What it means to defund the Indigenous Law Centre

Dr Leon Terrill is a lecturer in the UNSW Law School and a Fellow of the Indigenous Law Centre (ILC). He outlines how Federal Government cuts tofunding mean the ILC is seeking community support to continue its important work – including the only two Indigenous-specific law journals published in Australia .It is rare for a week to go by in Australia without some Indigenous legal issue making the news. Just this week examples include the introduction of Koori Youth Courts in NSWnative title negotiations in Queenslandreforms to land rights in the Northern Territory and Constitutional recognition in Western Australia and at a national level. Complex issues, right? Complex and significant, which is why community legal education is so important.

The Indigenous Law Centre (ILC) at the University of New South Wales is the only Indigenous-specific law research centre in Australia. Its main role is to disseminate quality research on Indigenous legal issues and engage in effective community legal education. Created in 1981, the ILC has been led over the years by such high profile Indigenous academics as Professor Mick Dodson and current director Professor Megan Davis.

In 2014, as part of broader cuts to the Indigenous legal sector, the ILC lost all of its government funding. It has no other source of funding. Unsurprisingly, Professor Davis is deeply concerned about the impact of this decision on Indigenous communities.

‘Given the intrusiveness of law and government policy in Indigenous communities in Australia’ Professor Davis states, ‘community legal education is essential for giving people the freedom to make choices about their lives’.

‘That is why the ILC is passionate about providing Indigenous people and their communities with affordable and quality information on Indigenous legal issues. The power of community legal education cannot be overstated’.

The ILC publishes the only two Indigenous-specific law journals in Australia, the Indigenous Law Bulletin (ILB) and the Australian Indigenous Law Review (AILR). Both are highly regarded, and provide information to not just Indigenous communities but also to researchers and people working as part of the justice system. And when people working in the justice system are kept informed of developments, they are better able to obtain justice for their clients. One reader of the ILB, a legal practitioner from the Northern Territory, has explained how frequently ‘an article or note in the ILB concerning a legal development from another jurisdiction sets us onto a new and potentially productive line of argument or research’.

Over the decades the work of the ILC has gained international attention. One international academic described it as ‘THE most important source of information on legal issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, for Australians as well as others throughout the world’. Another commented that the ILC ‘produces world class leading work on Indigenous peoples and the law. I strongly believe that the ILC is world leading’.

The ILC also produces easy-to-understand research briefs and holds public forums on issues of particular importance. Recent examples include a brief on the consequences of township leasing in the Northern Territory and a forum on (the then) proposed amendments to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Despite the funding cuts the ILC remains committed to its core function of improving understandings of and discussion about Indigenous legal issues, as part of which it is actively looking for new funding partnerships. It is now more reliant than ever on public support – including in the form of donations and subscriptions. If you would like to know more about how people can support the ILC, information is available on their website.

You an follow the Indigenous Law Centre on Twitter: @ILC_UNSW to keep informed.