ATSILS QLD Legal Service Delivery

Media Release: Historic Human Rights Act passed in Queensland Parliament today

MediaRelease_Facebook_HRactforQLD2Historic legislation passed in Queensland Parliament today will better protect the rights of the most vulnerable in the state.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (QLD) LTD (ATSILS) commends the Palaszczuk Government for their unwavering commitment to advancing and protecting the rights of Queenslanders, especially the most vulnerable with the passing of Queensland Human Rights Bill today.

Chief Executive Officer of The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (QLD) LTD Shane Duffy said that “Queensland has raised the bar by setting a new standard in human rights that sees the most comprehensive and accessible human rights protections in the country now enshrined in legislation.”

“The legislative protection of human rights is the critical foundation we’ve needed to progress towards a fairer and more equitable Queensland.”

“We look forward to seeing the positive impact these detailed human rights protections will have on addressing elements in the cycle of disadvantage and discrimination that our clients, their families and other vulnerable groups in communities experience daily.”

“We especially welcome the much-needed protections related to the cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the economic, social and cultural rights to education and healthcare contained in the bill.”

The human rights legislation in Queensland has many firsts and improves on laws in Victoria through the establishment of a complaint mechanism that will be facilitated by the creation of the Queensland Human Rights Commission. The Commission will ensure the laws are more accessible to the most vulnerable who often do not have the financial capacity to enforce their human rights by way of legal representation and advocacy.

“We congratulate the Attorney General and Minster for Justice – Yvette D’Ath for seeing this complex legislation through Queensland Parliament and would like to pay tribute to the work of the Human Rights Act for Queensland campaign (HR4QLD) led by Aimee McVeigh who tirelessly lobbied the Queensland State Government and effectively engaged diverse sections of the community to support this important legislation,” Mr Duffy said.

ATSILS is proud to have been a part of the strong coalition of more than 40 community organisations that supported the HR4QLD campaign who were all united in their belief that protecting human rights in law would improve the lives of vulnerable Queenslanders.

We look forward to continuing the positive dialogue with the Palaszczuk Government and with key stakeholders and we hope to see stronger human rights protections adopted more broadly at a national level in the near future.

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ATSILS QLD Legal Service Delivery

ATSILS Strategic Plan 2018 – 2020

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On behalf of my fellow Directors, the Chief Executive Officer and Staff, I am pleased to present ATSILS Strategic Plan 2018 – 2020. The Strategic Plan sets out a concise framework that highlights the four strategic objectives that focuses on our clients, our stakeholders, our people and our resources. The Plan provides a roadmap to ensure ATSILS can fulfil the organisation’s vision of continuing to lead in the delivery of innovative and professional legal services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Queensland.

I would like to acknowledge the important influence that our communities and our stakeholders have had on the development of this plan. Understanding the needs of our communities is essential to continuously improving our delivery of legal services. Through an active community and sector engagement approach we continue to foster collaborative community and service partnerships that enhance our knowledge of local issues and respond to the diverse needs of our clients in the context of their communities.

A well-established governance and leadership platform has been crucial to setting an informed strategic direction that can effectively respond to the broad justice needs of the communities we service. Our board is reflective of the diversity of our communities across the state, this representation gives our communities a stronger voice that speaks directly through our leadership. We embrace ethical, accountable and transparent management and decision-making systems, policies, practices and procedures in all that we do and our board structure is built on a critical mix of skills and experience drawn from grass roots communities, non-government, government and the private sector.

This strong leadership platform sets our mission; however, it is our dedicated staff that work tirelessly day in day out to achieve it. Continuing to develop a highly skilled workforce committed to successfully achieving our strategic objectives and meeting the needs of clients is a core element of our strategic plan. We are extremely proud of the diverse 200+ strong workforce we have delivering our quality brand of legal services, community legal education, and early intervention and prevention services that uphold and advance the legal and human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Our services are delivered in accordance with the Australian Government’s Indigenous Legal Assistance Program under which we are funded through the Australian Government Attorney General’s Department. With incarceration rates continuing to soar and our people still remaining chronically disadvantaged and over-represented across all the child protection, youth justice and the criminal justice systems, this funding is vital now more than ever. I take this opportunity on behalf of all at ATSILS to thank the Attorney General and his Department in this regard. Further, in relation to our Prisoner Throughcare Program initiatives – justice reinvestment in action – we thank the Office of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for its crucial funding support as well.

I also acknowledge the importance and significance of our collaborative arrangements with other key stakeholders in the justice system particularly the assistance provided to us by the Legal Aid Queensland in terms of off-setting some of the very high costs associated with delivering crucial services in our State’s most remote regions.

I encourage our communities and relevant government and non-government partners to embrace this Plan and work with us on its successful implementation.

Download Strategic Plan

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Ken Georgetown
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (QLD) Ltd.


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ATSILS QLD Legal Service Delivery

ATSILS calls for Government to act on ALRC recommendations to tackle soaring incarceration rates.

ALRC_March2018The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (QLD) Ltd welcomes the report and recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s ‘Pathways to Justice – Inquiry into Incarceration Rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ tabled in Parliament today.

ATSILS CEO Shane Duffy said, “This report is yet another validation of the extreme disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face day to day when coming in contact with the justice system and presents clear, evidence based solutions that can address the disproportionate rate at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are incarcerated.”

“The recommendations handed down in this report provides yet another opportunity for all levels of government to turn their rhetoric into action and work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations to implement real change and create safer communities” said Mr Duffy.

“Back in 1991 the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody also found that an unfair and discriminatory justice system was failing our people and fuelling over-incarceration. It offered comprehensive solutions that could affect change through its 339 recommendations, but these were left on the shelf largely ignored and unimplemented by governments. Fast forward almost 3 decades later and here we are today grappling with an even more complex and rapidly growing problem so shameful the Federal Government has labelled it a ‘National Disgrace’. We can’t let this history of inaction continue to repeat and drop the ball on this again,” Mr Duffy said.

Research commissioned by ALRC shows the magnitude of the crisis we are dealing with today with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men found to be 14.7 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous men, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women found to be 21.2 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous women. Between 2006 and 2016 imprisonment rates have increased by 41%. The report noted that Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults make up around 2 per cent of the national population, they constitute 27 per cent of the national prison population.

As a matter of priority and in line with our national peak body (National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services) we call on Governments to:

  • Implement a National Justice target as part of Close the Gap framework.
  • Promote justice reinvestment through redirection of resources from incarceration to prevention, rehabilitation and support, in order to reduce reoffending and the long-term economic cost of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Engage and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide basic universal services and adequately resource innovative community led solutions.
  • Abolish mandatory sentencing, which disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and increasing more culturally appropriate diversionary options and community-based alternatives.
  • Reform laws so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not sent to prison for minor offences such as offensive language or unpaid fines.
  • Fix bail and sentencing laws so that a person’s cultural experience can be taken into account.
  • Adequately resource and provide funding certainty to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Community Legal Centres and Legal Aid Commissions more broadly. Ensuring access to justice for vulnerable community groups fundamentally requires sufficient, sustainable and ongoing funding for legal assistance providers.
  • Enact mandatory Custody Notification Systems in partnership with every ATSILS.

Media Contact:
Josh Herd for Shane Duffy, CEO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service Qld, email or phone 0439 561 775.

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ATSILS QLD Legal Service Delivery

Special Gathering Statement re: Closing the Gap Refresh – A joint initiative of COAG

COAG_2018ATSILS CEO Shane Duffy was invited to Canberra recently to attend A Special Gathering of prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders asked to provide advice to Government on a refreshed ‘Closing The Gap’ agenda. The gathering coincided with the first Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting of 2018.

Shane was one of 64 State and Commonwealth delegates selected to come together to provide advice on future policy priorities, and how all governments can be held to account for driving change. A delegation from the Special Gathering then attended the COAG meeting to provide advice of the gathering directly to First Ministers.

The Special Gathering agreed the next phase of the Closing the Gap agenda must be guided by the principles of empowerment and self-determination as articulated in the 2008 Close the Gap Statement of Intent. The group demanded from government a community led, strength based strategy that enables us to move beyond surviving to thriving.

The Gathering agreed that existing targets should be retained and critically reviewed, and that the following areas are of highest importance for setting additional future targets as part of this refresh:

– Families, children and youth
– Housing
– Justice, including youth justice
– Health
– Economic development
– Culture and language
– Education
– Healing
– Eliminating racism and systemic discrimination

We call on governments to negotiate specific targets in these areas with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and our representative bodies.

Here is a link to the full statement from the group: 

ATSILS QLD Legal Service Delivery

Call for justice targets on 10th anniversary of Apology to Australia’s Stolen Generations

ATSILS supports the strong call by the Law Council of Australia to put Justice Targets back on the national agenda. Justice targets are vital to Closing the Gap & addressing the unacceptable incarceration rates of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples which is a national crisis.


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10th Anniversary of ‘The Apology’ to the Stolen Generations

Apology10On the 10th Anniversary of ‘The Apology’ and every day we stand with the Stolen Generations and are committed to advancing and protecting their legal and human rights.

In the work we do, we see the ongoing impacts of such policies and we are particularly mindful of the challenges faced by many of our people dealing with the effects of inter-generational trauma.

We will continue to push hard for reform in laws, policies and practices that discriminate and adversely impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and we call for more ACTION from all levels of government to assist the healing process in our communities.

Commemorating The Apology to Stolen Generations is an important part of history and is vital to the healing process, but the words and rhetoric must be backed up with more action.

It is a shameful indictment on policy makers that 10 years after the apology to the Stolen Generations, we’ve seen the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed from their families double. Community controlled and led solutions must be designed and implemented to address this devastating trajectory tearing apart communities.

Family Matters – Strong communities, strong culture, stronger children.

Learn More:
Recommendations: Bringing them home: The ‘Stolen Children’ report (1997) –

Learn more about the Stolen Generations and the Healing journey at Healing Foundation

Reconciliation Australia


Free to Be Kids – National Plan of Action released

A plan to transform the justice system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Today the Change the Record Coalition launched an eight-point plan -Free to be Kids – National Plan of Action – to transform the youth justice system and prevent abuse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children in prisons.

“The time to act is now. This is an historic opportunity for the Federal Government to make a difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children,” said Antoinette Braybrook, Co-Chair of Change the Record.

“The Royal Commission into Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory demonstrated shocking abuse of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in prisons, and we know that similar abuses are happening right around the country,” said Cheryl Axleby, Co-Chair of Change the Record.

Change the Record has said the Federal Government must:

Support children, families and communities to stay strong and together
Raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14
Get children who are not sentenced out of prison
Adequately fund Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled legal and other support services
End abusive practices in prisons
Set targets to end the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in prison
Improve collection and use of data
Work through COAG to reform State and Territory laws that breach children’s rights

Download Free to be Kids – National Plan of Action [PDF]


Change the Record - Free to be Kids




Health, Justice & Human Rights orgs unite in call to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

Following Universal Children’s Day, doctors, lawyers, health and human rights experts from across Australia are calling for the age when children can be held criminally liable to be raised to at least 14 years so that primary school aged children are not entangled in the criminal justice system.

All Australian states and territories currently have laws that allow children as young as ten years to be charged, brought before the courts, sentenced and imprisoned. The United Nations has repeatedly rebuked Australia for maintaining such a low age of criminal responsibility.


Full Media Release:


ATSILS CEO on the need for a new approach to crime and punishment

ATSILS CEO Shane Duffy on ABC Speaking Out discussing the need for a new approach to crime and punishment.

“…instead of looking at our mob as the problem, look at us as the solution.”

As the Royal Commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory continues, legal rights advocates have called on governments to rethink their approach to criminal justice. Shane Duffy believes Justice Reinvestment could be a win-win solution for state and territory governments, as well as Indigenous communities.





Calling for smarter approaches to violence, offending that address underlying causes of crime

Addressing violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and rising imprisonment rates requires a nuanced approach, according to Antoinette Braybrook and Shane Duffy, Co-Chairs of the Change the Record Coalition.

This article is part of a #JustJustice series running at Croakey this week to coincide with Guardian Australia’s Breaking the Cycle project (which is featuring a number of #JustJustice articles), and to mark the publication of the second edition of the #JustJustice book.

Antoinette Braybrook and Shane Duffy write:

In recent months we have seen a renewed and welcome discussion about the crisis of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. What we need now is for all levels of government to start listening to peak and representative Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, so that we can work together to address the unacceptably high rates of violence towards our women and children.

We all want to live in a safe community – with less crime and fewer victims. As a result we often default to the assumption that locking up as many people as possible will keep us safe.

But the evidence proves otherwise, with punitive approaches often compounding underlying issues. If we really want to address both rates of violence and rising imprisonment rates, we need to adopt a more nuanced approach.

Since our launch in April 2015, the Change the Record campaign has been working towards twin goals – to stop the disproportionate rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children, and to end the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

These two goals are mutually reinforcing in a number of ways. Family violence is both a cause and a consequence of imprisonment. Our women are at the epicentre of the national family violence crisis. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are currently 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence than non-Indigenous women and 10 times more likely to be killed as a result of violent assault.

However, it is important to note that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who access our services experience family violence at the hands of men from a range of different backgrounds and cultures.

Underlying, interlinked root causes to violence, prison rates

At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women also represent the fastest growing prison population in Australia and it is estimated that around 90 percent of our women in prison have previously been a victim/survivor of family violence.

The experience of women accessing our services tells us that, more often than not, the criminal justice system fails to protect women from family violence, with punitive approaches providing an incomplete response to stopping the violence.

Both violence and imprisonment rates are also driven by a range of underlying and interlinked root causes, such as mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, poverty, family violence, exposure to the child protection system and other factors.

If we want our justice system to work, we need to recognise and respond to the complex needs of the individuals involved. For instance, the resources that are currently put into imprisoning our people could be better spent on investment into holistic wrap-around family violence services that aim to build resilience and reduce offending.

This includes for example a focus on prevention and early intervention programs, such as Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria’s Sisters Day Out program or Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service’s Kunga Stopping Violence Project.

We need Governments to shift their focus away from responding after an offence has been committed, towards investing in services which build communities, reduce violence and prevent offending from occurring in the first place.

Turn-away rates of 30-40 per cent

An example of the complexity of these issues is the story of Ms Dhu – a young, vulnerable Aboriginal woman who tragically died in police custody after being imprisoned for unpaid fines. At the time of her arrest, she was only 22 years of age and was a victim of domestic violence. She was arrested at the same time as the perpetrator and locked up in a police cell adjoining his.

The sad reality is that Ms Dhu should never have been arrested and she certainly should not have been locked up. Instead, she should have been provided access to holistic family violence support services – such as access to safe housing, community services, legal assistance and prevention and early intervention programs.

However, chronic under-funding and budgetary cuts to services means that we currently don’t have capacity to meet demand. For example, Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) around the country are currently reporting a turn away rate of 30-40 percent because they are so under-resourced.

As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we both know first-hand the pain that is caused by violence against our women and children, and we want the violence to stop. But we also know from personal experience the ongoing impact of intergenerational trauma, mental health issues and the breakdown of our communities that is caused by the escalating over-imprisonment of our people.

Talking about addressing violence and imprisonment rates in tandem is difficult but, if we are to make progress in this area, it is critical that we adopt a balanced response which tackles these dual issues head on.

We don’t need more knee-jerk, ill-considered policies. It is essential that peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are front and centre in the solutions. Governments must meaningfully engage with the experts in frontline service delivery rather than seeing them as an afterthought.

Continuously defaulting to a simplistic ‘law and order’ approach only perpetuates cycles of trauma and disadvantage, and will not make our communities safer in the long-term.

It is in all of our interests to work together to develop smarter approaches, which are targeted at addressing the underlying causes of crime. This approach will not only cut offending and imprisonment rates, but critically will also increase safety by working to address the root causes of violence against women and children in the first place.

Antoinette Braybrook and Shane Duffy are Co-Chairs of the Change the Record Coalition.



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