Funding to provide legal services to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community has been denied to the 42-year-old Aboriginal Legal Service run by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC), and granted instead to the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.
The threat means the loss of $11.7 million over five years, and 15 jobs, many of them filled by Tasmanian Aboriginal people.
More than 150 members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community met on June 16 to hear about the loss, and to hear messages of support from the Law Society, the Women’s Legal Service, the Community Legal Service, the Greens and the ALP.
The Attorney-General’s department required the TAC to re-apply for funding for the legal service.
State shadow Attorney-General Lara Giddings said: “This is an absolute insult. You are the only Aboriginal service in the entire nation who were asked to apply for your own money. That says a lot in itself that this is an attack on the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and the Aboriginal Legal Service.”
The federal Attorney-General’s office cited “compliance issues” as the reason for the loss of funding.
TAC CEO Heather Sculthorpe called it a “pathetic attempt at justifying an atrocious decision” and a “slanderous slur”, explaining that the “TAC recently won its quality assurance accreditation at its first attempt”.
TAC secretary Trudy Maluga said: “We have achieved great things with our legal service, we have achieved land return, we have achieved compensation for the stolen generation, we have achieved the right to go and hunt and gather on our own land. Their objective is, close down the strongest legal service (in the country), and they’ll gradually knock the rest off.”
The decision contradicts the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, particularly the right to self-determination. The Aboriginal Legal Service was established by the Tasmanian Aboriginal community in 1972 and operates under the democratic control of the TAC State committee, made up of elected Aboriginal community members.
Former Supreme Court Justice, Pierre Slicer, who helped to establish the Aboriginal Legal Service, has vowed to come out of retirement to help fight the case.