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Indigenous legal aid tender a 'shambles': MP

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 20 March 2004


Federal Member for Lingiari in the Northern Territory, Warren Snowdon, says if Indigenous legal aid services are tendered out more Aboriginal people will be jailed.

In Alice Springs on Friday, interested groups were briefed on the Federal Government's proposal to tender out Indigenous legal aid services.

Mr Snowdon says the quality of their representation will fall or they will not be represented at all.

"There is a very real view that if this tendering process proceeds, what we're going to get is increased incarceration rates from Indigenous Australians," he said.

"That'll mean increased costs for the Northern Territory Government and the taxpayers of the Northern Territory.

"Now what they ought to be doing is rethinking this whole strategy.

"I don't believe that it's appropriate to be tendering out these services and I don't think it should proceed."

The Central Australian Legal Aid Service (CALAS) also says if Indigenous legal aid services are tendered out, many people will miss out on representation.

CALAS spokesman David Bamber says the proposal suggests the winning tenderer would not represent people for many minor offences.

"A lot of our clients aren't able to represent themselves in any way, so if they don't have a lawyer appearing for them, they will be appearing before a court where they have no idea of what's going on," Mr Bamber said.

"[They will have] no ability within themselves to enter a plea and the whole system will be a shambles."

Mr Snowdon also says the Federal Government has made no attempt to inform Indigenous people about the proposed changes to legal aid services.

He says it is likely people living in remote Aboriginal communities in NT are unaware of the proposal.

"This is again an indication of the lack of interest in this by the Minister [for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Amanda Vanstone] in getting information out to Indigenous people who are ultimately affected by this change or prospective change; getting them to understand it or getting their views about it," Mr Snowdon said.

"There's been no attempt by that - there's been no attempt to get this information out properly."

CALAS says the briefing by the Federal Government on the proposal was worthless.

Mr Bamber said the structure of the briefing seemed to keep interest groups in the dark about the proposal.

"It wasn't much of a briefing, they read to us parts of the document that's already been supplied to us and then said we can ask questions, which weren't going to be answered except by way of posting some time on a website," he said.

"So we really didn't get anything out of attending the meeting."


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