Go to content

Legal Aid NSW releases report on the civil and family law needs of Aboriginal people in NSW

30 Oct 2009

MEDIA RELEASE Friday 30 October 2009

A report released today by Legal Aid NSW provides a detailed picture of the legal needs of Aboriginal people in New South Wales in areas such as family law, debt and discrimination. ‘While there is a lot of research on the experiences of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system, there is very little research on the impact of other legal problems on Aboriginal communities.

Legal Aid NSW commissioned the report on The Family and Civil Law Needs of Aboriginal people in New South Wales, by Professor Chris Cunneen, to help us to understand the broader legal needs of Aboriginal people,’ said CEO of Legal Aid NSW, Alan Kirkland. ‘Recognising that Aboriginal people are themselves best placed to identify their needs, this project was based on focus groups and stakeholder interviews in remote, rural, regional and metropolitan communities, including Dubbo, Bourke, Goodooga, Moree, Wagga Wagga, Tabulam, Mt Druitt and Redfern.

Focus groups involved Aboriginal community members in all locations and included a balance of men, women, elders and young people. ‘Professor Cunneen’s report shows significant levels of unmet legal needs in the areas of family and civil law. The areas of housing, discrimination, credit and debt and caring for children were areas of greatest need that were consistently identified in consultations.

Some communities also identified matters involving employment, neighbourhood disputes and social security as problems causing a lot of grief to individuals, largely without satisfactory resolution. ‘The report also identified some areas of the law in which there was not a high level of recognised legal need, possibly as a result of lack of awareness of legal rights.

These areas included victim’s compensation and wills. ‘Legal Aid NSW is able to provide assistance with most of the legal issues identified in the report, but the consultations demonstrate that we need to do a lot more to make sure that our services are culturally appropriate and available in the right parts of the State. ‘We have already embarked on a program of reform, which includes a strong emphasis on Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training. 125 of our 912 staff received this training in 2008-2009, and this will continue through 2009-2010.

We have also committed to increasing and improving outreach services provided in Aboriginal communities, building upon our work in assisting over 1,100 Aboriginal people to lodge claims with the Aboriginal Trust Fund Repayment scheme before the deadline of 31 May 2009. ‘In working through the report’s recommendations, we are committed to working closely with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT).

Our outreach services in ALS offices are an important way for us to provide culturally appropriate services and as we develop other ways to improve our services, we will look to continue our close partnership with the ALS.’ Media contacts: Alan Kirkland, Chief Executive Officer, Legal Aid NSW – (02) 9219 5925 Professor Chris Cunneen - 0403 904 540