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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Legal aid and access to justice
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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Legal aid and access to justice
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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENCES COMMITTEE
(SENATE-Tuesday, 11 November 2003)
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Content WindowLEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 11/11/2003 - Legal aid and access to justice
CHAIR —I welcome representatives from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement. I will ask you to commence your opening statement—which will take us to just before 11 o'clock—and, if necessary, to continue after 11 o'clock. We will adjourn for a couple of minutes at 11 o'clock on the 11th. At this stage, do you have any amendments or alterations to your submission?
Mr Gillespie —No.
CHAIR —Mr Gillespie, I now invite you to make an opening statement. If I interrupt you rudely, you will know why.
Mr Gillespie —I will be very brief. You have a copy of our submission to the Senate inquiry. It is my intention to address the key issues that we have raised in that submission, but I will preface that by saying that, in our view, ATSIC and now ATSIS itself are grossly under funded with regard to legal aid moneys. In reading most of the submissions from the ATSILS that have been submitted to the committee, there is a commonality amongst the ATSILS and, indeed, the Legal Services Commission report.
I do not think I need to go into any great detail, but I will mention that our national voice, NAILSS, which is the National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat, was recently defunded. I have written to the chair of NAILSS, asking that he convene a meeting of all the CEOs for ATSILS across the country, for the simple reason that we no longer have a national voice, that we do not have any lobbying. In that paper that I put to Frank Guivarra, I highlighted 11 issues that fundamentally affect our organisation—and I will provide a copy of this letter to your secretariat after the meeting. I am hoping that we can bring the CEOs together to further discuss our problems, because this links in with this Senate inquiry as well. We are very keen to pass on the message to the new minister, Senator Vanstone, and also to the CEO of ATSIS, Wayne Gibbons, so we are hoping that Frank Guivarra will convene that meeting and bring those two individuals to meet the CEOs.
Today, I have changed the approach that I was going to use to address this committee, for the simple reason that yesterday my office received an audit report on the ATSIS law and justice program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services. The Australian National Audit Office delivered this to me yesterday, and I have been up since three o'clock reading it from cover to cover. It tells me that I need to address that report and also ATSIC's own evaluation of the legal and preventative services program conducted by the Office of Evaluation and Audit, which was issued in January 2003.
Both these reports, particularly the Australian National Audit Office report, provide compelling evidence that, firstly, there are fundamental problems in the way funds are allocated across the country and, secondly, the funding is inadequate. It highlights also that organisations like ALRM are poor cousins to the general mainstream Legal Aid. I know that they are grossly underfunded and we are as bad, if not worse, in our funding compared with the Legal Services Commission. We are both at the tail end of society, if you want to call it that, in that we are picking up the pieces, in particular, for the most disadvantaged group in the country. I will be focusing my response today by highlighting some of the observations that are contained in both these reports. I do not wish to repeat what is in our submission because you have read that. These two compelling reports highlight the problems that we are facing on a day-to-day basis. Those are my general introductory remarks. If you wish to go for a break now, that is okay by me.
CHAIR —We might get one question in. You might want extra time to answer this. There seems to be three different issues that you are raising: one is the level of legal funds, two is the priorities and three is the process that you seem to be about to be encumbered with in terms of how you allocate those funds. Would you like to address those three aspects? Perhaps the first before 11 o'clock and we will come back to the others later.
Mr Gillespie —With regard to funding, I refer you to page 18, table 1 of our submission. You will note that since 1998-99 we have suffered a $50,000 reduction in our funding from $3.47 million to $3.42 million.
CHAIR —What is that in real terms?
Mr Gillespie —That is actual dollars. In real terms we have had a substantial reduction rather than just a loss of $50,000. Once you take into consideration the loss of purchasing power of our dollars you will understand why we exhibit frustration in the total funding of ALRM. We have staff, for argument's sake, who are on 30 per cent less than their counterparts in the Legal Services Commission. I was at a function the other day and I found out that I am on far less than my counterparts—CEOs in native title representative bodies. The average salary there is in the vicinity of $140,000. My salary is 50 per cent of that. That is indicative of the plight in our funding. We cannot afford to pay our people the dollars they command.
CHAIR —We will pause there and come back in three or four minutes.
Proceedings suspended from 10.59 a.m. to 11.05 a.m.
CHAIR —Mr Gillespie, you were answering the first part of the question.
Mr Gillespie —You asked about priorities and process, and I will hand those two sections over to my colleague, Christopher Charles.
—The point we would make about priorities is that the first port of call is our yearly funding submissions to ATSIC, now ATSIS, and what we say are needs for expansion of services. For many years past, we have been saying that we need another lawyer, we need another field officer in Port Augusta, we need to reopen our Coober Pedy office and we need to service the south-east of South Australia. We are appallingly aware that we have one family lawyer in Adelaide who is supposed to deal with the needs of the aboriginal communities in the broader Adelaide area in respect of family law, let alone Murray Bridge, let alone the near north and let alone the York Peninsula and the communities around there. Our funding submissions year after year say that we can identify where the needs are, which are not being met. All of our funding submissions seeking extra resources for these areas are always rejected on the basis—and Neil will go into the process in more detail—that there is never, ever any negotiation over our funding submissions. There is a lump of money which is carved up between the states on the basis of a formula which is inadequate, and the fact that we identify further needs constantly is, frankly, ignored.
CHAIR —Who are the decision makers here?
Mr Charles —ATSIS. It was ATSIC; it is now ATSIS. That is the point we make about it. We are acutely aware, for instance, that there is an enormous unmet need in respect of family violence. There is an acutely unmet need in respect of the protection of women and children through the Family Court process. As I say, we have one lawyer—an exceedingly dedicated woman—who is working in the office most weekends, and she desperately needs assistance. It is outrageous that she is expected to do what she is doing in the face of enormous unmet need. That is one point about priorities. It is simply a matter of looking at our annual funding submissions and what does not get met and what gets ignored in respect of it.
In respect of the processes for the allocation of funding, the formulae that are used are inadequate. Again, a constant theme in our funding submissions to ATSIC and ATSIS is, `What is a matter? What is the means that you use to measure the resources required to provide legal assistance to Aboriginal people in South Australia? How are you to compare a guilty plea done on a sausage machine basis on the north-west circuit with a complex family law matter in Adelaide? Are they both regarded as one matter when one would require enormously more effort than another?' There is no proper basis for measurement or for comparison within South Australia or between the states in respect of the differences in the jurisdictions—for instance, criminal law matters in New South Wales might operate on a different basis from that of South Australia. Again, there is no basis for comparison. We point to the fact that ATSIC was involved in working on a process called the ALSIS program to do measurements of these fundamental questions of proper measurement and commensuration. It was not proceeded with. It is a fundamental problem and we simply say, `Go to our funding submissions year after year and you'll see what we think are the unmet needs,' but even if you were to do that we entirely agree with what our colleagues from the commission said about the need for appropriate and proper measurements of what is lacking in legal aid.
CHAIR —In terms of those unmet needs, your submission refers to the imprisonment rate of Indigenous people as opposed to non-Indigenous people as being 16.8 times more in respect of males and 24 times more in respect of females. Can you go behind those stats and help us with information as to whether that is happening in the cities or in the country? Are there any major causes for it that we should be alerted to? To what extent can you assist those people?
—Once again, we are in the same position as the commission. We are aware, in general terms, of the law and order campaign and the increase in criminal penalties. We are looking at a new bill at the very moment, talking about increasing penalties for aggravated offences, let alone what has been said about the serious criminal trespass. All these matters indicate that the contestation of criminal matters is going to be the more difficult and the more expensive, because the stakes are greater, the penalties are greater. The imprisonment rate for Aboriginal people correspondingly rises, because we say that the matters which were to address the underlying issues behind Aboriginal imprisonment rates, which were identified in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, were never properly addressed in this state.
CHAIR —I suppose the follow-up question is: this is your current environment, but how will the proposed tendering process affect what you are doing?
Mr Charles —Ironically there have been some useful effects and side processes. ALRM identified in the submission that we needed to deal with our internal operations, particularly in respect of the governing body. We are now getting some amendments to our constitution, which will be fundamental and far-reaching, which will go to the annual general meeting on 27 November. We think that they will have significant savings efficiencies, increase the standard of operation of the organisation in respect of corporate governance and make us better prepared to deal with the process of competition. We make the fundamental observation in our submission that provision of legal services to Aboriginal people is not an appropriate matter for a market whether you call it a quasi-internal market to a funding body or not. It is still not an appropriate matter to be considered as being a market, because it is not a matter that the private profession is really interested in at all—for the same sorts of reasons that our colleagues from the Legal Services Commission of South Australia have identified.
CHAIR —Will that new approach give you greater flexibility in catering to some of the needs or will it make it harder for the dollar to go as far as it has gone in the past?
Mr Charles —We are concerned that it may go the other way: it may provide the funding body greater means to control what we do and greater means to perhaps disregard our views as to what the real priorities are and the way they should be met.
Senator SCULLION —It is interesting that the South Australian government and other governments around Australia have dealt with a supposed increase in crime and trespass by increasing the penalties, and clearly that is supposed to decrease criminal behaviour. You indicate that, certainly in the short-term, this is not going to be the case and that it is going to increase the workload.
Mr Charles —There has been no consideration of extra funding at all.
Senator SCULLION —In the context of Indigenous communities, it is very difficult—particularly if you do not know about the increased penalties for certain activities, but even if you do—because clearly substance abuse diminishes your capacity to make that connection. From your work with Indigenous communities and clients, particularly in association with substance abuse, can you talk about some of those issues and how they are going to impact by increasing or decreasing the need for legal aid?
—These are matters of great importance. The fundamental point is, when you are dealing with a community which has massive social problems—I think I mentioned to you privately one example of a community that ALRM has assisted—it is a matter of getting the governing body, particularly, of that community to recognise that it has a problem and being prepared to go through the hard yards of instructing the legal service to assist it, as we did, to go to the licensing court to get the licences of local liquor outlets changed to stop the massive amount of grog coming into the community. When you do that, you get the corresponding decreases—which were measured in the community we acted for in relation to domestic violence and presentations to the clinic for alcohol related illness. A very simple point: once you have followed up the royal commission recommendations about addressing licensing issues, you can have an impact. It relies upon absolutely close consultation with the community and the community organisations. If they do not support it, it is going to get nowhere.
You also need to have a whole-of-government approach with support from ATSIC and ATSIS and the police department—and we are glad to say we have a very good relationship with police in respect of those issues in outlying communities. Welfare and other associated human services organisations need to be involved, as well as the courts. If you do that, you have a chance to give the community breathing space so that the community development operations, which are supposed to be behind CDEP et cetera, can get started in getting people away from substance abuse and thinking about changing their lives to being more sensible; otherwise legal aid is simply a guilty plea bandaid service. We point to the fact that, if you can get close cooperation between governments and organisations like ALRM, you are going to be able to make some headway. But you have to get the cooperation to make it work. These issues require more attention and more should be done about them, in our submission.
Senator BUCKLAND —You heard the earlier evidence today and you are aware that Legal Aid does the Pitjantjatjara land circuit; it does work in Coober Pedy and places like that. Is the ALRM called upon at times to represent non-Indigenous people? It may be just short appearances or whatever.
Mr Charles —There is provision in our funding guidelines, which are the basis of our charter for action, for us occasionally to act for non-Indigenous spouses. It does not arise very much. To take up your point in relation to the north-west circuit, ALRM was again privileged last year to act for the families in the petrol sniffing inquest. The coroner's findings at the inquest were of fundamental importance in terms of improving governments and improving outcomes. There needs to be strong monitoring of the state and federal government's responses to those findings to improve, in particular, things like the government's reactions to the assistance of community controlled organisations. This needs to be done to make a difference to the way in which people can live in communities, to help people who are already brain-damaged and to help stop the children from starting to sniff et cetera. As the police department's statistical survey showed, this is fundamental to the question of criminal representation in the APY lands.
If you can make some headway in relation to dealing with sniffing, you are going to be doing an awful lot about the criminal representation question. We say it is important to be dealing with the criminal representation effectively and well but, if you do not deal with the underlying issues properly, you will continue to be a bandaid. It is important that governments recognise that Aboriginal legal services know a great deal about the social policy implications and about affecting and going to underlying causes. Basically, governments should seek our advice and assistance in dealing with that. When we say monitor it, we mean it. You need to monitor it because, if it is not monitored, the impulses flowing from the royal commission and now the petrol sniffing inquest will just dissipate and be lost when there is a great opportunity to look at the fundamental underlying causes. We say that is terribly important and goes to the means to prevent Legal Aid for from just being a bandaid.
Senator BUCKLAND —I would like to pick up the point you made that we were only applying a bandaid. The experience I have for framing this question is based mainly around Port Lincoln—where I have got fairly close relationships—and the west coast. I understand that we are dealing with the law and providing services to those who need help because the law has been broken or perceived to have been broken. Do you think one of their big difficulties we are confronted with here is post-sentencing assistance?
Mr Charles —That is terribly important. When I started work in Port Augusta in 1980 in the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, we had an alcohol rehabilitation farm at Baroota. Many of my clients would get bonds from the Magistrate's Court, they would spend six to nine months at Baroota, they would get off the grog and would come back into the community a lot better than when they went into Baroota. They would not be in prison for alcohol related offences—rather, they would be rehabilitated. That is gone. It is not there any more. It is a terribly sad loss.
Impulses towards having alcohol rehabilitation centres on the west coast have been talked about ever since the royal commission in about 1990. There has been lots of talk but it has not happened yet. Unless you have effective community based and community controlled organisations able to assist offenders to cease their behaviour—or to get away from the problems which lead to offending—then the best will in the world, the most sensible magistrates, the best legal aid services will get nowhere. You have got to have the underlying services based within and controlled by the communities that need them and know best how to deal with them. It is a fundamental point and I thank you for raising it. I make that point particularly in relation to the Nunga court process. Nunga courts are very effective; they are very good operations but they need to have community controlled organisations backing them up to provide the support and assistance to keep people away from the impulses that lead to criminality. It is a simple point.
Senator BUCKLAND —I thank you for that because it is something that disturbs me, particularly when I am in those two communities. It comes up time and time again, and my office has dealt with a number of those issues. Also, could you complete the answer to an earlier question about representing non-Indigenous people. You said something about sometimes being called upon to help the spouses.
Mr Charles —The Legal Aid guidelines, which we are bound by and which are provided by ATSIS, specify that in some circumstances we can act for non-Aboriginal spouses when to act for a non-Aboriginal spouse would assist in the life of an Aboriginal person who would be our client otherwise. So we can act for non-Aboriginal spouses and that is about it.
Senator BUCKLAND —Is the funding line the same for that—it is out of ALRM funding—or is there separate funding for it?
Mr Charles —No, that is from within ATSIS funding, within their guidelines.
Senator BUCKLAND —Thank you.
—Just to clarify what Chris said, the circumstances in which we provide that support are when, say, the parent of an Aboriginal child is a non-Aboriginal person and it is in the interests of the child that we provide that service. I thought I would just make that clear.
Mr Charles —I would like to make one point in summary in relation to these points about the way in which we work to look after people in the bush, and it is adding to what Peter Duffy said. There is a very strong historical relationship of cooperation and support between the Legal Services Commission and the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, particularly in Port Augusta and Whyalla. We have worked together for years; we have been friends for years. It is as simple as that. We always have to bend the rules to get the best possible results for everybody. We do so all the time. We always assist each other and support each other but again, if the system were properly funded, perhaps we would not have to do what we do in order to get the best results—by acting like country GPs, as Peter put it so well. Thank you.
Mr Gillespie —I would like to move to the Office of Evaluation and Audit report. On page 44, it highlights the efficiency and effectiveness of ALRM. According to this chart—and this is an independent assessment—we are regarded as the most effective and efficient legal service in the country. We were funded to the tune of $3.4 million for the year 2000-01. The value of the work that we provide, if it were provided by the private sector, is $9.1 million; hence there is an effectiveness measurement of $5.6 million. When you have those types of financial data, you would have to scratch your head as to the business sense of putting an organisation like ALRM out to tender. I will not go through all the recommendations within this report but it does highlight a couple of things. One is that the ATSIC board should continue to press the government for increased funding for ATSILS in the context of the Commonwealth budget, and a number of the recommendations reinforce that.
Another recommendation, No. 20 says `that ATSIC should address, as a priority, the high levels of workload, staff turnover and dissatisfaction with working conditions among ATSILS legal practitioners'. We can attract newly graduated lawyers but we need experienced lawyers who are trained appropriately in Aboriginal culture. A case in point is that, for Ceduna, it took us in the vicinity of 12 months to attract an individual to take up an appointment there. The man lasted six months and suffered burnout, and, again, it took us almost another 12 months to replace the individual—firstly, because of the remoteness, secondly, because of the difficulty in dealing with some of our clients and, thirdly, because of the salary levels. I encourage the committee to have a look at that report and the various recommendations because it is—
CHAIR —Could you give us the full title, for the record?
Mr Gillespie —The full title is Evaluation of the legal and preventative services program. It was published in January 2003 by ATSIC's own Office of Evaluation and Audit. I mentioned earlier the National Audit Office's performance audit on ATSIC's law and justice program. Although I am a little bit blurry-eyed—if I bumble through, you will understand why; I got up so early—I wish to highlight a couple of the audit findings, which are quite relevant to your inquiry. On page 12 the National Audit Office found:
... there was no current strategic or business plan, or risk assessment plan, for the Law and Justice Program that linked the objectives and planned outcomes to tasks for implementation.
ALRM, incidentally, follows best practice. We have a strategic plan. Yet we are being told that we as an organisation should pursue best practices. However, ATSIS itself does not follow its own instructions to us. The ANAO report found that, for the reforms that ATSIS is undertaking:
... implementation has been slow.
It also found that implementation of ATSIS's state direction strategy:
remains largely incomplete, and to date the Strategy has had little impact on the arrangements under which ATSILS operate.
Further, at point 8, the ANAO report said that, in June 2003, the ATSIC board approved the tendering process. This is a substantial shift from the existing grants process and, as well as providing new opportunities, presents new risks:
The timeline for the introduction of the new tendering arrangements is short and, as such, demands discipline in planning and risk management as part of a sound control environment.
This is something that we have been highlighting to ATSIC. They wanted to put us out to tender, but they overlooked the fact that there are legal obligations that our lawyers have to abide by in the event that we are an unsuccessful tenderer. Also, we have accrued liabilities. When funding ceases, we are still obligated to pay those liabilities. It is something that we have never been funded for. The ANAO report highlights the fact that there is a distinct lack of communication between ATSIS and their potential service providers, such as ALRM. Further, at point 11 in the key audit findings, the report says:
... many Regional Office staff—
considered that they did not have sufficient documented guidance and appropriate training related to the administration of the Law and Justice Program to do their job well.
Further, in relation to finding 13, the report said:
... the roles and responsibilities of the various areas of ATSIS involved in the Law and Justice Program had not been formally articulated, as better practice would dictate. Staff and grantee organisations—
had mixed levels of understanding of these arrangements.
Hence our confusion as to the conduct of ATSIC in putting us out to tender.
Although generally adequate, there have been difficulties in communication between Regional Offices and other parts of ATSIS.
Further, at finding 15, the Audit Office found:
... ATSIS has not given adequate consideration to determining the most efficient means of providing assistance to service delivery organisations. Annual funding of service providers under the Law and Justice Program (rather than multi-year funding) places an unnecessary and costly administrative burden on ATSIS and those organisations requiring the financial assistance.
This was one of our complaints about ATSIC, following the recommendations from the royal commission: that we need training or funding. It is good that the Audit Office recognises the problems that we face.
CHAIR —Is there much more that you need to read? Committee members have some questions.
Mr Gillespie —I will be quick. We have been pressing for professional indemnity insurance for ATSILS. Our insurance costs have been dramatic over the last few years. As we have indicated our funding has, in real terms, gone down. The Australian Cricket Board has put together a national program for cricket clubs. We have been pushing ATSIC, and now ATSIS, to provide something similar for us. The response is that we should provide for our insurance within our budget. This audit report is recommending some form of national scheme. A number of systematic problems exist within ATSIC—and this is not a bashing of ATSIS or ATSIC. The problems with regard to legal aid and ATSILS are such that they do not have a real basis—I think Hamish Gilmore highlighted this—and there needs to be some sort of analysis or diagnosis right across the country to identify needs and the gaps in those needs in service delivery and to come up with workable solutions. One of those workable solutions would be to provide adequate resources to legal aid organisations like the commission and specific organisations that tailor for specific clients like ALRM.
CHAIR —In terms of that assessment, you would recommend that the system prioritise family violence? That seems to be the one issue that you have both raised this morning.
Mr Gillespie —Most certainly.
CHAIR —There are no stats of the incidence of it in South Australia, but from your experience you would be looking at another person, at least, working in the area out of your office or would it be greater than that?
Mr Gillespie —I think we would need more than one person from the office to do—
CHAIR —What have you asked ATSIC for?
Mr Gillespie —From memory, we have asked for—
CHAIR —Come back to us on that, if you like.
—Yes. I am pretty certain that we have asked for at least two people in the family violence area. From what I can recall, approximately $300,000-odd within our budget. We put a lot of time and effort into our budget, and we asked for negotiations on the budget. Unfortunately, we are allocated about two-thirds of what we ask for and then we have to reformulate our budget to fit within what has been allocated to us.
CHAIR —In terms of the competitive tender proposal, have you done any forward planning or forward thinking as to what that may mean to the level of work you do now and where you may have to cut back?
Mr Gillespie —We are a little bit more optimistic. We are hoping that ATSIS will recognise that we are a quality organisation. Chris alluded to the changes that are affecting our organisation with regard to governance, which has been a little bit of a problem for us in the past. We are keen to expand our service delivery in areas such as Coober Pedy, up in the Riverland—much the same as what the commission highlighted—in Berri, Mount Gambier, Whyalla and certainly in Port Lincoln. We are a little bit hamstrung here because we do not understand the requirements of ATSIC. They have not told us what they require in terms of outputs and outcomes. We have no problem with tendering. We have no problem with output based service delivery. However, we would like to understand the basis on which we are expected to provide the services. We have, for a long time, been seeking a revision and a realistic approach to performance and also to service delivery. The systems that we operate at the moment do not help us in providing a better service to our clients. This is highlighted, again, in both ATSIC's own internal document and the National Audit Office report.
Mr Charles —It is a bit early, in other words, to say what the effect of tendering will be because we do not know. They have said nothing to us about it yet, other than they intend to do it. So it is hard to say, other than guess and imagine what the consequences could be and to make generalised statements about quasi internal markets that do not exist.
Senator BUCKLAND —In relation to funding for cases where there is an argument between members of a family group or arguments between members of two separate family groups, how is that done? Is one side told to go away and get their own legal representation or does your office have to take on both parties?
Mr Gillespie —We have a conflict policy. If we have two clients seeking our service the first one that comes to us is the one that we provide for; the other we generally brief out. Have I misunderstood the question?
Mr Charles —The ALRM policy has always been that if there are parties in dispute, as in one family feuding against another—we have literally had cases like that, with multiple assault charges laid between family members; I had quite a lot of it in Ceduna some years ago—ALRM will not act at all. We will brief out both sides or ask both sides to get independent representation. Our view is that if we are seen to take sides by representing one side at the expense of another we are picking sides within the community and we do not want to do that. That will decrease access to our services by both families later and we do not want that to happen because we would like both sides to be able to come to us later. We do not want to pick sides.
On the other hand, there has been a change in our policy recently whereby we have given priority to assistance being given to victims of domestic violence and women. Now if we have a domestic violence situation and the woman comes to us first we will act for the woman first and the male perpetrator will have to go elsewhere. That is a recent change in our policy which was consistent with our recognition of the need to look after the interests of women and domestic violence victims. I hope I have not muddied the waters.
Mr Gillespie —Sorry, I misunderstood your question.
Senator BUCKLAND —What about the financing for those you farm out? Do you pay that?
Mr Charles —This is another aspect of our problem. It is a point justly taken up by Hamish in his submission and is about the costs incurred by the Legal Services Commission. Of course, they have to pick up quite a lot of it. We have a briefing out budget of about $100,000 to $150,000 a year, which is, frankly, ludicrous. We do not have the resources to pay for the separate representation of the many people who we think under our properly formulated policies ought to be separately represented. We do not ever get a budget sufficient to enable us to provide for their representation and that gives rise to the Legal Services Commission picking them up. We do not in any way resile from the legitimate comments that the commission makes about that. We think that those statements are reasonable.
Senator BUCKLAND —This is a comment more than a question. It goes to you and Legal Aid. People seeking justice north of Gepps Cross are very much disadvantaged.
Mr Charles —That is absolutely so. Again, Peter's evidence about the decline in the standards and the availability of legal services in the Iron Triangle is particularly relevant. That is certainly consistent with our experience. The legal aid services of the commission and ALRM are becoming the major legal practices in these centres. That is fine, but if we were properly resourced to do it we would be a lot better at doing it. But we are grossly underresourced. For the last four or five years—I may be wrong—we have been consistently saying that we need another lawyer in Port Augusta and another field officer. We need more resources in our Ceduna office. We need a properly resourced office in Coober Pedy. We do not get the resources because our estimation of the actual needs of the Aboriginal community are ignored in the context of cutting up a very small budget—an inadequate ATSIC budget—on the basis of a funding formula which is, to say the least, opaque and difficult to understand. It has the problems that we have identified: the definition of what is a matter and the failure of the ALSIS process.
CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Gillespie, would you like to wrap up?
Mr Gillespie —To highlight the problems faced by legal aid generally across the nation, I refer to page 26 of the audit report. In 1997-98, there were 68,000 cases; in 2002-03, 113,000 cases. That is indicative of the growth of our work and our caseloads. However, our funding is reduced. In a nutshell, ALRM is grossly underfunded. Our staff are overworked and underpaid, and we are constantly being criticised both by ATSIS and also by the community because we are failing to deliver a service, but a number of our staff are suffering from burnout. Our service is characteristic in regard to ATSILS, not just in South Australia but right across the nation, in the degree of burnout and underfunding. As a legal aid service provider to the Aboriginal community, all we can do is to plead with the committee to make recommendations about this dramatic reduction in funding that has existed in the last few years, particularly for ATSILS like ALRM, and to encourage both government and a number of agencies to rectify this funding shortfall so that there is far more justice to Aboriginal people across this state.
—Thank you for your submission. Before you go, though, with respect to that last set of statistics you mentioned—the 68,000 and the 113,000—could you take this question with you: is there any way of getting back to us with information as to where that increase has taken place? Which sorts of crimes or what sort of activity has led to that major increase? You may want to think about that.
Mr Charles —Would you please define precisely what you mean by `that increase'?
CHAIR —The increase that Mr Gillespie mentioned.
Mr Gillespie —I will provide that to the secretary.
—Thank you very much.