Introduction by Croakey: The Victorian 2020-2021 State Budget has been warmly welcomed by a broad range of organisations, from environmental and social welfare groups to mental health and medical research bodies, and the Victorian Healthcare Association.
The budget has also hit the right note with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), which applauded the state’s “much needed” investments in housing, infrastructure, and getting people back to work after the state’s crippling second wave of coronavirus.
VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher AO also welcomed the Government’s investments to reduce representation of Aboriginal children in care and further support for the state’s Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. She noted that $357 million had been earmarked to support Victorian Aboriginal communities.
But not everyone has greeted the budget with such enthusiasm.
Ms Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS), said the Government had left Aboriginal people behind with this Budget with its commitment to a law-and-order approach that has never improved community safety and has only led to an increase in Aboriginal over incarceration and more Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Below is the VALS full media statement.
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service writes:
The Government’s Budget that was announced yesterday, which is so generous to Victoria Police, to Corrections and to Youth Justice, fails vulnerable Aboriginal people.
During the pandemic, our people have been over-policed, receiving a disproportionate number of fines, have experienced more family violence and homelessness, have been heavily impacted by the removal of our children and have experienced damaging lockdowns in prison and youth detention.
This Budget was a missed opportunity to establish the supports necessary for our community to rebuild post-COVID-19.
Without this support, VALS will not be able to provide the legal help that our mob are going to need as restrictions ease, the courts work through their backlogs and more generally, over the coming months and years, as the economic, health and social impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt.
A strong social safety net and robust public service are the bedrock of equality and opportunity for all.
Legal needs neglected
The Government’s decision to not invest public funds into Aboriginal community-controlled services, including VALS, and the broader community legal sector is economically unsound.
Failing to address legal needs as early as possible will inevitably lead to greater economic and social costs in the medium and long term.
This is a time to move forward, together. VALS had a strong and culturally safe plan to help our communities build back better from this pandemic, but this was not prioritised by the Government.
A place-based model, reaching regional and remote communities, would enable us to provide a flexible, prevention-focused service that accounts for the unique needs of different Victorian communities and that facilitates a collaborative approach.
The Budget provided $103.6 million for the Corrections and Youth Justice COVID-19 response, $38.9 million for Victoria Police’s COVID-19 response, and $47.5 million for Victoria Legal Aid.
VALS has been offered a mere $2.176 million over two years to develop only two hubs for Aboriginal communities across Victoria.
This paltry offering will not deliver on the need for Aboriginal people to access consistent, culturally appropriate legal services within their community. Time and again throughout this pandemic, Aboriginal communities have proven that a self-determined approach is most effective, and yet our people have been left behind by Government in this Budget.
It is utterly shameful that Victoria’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rates have more than doubled between 2009 and 2019.
It is unacceptable that our people continue to die in custody, that our children are disproportionately locked up and robbed of their childhood and their futures, that our
communities continue to be devastated by a system that removes our children from their families and culture.
A Government that ostensibly supports the Black Lives Matter movement, that is committed to Closing the Gap, that is negotiating Treaty, repeatedly refuses to heed VALS’ calls to reverse the bail reforms which have disproportionately impacted on our community, particularly Aboriginal women, many of whom are victim/survivors of domestic violence, and to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old.
And now, at a time of crisis, our chronically underfunded legal service is denied the means by which to support our community, to prevent Aboriginal people falling even further behind the rest of Victoria.
Call for funding
VALS calls on the Victorian Government to urgently fund essential legal services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Victoria.
This pandemic must not further entrench existing disadvantages, and these much needed services will ensure the community is not forgotten or left behind.
If legal issues are addressed early, this will stop legal problems escalating and prevent harm to our community, which saves public money and is better for everyone.
We need governments that stand up for all of us, not just a powerful few.