The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (Congress) strongly opposes the decision by the Federal Government to cut funding to community controlled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

The government’s ‘hit or miss’ funding cuts to our organisations, at the beginning of their term and before the completion of their highly-publicised inquiries, endangers the collaborative approach offered by the Prime Minister.

Today’s news that the national body for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services is to be defunded is a significant blow and does not reflect an effort to engage in partnership.

Having a national body for the legal services increases the skills, experience and effectiveness of all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, and brings greater efficiency to the expenditure incurred by those legal services.

“Congress calls upon the Prime Minister to show leadership and understanding of the need for increased capacity in our organisations and communities. He can demonstrate that by ensuring the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services is retained and strengthened,” said Co-Chair Les Malezer.

“Our Peoples must be self-determining and will not accept Governments making decisions on funding priorities without us.

“Removing our capacity for policy reform and advocacy to legal assistance programs delivered by Aboriginal, community and legal aid services will affect the most marginalised and vulnerable members of our community.

“Congress supports organisations controlled by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to continue representing our interests and to provide expert advice on service delivery,” said Mr Malezer.

Congress recently made a strongly worded submission to the National Commission of Audit which reinforces our fundamental principles of self-determination and community decision making.

“Significant under investment by successive Governments makes our Peoples predicament comparable to some developing countries, “said Co-Chair Kirstie Parker.

“We cannot accept any reduction in Commonwealth spending on housing, remote infrastructure, legal services, community safety, native title, languages and culture, when investment and capacity building is what’s clearly required.

“We will continue to work with the Commission to engage with all of our members.

“Community input and ownership are highlighted as keys to achieve improvements by the Government’s own landmark reports – including the Department of Finance Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure (2011) and the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key indicators 2011 report,” said Ms Parker.

Read the Congress submission to the National Commission of Audithere.

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