether and I should imagine you'd see an increase in people in custody."

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has already released tender requests in Victoria and Western Australia, and will do the same for Queensland this month.

The move could result in the demise of Federally-funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS), which have been running since 1972.

Critics of the new process argue that introducing a competitive element to Indigenous legal services provision could result in some clients being excluded.

Tenderers are also not required to be Indigenous organisations or hire any Indigenous staff.

"The Government has said [tenderers] don't have to be culturally appropriate they don't need to understand or meet the needs of Aboriginal people", Ms Quayle said.

"So if you have non-Indigenous services tendering for them... Aboriginal people won't be represented because those people won't know the issues on the ground."

Koori Mail, March 2005

Note: Australian Institute of Criminology found that Indigenous Australians are grossly over-represented in prisons. The rate of imprisonment is 13 times higher for Indigenous population compared to non-Indigenous population 1710 per 100,000 compared to 124. Three-quarters of deaths in custody since 2003 were Indigenous.

Back to index page