The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) will freeze operations across 13 courts in regional NSW after not being able to secure emergency federal funding.
The body requested $250 million ahead of the May federal budget to maintain services across all states and territories, but was unable to receive sufficient support.
Chief Executive of the NSW ALS Karly Warner says they are facing ‘an unprecedented crisis from a systemic undervaluing of the service.”
The federal government has not yet confirmed whether they would provide additional financial support.
This has led ALS to cease operations in Byron Bay, Eden, Forster, Junee, Lithgow, Moss Vale, Muswellbrook, Scone, Singleton, Temora, Tenterfield, West Wyalong and Wauchope.
The service has also withdrawn from four courts in Queensland since April.
Warner says the withdrawals has come at a bad time, with the demand for legal assistance increasing by “100 per cent since 2018.”
Last week’s federal budget included a $99 million package to set up a First Nations justice package, which includes $13.5 million to legal services across the country, and $1 million to peak body National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS).
The funding is less than six per cent of what was requested.
Warner who is also the chair of NATSILS says the government is neglecting their services.
“It seems that access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is not a priority for the government in the federal budget,” She said.
A spokesperson for Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told the ABC the government is committed to working with legal services and “recognises the critical role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services play in ensuring First Nations people have access to culturally appropriate and safe services and programs.”
He says the government will also be conducting a review into to ensure “the legal assistance sector is best equipped to deal with current and future challenges.
Ms Warner hopes to see services in QLD and NSW swiftly reinstated.
“Our teams and employees are passionate and dedicated to their work, but they have to put food on the table,” she said.
“The inadequacy of our funding has put us in a position where even though staff would like to dedicate their careers to us, often move elsewhere where they can get higher pay and different working conditions.”