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Finance and Public Administration References Committee
16/02/2016
Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering processes

COX, Ms Suzan Jane, Director, Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission

GAMBLE, Ms Seranie, Outreach Project Manager, Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission

WARBROOKE, Ms Melanie, Senior Solicitor, Top End Women's Legal Service Inc.

WEATHERBY-FELL, Ms Caitlin, Solicitor, Top End Women's Legal Service Inc.

CHAIR: We will now resume proceedings. I first indicate that one of our media outlets has requested permission to film. Is there any objection? There being none, it is so ordered.

Welcome. The Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission and TEWLS have lodged submissions 29 and 26 respectively to the committee's inquiry into legal assistance services. Do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to those submissions?

Ms Cox : We do not seek to make any alterations; however, we do have a supplementary submission, which I seek to formally table now.

CHAIR: Very good. If that can be circulated, senators can consider tabling that document. Is it the wish of the committee that the document be accepted? There being no objection, it is so ordered. I think you heard earlier the information on parliamentary privilege, the protection of witnesses and giving evidence to Senate committees. I now invite some or all of you to make a short opening statement, and at the conclusion of remarks I will ask senators to ask questions of you.

Ms Cox : I will go first. Thank you for affording the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission an opportunity to appear before this inquiry. We note we have made our submission and a supplementary submission to this committee, as well as to numerous other Senate and select committees of the federal parliament, in relation to access to justice for Indigenous people.

The Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission is a territory wide legal service and its major practice has been in criminal and family law. During this period, we have worked collaboratively and cooperatively with other legal services in the NT to ensure that our scarce resources—and they are scarce, despite what Mr Hunyor said—are put where best needed. In 2007-08, we received funding under the Northern Territory Emergency Response, NTER. That was for 18 months to assist people with legal needs arising from the intervention.

Since this time, we have delivered specialised services to Indigenous people in remote parts of the Northern Territory and we continue to do so. Based on the information at the time of NTER, we believed that the need arising out of the intervention would involve an increase in representation in criminal matters, in relation to assaults on women and children and also in proceedings in relation to child protection matters. It became apparent, however, that the predominantly legal need of the remote Indigenous people we assisted during the period related to the decision making of government through the intervention, including income management, housing and policing of prescribed areas. These administrative decisions were a cause of increasing frustration for many people that we assisted in the remote areas of the Northern Territory. The suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, for example, resulted in confusion about the treatment that Aboriginal people in remote areas could expect to receive.

We also encountered significant legal need in the civil area—civil law needs—particularly in relation to unserviceable loans, scams, debts, fines, unclaimed superannuation and life insurance. These are significant legal issues which impact on the lives of remote Indigenous people. We found that they were unable to navigate a solution to these problems without legal assistance. Since this time, the program that we have been conducting has effectively continued through a series of funding agreements until 2012. It used to be annually and then in 2012, for the first time, we received a two-year funding bucket. In each case from 2007 through 2015, it was left, unfortunately, to very late in the financial year before the funding ceased until we were advised that the funding would be continued. You would understand that this makes it very difficult to plan, and it makes it very difficult to organise infrastructure and staffing. As a result, we lost, over that period, a number of highly valuable staff which we had invested in with training. That was due to the uncertainty of the funding arrangements, and I would like to bring that to your attention.

In 2015, we received funding under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy for a further 12 months. At that time we were encouraged to be innovative and imaginative. We put significant resources into the application for that funding and we received much the same as the previous year. Once again, short-term funding required us to recruit staff on short-term contracts to undertake work that is, by necessity, complex. It involves principles of community engagement, including relationship building, which does not happen overnight, and is based on establishing trust and respect.

Despite formal and informal approaches to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet representatives in Darwin and Canberra, we are yet to receive information about the process for applying for funding in this 2016-17 period and beyond. We have successful programs underway. We have met our targets and exceeded our targets. We have the support of the leaders from the disadvantaged communities which we continue to serve and service.

The current funding arrangements for legal aid commissions and community legal centres brings them under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services until 2020. We signed that last year. This agreement is between the Prime Minister and the chief ministers and premiers of each state and territory. It has the following objectives. Firstly, it seeks to improve the targeting of legal assistance services to people facing disadvantage who have the greatest legal needs, including people experiencing or at risk of family violence. Secondly, it supports a holistic approach to addressing legal need through collaboration with and coordinated service delivery between legal and non-legal sectors, including by delivering appropriate and timely services to best meet people's legal needs. Finally, it aims to empower and build resistance within the community to resolve legal problems.

We support these objectives under the NPA. Unfortunately, the program management of funding arrangements for legal assistance under NTER, Stronger Futures and now IAS is not really accorded with those principles. It is our recommendation that all Commonwealth legal service program funding and management sit within one government department, being the Attorney-General's Department, and be administered on a five-yearly cycle to enable us to properly plan, to be more effective in our delivery and hopefully to provide a much better service to Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory.

Our supplementary submission details all the chronology of how we have attempted to find out about the funding and when we will get it. At the moment I can tell you that we have established a civil service under the NPA, which is a very vital service for meeting unmet need in the Territory, which we wish to marry with our Indigenous outreach service, which is funded by IAS. At the moment I am trying to negotiate for room in my building where I can put the new civil service and the remote IAS group of people who are doing all their work and our community legal education people, but I just cannot do it, because I cannot move, because I do not know whether we are going to be funded for next year. It is February, and we need to sign contracts.

So, that is the situation we are in. It is not a good one and it does not deliver the best service that we can. We are hoping that by appearing here today we will try to sort some of that out.

Ms Warbrooke : I would like to thank the committee for inviting Top End Women's Legal Service to be here today. We are very grateful for the opportunity. Top End Women's Legal Service, known as TEWLS, is a community legal centre that is focused on the advancement of women's rights and the empowerment of women. We are funded by both the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department to provide culturally safe and high-quality legal and related services to women in the Top End. These include information, referral, advice and assistance, casework, and community legal education.

TEWLS is currently staffed by three solicitors and 1.6 administrative and client services staff. We provide assistance in a number of areas of law, including domestic and family violence, sexual assault, family law, compensation for victims of crime, tenancy and housing, discrimination, workplace health and safety, employment law, issues relating to motor vehicles, and credit and debt. We provide outreach services for Aboriginal women in the town communities surrounding Darwin, women in prison, and the culturally and linguistically diverse community.

Caitlin Weatherby-Fell, who is one of our solicitors, and I are the solicitors who are providing the outreach services. The Indigenous women's project was first funded in 2008 as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response. It is currently funded through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. Through the IWP we deliver culturally sensitive, equitable and accessible legal services to Indigenous women so that they can fully exercise their legal rights and responsibilities as Australian citizens. As part of this project, TEWL staff conduct regular outreach services to the Darwin Correctional Precinct to the women's area, and to the communities of Belyuen, Knuckeys Lagoon, Palmerston Indigenous Village, Bagot, Acacia and Adelaide River. The main legal issues arising from this project are tenancy issues, mainly related to public housing; credit and debt; consumer complaints; issues with police and prison complaints; victims-of-crime compensation; and other legal issues associated with domestic and family violence.

The need for accessible legal services which provide advice and assistance in a culturally safe environment is high and it is increasing. Indigenous women are some of the most vulnerable in the Northern Territory and are less able to access these services due to financial, cultural and language barriers, amongst others. The outreach services we are providing strive to fill these gaps by taking the service out to the people who need it most.

In our submission we made a number of recommendations which would facilitate the access of Indigenous women to legal assistance services. We focused on terms (a), (d) and (e). Notably, the TEWLS outreach clinic in the women's sector of the prison is in high demand. Many of the women in the prison who seek advice and assistance have grown up in violent households and have experienced sexual and physical abuse and violence within their own relationships. It is our submission that programs need to be made available in the prison which target recidivism by focusing on empowering women through addressing the issues that surround family violence, sexual assault and addictive behaviours.

While we were funded at level for this year—and we are very grateful for that—this funding needs to be increased for women's legal services so that we can continue to provide adequate and targeted assistance to women in Indigenous communities as well as women in prison. We note that during the current reporting period we met or exceeded all the scheduled targets that we have for this year. Services also need to be developed that focus on the more vulnerable women in the community, especially young Indigenous women. This would include community legal education programs that are aimed at young Indigenous women on issues such as consumer issues, discrimination and social media, family violence and family law. We are hoping that as a result of this inquiry further funds will be made available to support the development of these services so that our work can continue and we can meet the increasing demands we are facing.

Senator PERIS: Thank you for your submission and your attendance here today. My question is to the NT Legal Aid Commission, first and foremost. Page 4 of your submission says that there was an increase in the caseload of Indigenous clients—in particular, the 2014-15 caseload. Can you explain why there was a significant increase in those areas?

Ms Cox : I believe it is just a natural increase that we experienced overall. The Indigenous clients for the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission are currently 32.5 per cent of grants of aid—that is grants of legal aid, not when we see people for advice or out in remote communities. So, it is a third of our caseload. But there has been an increase generally across the board. So I think it is just part of the general increase.

Senator PERIS: We heard from NAAJA before you, talking about the increase in mandatory laws since 2007, and everything is going up except for their resources. Do you feel that you are in the same boat as them?

Ms Cox : Yes, absolutely.

Senator PERIS: You describe on page 7 the range of community legal education activities. Have there been any cutbacks to these services, or do you foresee having to cancel those?

Ms Cox : In relation to community legal education, we have our funding from the federal government over the next five years, so we have been able to allocate moneys for that in our budget, and we will be able to supply community legal education over the next five years.

Senator PERIS: Is family law one of your main areas?

Ms Cox : It is. Just to explain, the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission is funded both by the Commonwealth and by the Territory. All Commonwealth money is for federal law matters, and that is family law matters, and any criminal law matters that would come under, for example, importation of drugs, customs matters, illegal fishing and those sorts of things. Otherwise, it is the Northern Territory bucket that finances our representation of all NT crime matters, which is the biggest slug on our resources. Under the NT funding, we also have to meet the need for children in care and those sorts of family matters, which are not covered by our federal funding because they are under NT legislation.

Senator PERIS: Can you elaborate on the child protection matters? We heard earlier from NAAJA. In terms of where you are placed, what is your outreach in being able to going out into the bush for those child protection or family matters?

Ms Cox : Child protection matters are heard in town, in either Darwin, Katherine, Alice Springs or Tennant Creek. We have courts there, and we can act in relation to those matters. Seranie, do you want to say anything about that? Seranie is the manager of the outreach program.

Ms Gamble : I could explain a little bit more in relation to how the outreach works. It is funded separately to our mainstream services, which are funded through the Attorney-General's Department under the NPA, the national partnership agreement. Our outreach services include a combination of targeted community legal education as a preventive measure to raise awareness in Indigenous communities about how to access legal assistance and resolve legal problems.

Senator PERIS: How is that funded?

Ms Gamble : That is funded purely under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. Previously, it was under 'stronger futures' and the emergency response. That is currently only funded until 30 June this year, so there is uncertainty beyond that as to how we will deliver outreach services into regional and remote areas of the Northern Territory. Those services, based in Darwin and Tennant Creek offices, reach comprehensively across the territory. In addition to that, in terms of the particular legal issue of child protection—an issue that you have raised—the way that we provide assistance through our outreach service is by facilitating access to vulnerable people in remote communities, where our outreach team can support a client to get expert advice from our child protection family law practitioners back in our regionally based offices. We will have an Indigenous liaison officer and an outreach lawyer who can support that person in the community to access legal assistance over the telephone. From time to time, we have been able to—with limited resources because we are not specifically funded for this—take family lawyers with the outreach team and, in particular, with our Indigenous liaison officer, who has the cultural credibility in communities, to make those services more readily available and to increase awareness in communities that they can access legal aid services through the outreach team. Again, that is only funded until 30 June this year.

Senator PERIS: So, all that is in jeopardy at the moment?

Ms Gamble : Exactly.

Senator PERIS: Wow! How many clients are you looking after under that program at the moment?

Ms Gamble : In the last financial year to date in our Indigenous outreach program, we have assisted, with a team of one lawyer based in Darwin and one lawyer based in Tennant Creek, close to 300 individual people in less than six months. But we have reached out, through our community legal education, to over several hundred people. We provide those figures in more detail in our supplementary submission.

Senator PERIS: What will happen if—God forbid—you are not funded beyond 30 June?

Ms Gamble : The resources simply will not exist for that program. As we mentioned, our civil law practice is operational but is limited to operating out of Darwin. We will not have funding for an Indigenous liaison officer, in particular, who assists with the complex organisation and collaboration in communities to make those visits possible. What is needed to make those visits work is not just organising the travel; as we mentioned, the complex relationships will all be lost.

Senator PERIS: Okay.

CHAIR: I have a follow-up question. As someone from down South, I know that there are a lot of people who probably do not understand what it means to offer services in a remote community. It would be useful to hear from any of the witnesses about what it means, in a practical way, for you to offer those services and how that works. You have already spoken a bit about the significance of having those relationships of trust. What do they actually deliver in terms of the interface between your service and the people you are trying to assist?

Ms Gamble : In terms of our outreach programs, we rely on the fact that a program has been offered since 2007 where we have employed an Indigenous liaison officer who can advise the solicitor on cultural competence and cultural safety as well as expertise on road conditions, how to organise interpreters, how to book charter flights if necessary or have the experience to determine whether conditions are safe environmentally but also culturally. It is very frequent that we will have to change our plans to travel to remote communities because of cultural business, whether that be sorry business or simply the fact that communities have their own priorities and agendas.

We try to fit in with those communities so we are not imposing our services on them and really try to support those communities. If there are other things going on in communities, like they need to secure accommodation for critical contract services because they need housing repairs, we of course bow out to that so those housing issues can be addressed. The communities that we are talking about visiting are smaller communities where the court circuits do not go. It is communities where NAAJA and other legal services are not available. We work collaboratively with those other legal services to ensure that we are spread as widely as possible.

In those smaller communities the accommodation available is organised differently in each community. Generally there may only be one to two rooms available. Often the lawyer and liaison officer will have to share a room and the room will often just be a donga or temporary accommodation that is set up in those facilities. Wherever there is another critical service needed for the community, we will not go to that community if that is the way it has to be. So it is really important to have expertise to understand those dynamics and to be respectful of those and then be able to adapt services to quickly make alternative arrangements in another community that can be respectful and follow a similar set of protocols to ensure that it is targeted and delivered appropriately.

CHAIR: Did you wish to add anything, Ms Warbrooke?

Ms Warbrooke : For us it has been slightly different because our focus has been on town camps rather than the more remote communities. The furthest we are able to go out is to Belyuen, which is about an hour and a half's drive. For us, since 2008 it has been about establishing a brand name and for the service to have a relationship with communities. It is really important to have consistency in solicitors so that that relationship of trust can be developed and built up. We have purple shirts that we wear with a logo on them so that any time they see us they know where we are from, so even over the years when staff have changed we have that brand that the community are familiar with and welcome. We try and work in with communities as closely as possible. We try and keep in touch with them as to whether the community is closed for sorry business or whether it is appropriate to attend.

Senator SIEWERT: Thanks for your submissions. They were both really comprehensive and give a really good rundown of your services. Can I go back to the IAS process for both of you. In terms of the funding running out in 2016, is this about re-accessing the Stronger Futures funding for both organisations?

Ms Gamble : Yes.

Ms Warbrooke : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: We had a discussion a bit earlier this morning. The original promise of that was for 10 years. How long were your original contracts under the Stronger Futures process?

Ms Gamble : NT Legal Aid has been funded differently almost each year since 2007. We started off with an 18-month arrangement; then it was 12-monthly. Only once has it been offered for two years. Generally the trend has been to not confirm it until within months of the end of the financial year.

Senator SIEWERT: Even under the Stronger Futures process? That came in in 2012, when that initial promise was made. So you have never had a longer contract than a couple of years?

Ms Gamble : Not for this type of service, no. To reiterate, what we provide at legal aid is not the mainstream services. It is a smaller project that we run.

Senator SIEWERT: The outreach program

Ms Gamble : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: So you got re-funded last year for 12 months?

Ms Gamble : Yes.

Ms Warbrooke : That it is the same story for us. We were re-funded last year for 12 months, but with that background of shorter contracts. The longest has been two years.

Senator SIEWERT: So they never actually did deliver the guaranteed funding for 10 years.

Ms Gamble : No. Could I add something to that point. In our application we engaged in the process as much as possible to be proactive and innovative, as we were encouraged be. In our application in 2014 we sought a funding agreement for three years to start from this financial year. We were not given that three-year funding, despite innovative efforts to demonstrate how the service would operate effectively and efficiently over that period. The funding that we were offered was not an increase on what we had previously been provided. The application was provided in great detail but definitely not responded to by the department in terms of the resources we put into that to demonstrate how we could serve the community. In addition to that, we are still waiting on what is going to happen to 30 June. Our supplementary submission sets out a chronology of the efforts we have made to get continuity or security of, not just funding, but the process of how we can even seek that funding. We are not getting anywhere on that.

Senator SIEWERT: I will come back to you in a minute, Ms Warbrooke. I want to see if you have been through the same process. So you did not get CPI?

Ms Gamble : No.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of an approach by the government or PM&C—I will also address this to you as well, from PM&C—are you the same as NAAJA in the sense that you have not been given a process of where to go or what to do now?

Ms Gamble : None whatsoever. We sought to find out that process from September last year. We engaged at the information sessions for the review of the guidelines in November. We were encouraged at that process to submit a demand-driven application or some sort of application for funding on the basis that we were meeting our targets and are delivering services that were needed. We attempted to confirm the appropriate format for that, and were told conflicting things between the regional and national office. In any event we thought we would be proactive anyway and we submitted our own application for funding in a proposal to the department. That was on 2 December last year. We have not yet had a formal response to that correspondence, despite being verbally assured that the minister was addressing it and, again, being verbally told that guidelines for the process would be provided in February this year. They have not been.

Senator SIEWERT: Which process is that? The demand-driven one or a repeat of what happened last time?

Ms Gamble : All processes under the IAS, including demand-driven. We were specifically advised not to submit an application through the demand-driven process, as that would be made redundant under the new guidelines which were due to be released in February. This week we were told they are now going to be released in March.

Senator SIEWERT: So you had put one in anyway, demand-driven, given the encouragement—

Ms Gamble : Correct.

Senator SIEWERT: and now they are saying, 'Don't do it.' But you do not know where your is at? Do I have that right?

Ms Gamble : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Ms Warbrooke?

Ms Warbrooke : We are in a similar situation in that we have had no information about where to from here. In the last funding round we put in a very detailed submission to not only maintain the outreach that we are currently doing at the prison and in the communities, but to expand that to include a clinic at Royal Darwin Hospital—

Senator SIEWERT: That was in your recommendations.

Ms Warbrooke : and a clinic focused on young women, which are two very strong needs. I think the hospital project in particular would have had a lot of potential in terms of accessing women from remote areas in times of crisis.

Senator SIEWERT: Did you get CPI?

Ms Warbrooke : No.

Senator SIEWERT: So effectively we are talking about a cut?

Ms Warbrooke : It stayed at level. The amount was the same, and for 12 months only. That is due to run out on 30 June and we have no idea what is happening next.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I go to the issue of family law? I think both your submissions made comments—and you just mentioned it too, Ms Gamble—about how the courts are in the major centres. There are three that deal with family law matters, aren't there? Do I understand that correctly?

Ms Warbrooke : There are two.

Senator SIEWERT: I beg your pardon.

Ms Cox : I think child-in-need-of-care matters are in other courts.

Senator SIEWERT: The issue that I took from your submissions, in terms of remote communities, is that it is very difficult to access and understand what is going on with family law and child protection. Is that a correct understanding?

Ms Gamble : That would be correct. Our experience of delivering outreach services is that people in communities are not aware of how to access those services or are not even able to identify how they are experiencing those issues and what to do about them. Our service tries to address that by raising awareness about the issues, what do and how to take steps to respond or prevent those issues occurring or escalating. We understand that access to legal assistance from the earliest point in time is preferable, particularly to secure contact between children and their carers. That is very difficult to access in remote communities. Our service is only going to a small number of remote communities. We have had to cut services travelling to remote communities in the Barkly region. It is our understanding that there are no legal services going into those places, because CAALAS, as we understand, is not funded to provide that level of service either. So there are a number of communities that not only do not have access to court processes but do not even have access to legal assistance through outreach lawyers travelling out there to assist in advising and providing education and information about those issues.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you aware of any other areas that are in a similar position to the Barkly region?

Ms Gamble : I think the Barkly is fairly unique.

Ms Cox : We were there previously, but we had to pull back because of funding cuts.

CHAIR: One of the other things I have been interested in in terms of the program design is, have you received any guidance from departmental officers about how services are to be organised spatially around the territory so that all communities have some kind of access to the range of services imagined by the program?

Ms Gamble : The IAS guidelines talk about the department undertaking a type of mapping exercise about needs in communities—not specific to legal services, but generally. We raised that at the information session that was first carried out, I think, in September 2014 and questioned if that evidence would be made available to assist us in preparing our applications and targeting service delivery. That request was refused.

Senator SIEWERT: It might have given you an unfair advantage!

Ms Gamble : Since that time, there has not been any information available to us at all. It has been our efforts to identify who is doing what where. That takes a considerable effort. As NAAJA and other services have indicated, staff changes occur because the funding is not secured. So it is really difficult and challenging for us to keep up with who is doing what at a particular time. It has all been on us, and nothing has been provided by the department.

Senator SIEWERT: When did you have to wind back services from the Barkly?

Ms Gamble : The last financial year with the funding provided under IAS.

Senator SIEWERT: There was all the fuss about gaps, and they did a gap analysis. Did they talk to you about the gap analysis and did you raise the issue that there was going to be a hole there in terms of Barkly?

Ms Gamble : Not with us. We sought that information. When we were offered the funding we were offered, we noted that it was not the amount that we had requested and that it was necessary to provide these services in those areas. Nothing was done to address that or change that. It was not negotiable.

Senator SIEWERT: But they knew about it?

Ms Gamble : As far as we understand, because they told us that services were being mapped in those areas.

Ms Cox : We took an operational decision that as funding was reduced we would go in particular areas. The Barkly was the one that that, sadly, missed out.

Senator SIEWERT: I can totally understand the decisions that you need to make.

Ms Gamble : From our perspective, in our application, we spent time and effort gaining and providing evidence of the support and demand to deliver services in those areas. We have not had any feedback in response to that. We provided as much information as we could to demonstrate that need. As far as we are aware, it has fallen on deaf ears.

Senator SIEWERT: Did come up again at the review—the one that was in October or so last year?

Ms Gamble : Legal aid raised it at the review that that funding is needed to address that gap. Not much response has been provided in relation to that.

Senator PERIS: You said that you have recently received ongoing funding for the Indigenous women's project. How long is that till?

Ms Weatherby-Fell : 30 June. That falls under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding as well.

Senator PERIS: So that one ceases after 30 June.

Ms Weatherby-Fell : Yes.

Senator PERIS: And the women's prison project?

Ms Weatherby-Fell : It is all one and the same project.

Senator PERIS: When I was reading through your submission, one of the things that really jumped out at me is that you have assisted clients who are incarcerated for physically injuring their abusive current or former partners out of retaliation, and women who intentionally offend so as to be imprisoned, to have a refuge from a violent partner.

Ms Weatherby-Fell : That is correct. I undertake the prison outreach every fortnight. I have just negotiated with the prison to increase the amount of time that we are in the prison. The demand for our services has increased dramatically in about the past four months. I am not sure of the reason for that. Perhaps it is because word is getting around the women's sector—and we are out in the women's sector itself, so it means we can have walk-ins as well as previous appointments. Perhaps it is that the word is getting around that we are able to offer assistance. It is not irregular for clients to present and say, 'The reason I am here is because I broke that window while I was on bail because I knew I wouldn't be safe.'

Senator PERIS: In terms of numbers, is it a regular occurrence for a lot of these women to seek refuge in that way?

Ms Weatherby-Fell : On my list for prison outreach at the moment I have about three hours in the prison each fortnight. The prison has requested us, over the last couple of months, to increase that outreach to a weekly service, but under the current funding agreement that is just not feasible. Within a three-hour period I am seeing about 30 women, or trying to. I am also having clients walk in and say, 'Caitlin, do you mind if we speak for two minutes?' And I will say, 'Of course, I have two minutes—but literally two minutes—because I have 10 more people out the door.' We have also recently, as of last week, held our first community legal education session in the prison. We are the first legal service to do so. It was a well-attended session. We had about eight women attend. After that time, I had two hours in the women's sector. I had eight women in the credit and debt community legal education session. I then gave 14 advices to 14 new or recurring clients and, from that, I picked up 32 new matters. And that is in a day. So we are pretty pressed.

Senator SIEWERT: And you do not know your funding?

Ms Weatherby-Fell : And we do not know our funding from June 30. We are also funded under the NPA, and it is the same deadline as well.

Senator MOORE: I want to clarify the process. I am more than aware of the work that your services do and the straitened circumstances you have had for many years. This idea of process and the interaction with the government is one of the major focuses of this inquiry. Thank you, Ms Cox and Ms Gamble, for the detailed list of every effort you have made to get some communication. I think that is particularly valuable. I am sure the same thing happened with you, Ms Warbrooke, in your organisation. Have the people from PM&C who are located in Darwin been of any help and assistance in this process?

Ms Gamble : In the chronology in our submission—

Senator MOORE: Yes, I saw that. You tried!

Ms Gamble : I have referred to our recent effort to meet with advisers in the Darwin office, who were completely blank in relation to the funding situation but, at an operational level, I have to say that those staff are very helpful and engaging and are coordinating meetings on a monthly basis that we attend, as well as other services who provide all services under the IAS funding in the Darwin town camps, which is where we are offering services as well. That does not happen in relation to any of the service areas outside of Darwin. In terms of other interaction with the staff at the local level, just yesterday I was contacted by a new regional manager, who had no understanding of the background of our previous efforts to confirm security of funding or information about the process, but she had contacted us to give us an update on the situation and, again, told us about the delay in the provision of the new guidelines till March and gave assurances that there was funding there. But for us operationally, we cannot re-employ. We are very conscious of the relationships we have in communities, and we do not want to raise expectations where we cannot follow through. It is really sensitive for us, we are very protective of that space and it puts us in a really difficult situation when we just cannot promise anything beyond 30 June. A new very senior person with no understanding of that background yesterday was interesting, but—

Senator MOORE: It is very close to March! Ms Warbrooke, have you had the same contact from the local manager?

Ms Weatherby-Fell : Sorry, my understanding is that TEWLS has not been updated as to the new March guidelines. Our managing solicitor undertakes a lot of the contact with PM&C. We are also party to these meetings, with the local PM&C office being as helpful as possible, but we are unaware of what the guidelines will be and we are still in limbo, as it were, until 30 June.

Senator MOORE: You made the point, Ms Cox, that traditionally we have a failure in giving people warning. It is towards the end of the period of funding, and that has been a situation this committee has railed about for many years—obviously with a great deal of success! But you are again in a situation where the guidelines for the funding that will need to start from 1 July have not been released yet. You will then have a restricted period of time to put in your applications. Is there a competitive nature to this funding? Is there one big bucket that everybody who is working in the area is fighting over? I know that people in the Territory have a tradition of working very closely together, but is the stress of the fact that you are competing something you want to share with us?

Ms Gamble : It is very difficult where we are such a collaborative jurisdiction. We are fortunate to be able to work with our colleagues and check in with who is doing what, because the department has not provided that information to us. We have consulted each other's services and, as I said, in particular we go to communities where NAAJA do not go. We have for the first time got some funding to provide services in Darwin town camps, but that is in collaboration with the women's legal service, who, of course, prioritise women, as their name suggests, so legal aid's perspective on that is to try to complement services. Even with more than one service going to these areas, it is still not addressing the unmet need that is there. As everyone has said to this committee today, the demand for legal assistance is increasing, so, as to the stress of us working together, we are trying to do our best in that area, but—

Senator MOORE: So you effectively do that working out before you put your applications in. I am unaware of it, but is there any threat? We earlier heard evidence that larger organisations from outside come in to compete for grants. Given the description that you and the previous witnesses have given of the lifestyle of working in legal services in the NT, are you aware of any large 'Acme' legal service that would want to come and share this experience?

Ms Gamble : Not that we are aware.

Senator MOORE: I was checking. You have not heard of whether anyone thinks—

Ms Gamble : No.

Senator MOORE: That is the other thing. You know the players locally, but you have no idea whether anybody else will come in.

Ms Gamble : A particular issue for us is that we are an information and referral service as well, so we are one service going to communities and have a very well built up relationship with those communities. We recognise the limits in what we can provide, so referring people for counselling support and financial assistance is critical to what we do. Staying on top of that is another challenging element to our service. Each region is different and the contracts do change, so there have just been some changes to who is going to be doing what—

Senator MOORE: Very much.

Ms Gamble : and that is difficult for us to keep track of because—

Senator MOORE: And hoping that those services have been effectively funded. I know that one of the issues in the Territory is that some of those services have changed as a result of another round of funding. Thank you. I could go on for days, but I will not.

CHAIR: You may have heard us speaking with witnesses earlier this morning about the impact a justice target might have on the issues confronting the Territory. Do you have any comment about the significance or potential of a justice target here?

Ms Cox : My view is that they are important to be able to work towards and to measure against. So I am all in favour of it.

Ms Warbrooke : We are trying to reach the targets that we have been set under our funding agreements and make sure we are delivering those and focusing on those. I think the justice targets are a bit more of a bigger picture issue. With three solicitors trying to cover what we do, we are very, very stretched. Really, we are just trying to focus on delivering a service.

CHAIR: If a justice target were in place, Ms Cox, do you think it would have consequences for the program design of the IAS? Would you see different criteria being applied to funding applications? Or would you recommend it?

Ms Cox : I would have to think about that a little bit. The justice targets I am considering are reducing incarceration and that sort of thing. I do not know whether it would be that different, but we would certainly seek to address them in our submissions. I would have to think about that a little bit more.

CHAIR: If do you give it more thought and you wish to provide a supplementary submission to the committee, we would welcome that.

Ms Cox : All right.

CHAIR: I thank all of you for your submissions and for your evidence this morning, and for taking the time to be with us this morning. The committee appreciate it very much.