Federal Budget to accelerate mass-incarceration as Government abandons Indigenous legal services and punishes people in poverty

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MEDIA RELEASE: Federal Budget to accelerate mass-incarceration as Government abandons Indigenous legal services and punishes people in poverty


3 April 2019

Change the Record has condemned the Federal Government’s Budget, demanding that the Government stays committed to self-determined legal services and stops punishing people struggling to make ends meet.

“Research shows that our people are locked up at such high rates because of the poverty we experience, especially for First Nations people with disability,” said Damian Griffis, co-chair of Change the Record.

“Instead of Budget providing a roof over our heads and meeting basic needs, this Government is punishing our people who are caught in the poverty trap. Sacrificing critical legal services and NDIS and punishing women through ParentsNext for budget surplus is inhumane - these are our lives they are playing with.”

The Government has decided to end the national standalone Indigenous Legal Assistance Program which funds all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, rolling it into a mainstream national mechanism.

“We are the most incarcerated people in the world, and the Attorney General is abandoning a 50 year commitment to a dedicated national program focussed on ending Indigenous disadvantage in the justice system and funding culturally safe legal services,” said Cheryl Axleby, co-Chair of Change the Record.

“Meanwhile it is the sixth year vital Family Violence Prevention Legal Services did not receive more funding. For 25 years there’s been no increase to Newstart. This Budget will mean even more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison, mostly women and children who are criminalised for surviving family violence and poverty.”

The Federal Budget has continued the punitive ParentsNext program, significantly expanded cashless cards in Aboriginal communities and continued the racially discriminatory work-for-the-dole Community Development Program.

“Government is punishing single Aboriginal mothers on ParentsNext and First Nations people in remote communities for experiencing poverty. Government is taking self-determination away through cashless cards, making us work for free and docking payments - like mission times,” said Ms Axleby.  

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability and women experiencing violence are less likely to have a home, which leads to courts denying bail and government removing children. Government needs to abolish or amend laws that target people experiencing poverty. We need Aboriginal-run support services, appropriate public housing and a robust social safety net.”

The Budget failed to provide much needed funding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled services.The Government reversed $16.7 million over three years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, and provided additional funding of $20 million for legal assistance broadly - a tiny fraction compared with the $310 million recommended by the Law Council and Productivity Commission. Aboriginal-run Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, disability services and child protection supports all went without funding.

“Many of our peak representative bodies who provide critical culturally safe services, essential to pulling people out of poverty, were not even invited to the Federal Budget lock up. We were told we were not a priority. We welcome the Disability Royal Commission funding but our people will need support participating with culturally safe services,” said Mr Griffis.

“Our people are trapped in prison due to poverty and need our community-controlled services. We are urging people to sign our petition to tell this Government that they must free our future, they must not punish our people living in poverty. This is a guaranteed way to cure Australia’s mass-incarceration epidemic,” said Ms Axleby.
For media comment please contact Roxanne Moore, Change the Record Principal Advisor, at 0409 711 061 or roxanne@changetherecord.org.au.

Change the Record has launched “Free Our Future: Don’t Punish Poverty”, a petition to end mass-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by fixing laws and policies that punish people living poverty.

Copyright © 2017 Change the Record, All rights reserved.

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