Clarence Valley Independent

Council fights to save Aboriginal Legal Service

Geoff Helisma |

Clarence Valley’s councillors have unanimously endorsed Jim Simmons’ mayoral minute, to dissuade the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) board’s decision to close its Grafton office and move its business to Coffs Harbour.

Council representatives met with ALS board representatives on Friday December 14, where it was resolved to “take our feedback to a board meeting in February for discussion”, Cr Simmons said.

The deputy mayor, Jason Kingsley, said there was “no indication one way or other” on whether or not the board would reverse its decision.

“The decision [to close the office] was made mostly on demand and efficiencies, which don’t add up for me,” he said.

“We will work with them to lobby for more funding, to try and ensure they can stay open with the same staff levels in the Grafton office.”

At the December 11 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, the mayor said it “seems the board has abandoned the valley’s Aboriginal communities”.

His minute put it like this: “Little empathy has been shown for the seven employees at the Grafton office who will have to transfer to Coffs Harbour or lose their jobs.

“There are five Aboriginal land councils in the Clarence Valley area and one in Coffs Harbour.

“The Grafton office covers an area from Iluka to Urunga up to Dorrigo and out to Baryulgil and Malabugilmah.

“Grafton is central to those areas and the outlying Aboriginal communities cannot be serviced from Coffs Harbour, which would involve about three hours driving time.

“An option is to retain the service as it now operates from the Grafton office and both the Australian and [NSW] governments step up and fund the additional field officer(s) position to service Coffs Harbour.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of the six communities in Grafton, South Grafton, Yamba, Iluka, Baryulgil and Malabugilmah based on the 2016 Census 3,217 … yet the ALS board draws a comparison of only 990 in Maclean and Grafton to that of 1,430 in Coffs Harbour.”

Councillor Kingsley told his fellow councillors that the ALS board’s decision was “ill informed” and there “was little or no regard for impacts on staff or community”.

He pointed out that the valley’s correctional centres, including the new gaol – which will be the largest Australia – would increase demand for the ALS’s services.

“Clarence Valley will soon have four operating correctional institutions,” the mayor wrote in his minute.

“The current Grafton jail, the new Clarence Correctional Centre, Acmena and Bulund-a; Coffs Harbour has none.”

Councillors resolved to “write to the Board of the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Hon Nigel Scullion Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Sarah Mitchell NSW State Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Kevin Hogan Member for Page and Chris Gulaptis Member for Clarence, objecting to the closure of the Grafton office of the Aboriginal Legal Service and moving the office to Coffs Harbour.

They also resolved to “request that the Australian and NSW governments provide funding to ensure that the Grafton office of the Aboriginal Legal Service continues to function as before and to fund field officer(s) for the Coffs Harbour area”.

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