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Annual Report 2015 - 2016

Aboriginal community partnerships

The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) (NSW/ACT) Ltd is our key partner in delivering legal services to Aboriginal people in New South Wales.

Legal Aid NSW shares a very close and positive working relationship with the ALS.

The ALS is a key member of the Aboriginal Justice Committee chaired by the Director, Aboriginal Services Unit.

The Aboriginal Services Unit of Legal Aid NSW is responsible for managing the relationship between Legal Aid NSW and the ALS.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Plan supports culturally responsive legal services

This year’s launch of the Legal Aid NSW Reconciliation Action Plan 2015–2018 (The RAP) was a step forward to strengthen the relationship between Legal Aid NSW, the ALS and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The RAP sets goals that encourage us to aim higher, with practical commitments to improve access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The new RAP builds upon our 2013–2015 plan, continuing our successful strategies to increase access to our services, ensuring they are culturally responsive, and employing and retaining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the organisation.

The RAP is based on extensive consultation with key legal services and Aboriginal communities. It is an opportunity for Legal Aid NSW to work in true partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations to contribute to the cause of reconciliation and social justice in New South Wales.

The Legal Aid NSW RAP achieved ‘stretch’ status, which Reconciliation Australia only gives to those RAPS with long term, measurable targets that commit real resources to achieve their goals.

“I commend Legal Aid NSW for being a leader within the justice sector of the New South Wales government in the development of their Reconciliation Action Plan…As a key provider of legal representation services, with particular regard to their strong working relationship with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd, Legal Aid NSW is particularly well placed to contribute to the principles of reconciliation.”

Justin Mohamed
CEO, Reconciliation Australia

Lawyers Merinda Dutton and Carl Freer from the Legal Aid NSW Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities contributed to reaching the targets outlined in the new Reconciliation Action Plan.

Ensuring culturally competent services

We maintained a close working relationship with the ALS in accordance with our joint Statement of Commitment. Under the Statement of Commitment, Legal Aid NSW provided additional services to assist ALS lawyers in Taree, Coffs Harbour and Grafton. We also took appropriate referrals, particularly when ALS client conflict may lead to serious consequences within a community.

Reconciliation Champions went out into communities

A group of Legal Aid NSW Reconciliation Champions helped to meet targets and goals from our Reconciliation Action Plan 2015–2018. These dedicated members of staff attended Aboriginal community events such as NAIDOC Week, Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout in Dubbo, Yabun Survival Day Festival in Sydney, and Ella 7’s Rugby tournament in Coffs Harbour, making sure that Aboriginal people found out about Legal Aid NSW services.

Aboriginal Field Officers provide more flexible services

The Aboriginal Field Officer project, conducted in collaboration with the ALS, aims to provide flexible and practical help to Aboriginal people with their family and civil law matters. Field Officers have made a major contribution to making sure our services are culturally-appropriate and responsive. The program was evaluated and found to be highly effective in improving links between local Aboriginal communities and Legal Aid NSW regional offices and increasing the number of Aboriginal people using our services.

OBJECTIVE Excellence in legal services

Aboriginal cultural awareness training at our annual conferences

Practice-specific Aboriginal cultural competency workshops were held at the 2016 criminal and family law conferences. The full day workshops are a new model developed to cater to the specific needs of each practice area and have been developed by Aboriginal cultural competency experts and coordinated by our Aboriginal Services Unit.

Legal Aid NSW hosted 70 ALS lawyers at the criminal law conference and supported three ALS lawyers attending at an Australian Advocacy Institute course run for Legal Aid NSW criminal and family lawyers.

OBJECTIVE Strong partnerships

Partnerships start from the ground up

This year, we established partnerships with locally owned and managed Aboriginal community organisations through our new cultural awareness training with regional offices. This has included Bara Barang Aboriginal Corporation Central Coast (Gosford office) and Mirri Mirri Cultural Awareness Training, NSW Far North Coast (Lismore office).

Our care and protection lawyers worked with the ALS to provide care and protection services to Aboriginal families and established a protocol with Family and Community Services to ensure that Aboriginal families can be represented by the ALS whenever possible. Since 2007, Legal Aid NSW has funded ALS lawyers to provide legal services to Aboriginal clients in the care and protection jurisdiction of the Children’s Court outside metropolitan Sydney.

The family law practice provided family law and care and protection advice and assistance in a number of regions of New South Wales to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Family lawyers delivered regular outreach services to the towns of Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett and Nyngan and Port Macquarie where they have linked in with a number of services focused on assisting Aboriginal people. Services that focused on the needs of Aboriginal families were also delivered in Broken Hill, Moree and Wilcannia.

The civil law practice provided targeted civil law services to Aboriginal people across New South Wales in partnership with local Aboriginal community and community organisations. Lawyers provide an integrated service to help Aboriginal people with a range of civil law problems including housing, consumer and Centrelink issues. Services are accessible and responsive to the needs of Aboriginal people.

Icon for The year aheadThe year ahead

  • Respond to the internal review of the Aboriginal Field Officer Program to ensure the program provides vital links between Legal Aid NSW and Aboriginal communities that have been identified as having the highest need across the state.
  • Sign a new Statement of Commitment with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd.