At the eleventh hour, the Federal Government has come to the rescue of the New South Wales based police custody crisis phone line – the 24-hour Custody Notification Service (CNS). The phone service had its funding cut last year while both the Federal and State Governments squabbled as to who should front the funding for it.
For the last year, the Aboriginal Legal Services NSW/ACT self-funded the service rather than see it go down. ALS staff did not take their wage award rises in the last year so as to fund the phone service till end of June 2013. But this proved unsustainable and the ALS launched a public campaign for the funding to be reinstated.
The crisis phone line has been used by thousands of Aboriginal persons in NSW police custody.
The Federal Government finally caved in and have just agreed to fund the $500,000 required to keep the CNS operational. The funding commitment has been limited to two years. The program was due to shutdown on June 30 but the funding commitment has put paid to that.
The ALS’s recent public petition received more than 32,000 signatures. Since the CNS was established in 2000, there have no Aboriginal deaths in custody in either the NSW and the ACT.
In May, The Stringer reported on the threat to the CNS and what the ALS had to say:
The CNS requires the NSW Police to call the hotline when any Aboriginal person is in their custody. Free legal advice is provided by the ALS to the detainee and a welfare check by the ALS of the detainee is ensured.
The ALS NSW/ACT CEO Phil Naden said that thousands use the service each year and that therefore it should be fait accompli that it is continued. He said that he would concentrate on ensuring that the CNS lasted beyond the two year funding commitment.
The CNS was a recommendation out of the 1987-1991 Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.