NEW SOUTH WALES: A vital service which has helped prevent Aboriginal deaths in custody in the state has secured funding for the next two years from the federal Attorney General following a social media campaign launched by the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT.
The Custody Notification Service (CNS) has been running under its current incarnation since 2000 out of the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT). Since then, there has been no Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Under NSW legislation, a police officer must contact the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) whenever it takes an Indigenous person into custody.
They do this by ringing the 24-hour CNS, which until last year was funded by the Commonwealth.
It is a vital service – a lifeline – that not only offers legal advice, but also ensures an Aboriginal person receives culturally appropriate support in the stressful situation of being taken into custody. An ALS lawyer not only reassures the person in custody, but also their family and community.
It also provides accountability for the police.
Last year the Gillard government withdrew the funding, stating it was a state government responsibility.
But the O’Farrell government also refused to fund the service.
The already-underfunded ALS have been funding the CNS for the past year through a freeze on incremental pay rises and CPI rises in staff salaries.
But it couldn’t continue to do it – the staff are currently paid 30 percent less than legal aid staff, which lead to the ALS launching a full scale social media campaign.
Federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus this month agreed to $100,000 to fund the service immediately and also agreed nd has agreed that the ALS could use $400,000 in 2013-14 and $500,000 in 2014-15 from Labor’s 2013 Federal Budget night allocation to the ALS.
ALS CEO Phil Naden welcomed the funding and thanked the supporters of the campaign.
“We, the ALS want to thank 33,818 online petitioners, our Facebook ‘friends’, and our Twitter and YouTube ‘followers’ for their significant support and sharing of our campaign asking the Government to “Stop Aboriginal deaths in police custody by saving the Custody Notification Service,” Mr Naden said.
“We sent a hard copy version of the petitioner’s signatures and heart-felt comments to the Attorney-General of Australia and the Attorney-General of NSW two weeks ago.
“…This means the CNS has secured funding for a further two years.
“We will continue to seek ongoing funding for this essential life-saving service in 2015 – obviously our fight is not really over – but we’re glad for the breathing room to do so.
“For the last six weeks we’ve run an aggressive campaign to Save the CNS and bring Government attention to this essential service, and it’s obviously worked.
“A very large cross-section of the Australian community called on the government to fund the CNS particularly because there is enough evidence showing the CNS prevents Aboriginal deaths in police custody.
“Operational costs of $500,000 per year are a small price to pay for a service that has saved lives in NSW and ACT for so many years.”