Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Law Enforcement Committee; Report

3:36 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, I present the report of the committee on its inquiry into illicit tobacco, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

Question agreed to.

3:44 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Summary report of the 24 June 2020 public hearing on the Australian Institute of Criminology's National Deaths in Custody Program. Next year it will be 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its final report.

There have been at least 441 deaths in custody of First Nations people since the royal commission. That's not the number you'll find in this report. This report is about deaths in custody two years ago. We know there have been at least 441 deaths, because families, grassroots Aboriginal people and organisations have been keeping count. I ask the government to reflect on that, because I know they haven't. If they had, they would have implemented all 339 recommendations of the royal commission. If they took the problem seriously, they would have chosen to include stronger justice targets as part of the Closing the Gap agreement. They could have also raised the age of criminal responsibility.

If our people were property developers or miners, we would have got everything we wanted before asking. The solutions from countless inquiries have always been clear on what needs doing, the government has just chosen not to do it. Because of the ongoing impacts of colonisation, land theft, the attempted destruction of our culture, genocide and racism, our people are the most imprisoned people on earth. The first people of this country are the most imprisoned people on earth. This figure is only climbing higher, particularly for our women.

I thank the Institute of Criminology for this report, but it's not good enough to have a system where we have these delays in gathering reliable information and reporting on it. We need to know how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are dying in prisons as soon as it happens. The institute notes that the rates of Aboriginal deaths in custody have been decreasing, and that the rates of deaths in custody for our people are lower than the mainstream population. To that I say: that might be the case, but that's not the point. We are not calling for our people to die less compared to others, we're calling on them to not die in custody at all. The report quotes an exchange between the chair and the institute, where they discuss that our rates of imprisonment are skyrocketing, but they're happy to report we are less likely to die in custody now. What a pathetically low bar. Tell that to five families who have had their loved ones die in custody since June this year. In the absence of a caring and responsible government to keep a tally in real-time, including fast-tracking investigations and ensuring accountability for perpetrators, our families are having to do all of this themselves. There are no words to express my sympathy and also my respect for these brave, staunch and resilient families.

First Nations deaths in custody are an ongoing national tragedy. The only way to fix this for all governments is to work in true partnership with the families and to fully commit to implementing all of the recommendations from the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. We need a report to the parliament every quarter on the status of the implementation of those recommendations—a true independent report, not like the government's own review that says 91 per cent of the recommendations are implemented. That's a lie. The government must adequately fund Aboriginal community controlled services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services to support and divert our people out of the criminal legal system, and also for them to provide legal representation during coronial inquests as well as culturally safe support for our people left behind after a death in custody. The government needs to commit to fully funding custody notification services because they save lives. This report is insulting to families left behind. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.