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Vital Aboriginal Services Face Financial Threat

THE Redfern Aboriginal Legal Service faces a service crisis unless the Federal Government increases funding in the next Federal Budget reports Robert Burton-Bradley in Central of 7 May 2008.

The peak legal body representing indigenous Australians in need, the ALS provides a series of crucial legal services specifically for indigenous Australians, ranging from criminal defence, civil law, family law, to prisoner support programs and referral services.

ALS CEO Trevor Christian said the only funding the organisation received was a $13.2 million grant each year from the Federal Government, which is steadily eaten up by rising costs due to inflation.

Mr Christian said ALS services such as its Redfern centre were already stretched, and its operations would be severely affected unless the next three year federal grant, currently under negotiation, was significantly increased.

"We have asked the Federal Government about increases, because we will have to cut services at this rate," Mr Christian said.

"The main service we provide is the Telephone Custody Notification Service. It's a recommendation the 1987-1990 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and it's a requirement under NSW Legislation that NSW Police direct Aboriginals who are arrested to call it."

The line operates 24 hours a day and provides emergency legal advice to indigenous Australians who are taken into police custody.

"Redfern is one of the biggest areas, it's where we get most of our calls," he said.

"Just imagine if people are going to be signed up by police and making admissions they should not be making. You're not guilty until proven guilty and the solicitors advice helps people in these situations make the right decisions and protects them - it's an essential service.

"A lot more people will be getting custodial sentences without this service."

A spokesperson for Federal Attorney General Bob Debus said the matter was something that would be looked at in the next Federal Budget, and no comment could be made about an increase in ALS funding.

Source: Central 7 May 2008