There have been sharp reactions in the Northern Territory to Coalition revelations of funding cuts to Indigenous legal aid services and a dispute about money pledged for a second Darwin hospital. The Coalition revealed in its costings, released yesterday, that it plans to cut funding to Indigenous legal aid services around Australia by 20 per cent if elected. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey revealed the $42 million cuts under questioning. The ALP says the move will strip organisations like the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service to the bone.
NAAJA chief executive Priscilla Collins says the cuts would take the service back to 2008 funding levels. “People are not going to have access to justice, which means people are going to be going to court unrepresented,” she said. “It is going to increase the incarceration rate and then it is going to clog up the justice system.” Labor’s federal candidate for the seat of Solomon accused the Coalition of playing a cruel hoax on voters in Darwin and Palmerston. Luke Gosling says the figures are missing key projects for the Top End, including funding for the proposed Palmerston hospital. “It is unbelievable,” he said. “They have been playing catch-up on the Palmerston hospital but now it seems that there is no funding committed by the Coalition for the hospital.”
Both Labor and the Coalition have both pledged $110 million to build the proposed hospital. Shadow Health Minister Peter Dutton denied Mr Gosling’s claim. He said money for the hospital had already been set aside. Mr Dutton accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Mr Gosling of a “low act” in claiming a funding black hole. The incumbent Member for Solomon, the Country Liberals’ Natasha Griggs, declined to be interviewed by the ABC.