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Estimates: Cuts to NATSILS

Senator Wright asks questions about cuts to the national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.

Senator WRIGHT: I have a couple of questions on that same topic. In a sense, I am uncomfortable not having the minister and the head of department here. Some of these questions are probably information only, but some of them may border onto policy, as I may have to come back to them. At least if I can use the time that would be helpful, I think.

Mr Fredericks: Senator, we are happy to flag if we feel that it is not a question that we can answer.

Senator WRIGHT: My question is: are the cuts to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, the NATSILS, the same as were announced in last year's MYEFO?

Mr Fredericks: Yes.

Senator WRIGHT: Exactly the same figure?

Mr Fredericks: Yes, there have been no changes.

Mr Manning: Essentially, the budget is recording the decision which was made in the context of MYEFO.

Senator WRIGHT: Is it correct that the quantum of the cuts is $13.4 million over the forward estimates period?

Mr Manning: Yes.

Senator WRIGHT: I am interested to know how the cuts will be distributed across individual services.

Mr Manning: We do not know that yet. In relation to the cuts, the NATSILS funding will continue until 30 June 2015. There was also funding for the University of New South Wales, and that funding agreement expires on 30 June 2014. The rest of the savings are in the out years—2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18—and their impact will be determined as part of the government's revised legal assistance arrangements. So, essentially, all of the current ATSILS agreements are continuing till the financial year ending 2015. At that point in time, new arrangements will be put in place which will implement those savings.

Senator WRIGHT: So there will not be any cuts taking effect until 30 June 2015?

Mr Manning: That is right.

Senator WRIGHT: You have just explained about the eight ATSILS, but NATSILS includes the coordinating of the national body. Do they have a separate funding contract agreement and what is happening with that?

Ms Quinn: Yes, they do.

Mr Manning: They do, and it will continue until 30 June 2015 as well.

Senator WRIGHT: One of the concerns I have raised in estimates before is the uncertainty there. Staff are very uncertain about their futures—leaving, pre-empting being terminated and so on. So, in a sense, the uncertainty continues for another 12 months, in that there are not decisions that can be conveyed at this point about what will happen as at 30 June next year and into the forward years after that. Is that right?

Mr Fredericks: In essence, that is correct, but it is correct for what we would say is an appropriate reason. Obviously, you are aware that the government has received a number of reports in relation to legal assistance generally, including in relation to ATSIL funding. Essentially, the government is in a position where it can consider that information and determine what sort of reform it wishes to implement in legal assistance, including in relation to ATSILS, commencing from 1 July 2015.

Senator WRIGHT: At the last estimates I was asking about any analysis or modelling that might have been done in relation to the cuts, any prediction of incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians and any potential increase in those. Everybody is aware that there is a disproportionate rate of incarceration of Indigenous people in Australia. People are working hard to turn that around, without much success, it seems at the moment, sadly. Has there been any modelling or analysis since the last time I asked about that?

Mr Manning: There has not been.

Senator WRIGHT: The other question I had last time was: what provision is going to be made in terms of protecting so-called front line services? It was not really clear to me what that means. I do not know if you have a clearer definition of what front line services are now. How will front line services be quarantined from the cuts that are to take effect next year?

Mr Manning: Because the arrangements across all of the legal assistance programs are yet to be developed and negotiated with states and territories, I cannot answer that question other than to refer back to the Attorney's comments earlier about that being the government's focus in terms of how legal assistance funding is used.

Senator WRIGHT: I have a question about NATSILS, but it goes back to some questions that were being asked earlier in relation to cuts to community legal centres. The cut of $6 million to community legal centres in 2017-18 and the fact that the savings were to be found in 57 centres across Australia—was that was the evidence or the information that was given earlier? Am I right on that?

Mr Manning: Yes.

Senator WRIGHT: What I am wanting to know is, will Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services be affected by that $6 million cut?

Mr Manning: No. You mentioned a figure earlier of $13.34 million—that is the total savings from the Indigenous legal assistance program over the forward estimates. The community legal centre savings are separate.

Senator WRIGHT: So there will not be any others that have, at least, been identified at this stage.

Mr Manning: No. There was the savings at MYEFO and then those in the budget in relation to Legal Aid, and that is it.

Senator WRIGHT: Do you want to go to other questions on NATSILS at this stage?


Senator SINGH: We will come back to that later when the minister is here. I have questions or the chairs might have questions.

CHAIR: Senator Wright, if you have any questions on any of the group 2 things that you think the officials can deal with that you do not require a ministerial view of, please ask them in your 15 minutes.

Senator WRIGHT: I have a few more that I think are information. I might need to try and ask the Attorney if it is clear that they are not information. I ask about the review of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services. I understand that it is complete, and you have indicated that in your answers. When will the review report be publicly available?

Mr Fredericks: That is one of those questions I have to answer is a matter for government.

Senator WRIGHT: I thought there might a planned date, that is all. I think with the rest I have to wait until the Attorney-General is here, unfortunately.

CHAIR: That is fine. Senator Singh.


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