The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM) has lodged a complaint with the United Nations, saying racist government policies are denying justice to indigenous Australians.
The ALRM has asked the UN to investigate “racist policy and practice” by the federal and South Australian governments.
The ALRM is a non-government organisation in SA primarily providing legal aid services.
The organisation receives $A3.5 million annually from the commonwealth attorney-general’s department, funding which has been static since 1996.
ALRM chairman Frank Lampard said that since 1996, funding of mainstream non-indigenous legal aid had risen 120 per cent.
“The unfortunate outcome of such racist policy and practice has resulted in a lack of access to justice by Aboriginal people,” Lampard said in his formal written complaint to the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.
“Repeated requests over at least the past eight years to the commonwealth and state governments for additional funding to support ALRM programs … have been denied, and all avenues for our complaints have been exhausted within Australia.
“We wish for the government … to be held accountable for its lack of spending on Aboriginal legal aid to Aboriginal people.”
Lampard said the commonwealth and SA governments’ refusal to support ALRM legal aid services breached the UN’s convention for elimination of racial discrimination.
ALRM chief executive officer Neil Gillespie today said the situation was “appalling”.
“It’s denying access to justice for Aboriginal people,” he said.
“The commonwealth is a supplementary funder to the state, yet the state says it has no responsibility for Aboriginal legal aid and it’s a commonwealth responsibility.
“We are finding it increasingly frustrating … It is just unsustainable and that is why this dramatic and drastic step has been taken of referring our complaint to the United Nations.”
Gillespie said ALRM needed at least a doubling of funds.
“We have written to politicians, we have written to governments, we have written to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission – what more can we do?
“There is not much more that we can do short of asking the international community to put Australia under the microscope.”
Gillespie acknowledged there had been funding rises for other ALRM services but said legal aid was the organisation’s core service.
“The core program of legal advice and representation has been static since 1996 and that is our complaint,” he said.