Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Questions without Notice
Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. There were three Aboriginal deaths in custody last week—in one week—bringing the number to almost 500. We're only 3.3 per cent of this population. Next month marks the 30th anniversary of the final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Our people are screaming for justice. What will you do to end Aboriginal deaths in custody?
These are serious issues that Senator Thorpe raises. All Aboriginal deaths in custody are a tragedy, and every single death that occurs in custody is a tragedy. It is an ongoing problem and challenge for the nation that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are overrepresented in our adult and youth justice systems, both as offenders and as victims. Indeed, while the rates of death in custody for Indigenous prisoners is lower than for non-Indigenous prisoners, any death in custody is one too many. As the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found, the fundamental issue is that too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often.
The new National Agreement on Closing the Gap includes targets for reducing the rate of adult incarceration by at least 15 per cent, which is target 10, and of youth detention by at least 30 per cent, which is target 11, amongst Indigenous Australians by 2031. The Indigenous Advancement Strategy of the government funds activities to complement the efforts of states and territories to improve justice and community safety outcomes for Indigenous Australians. Some $261.3 million has been committed in 2020-21 alone. We recognise the seriousness of these issues and, through the closing the gap agreement, we are committed to working with states and territories, but also, most importantly, with individual communities, to seek to overcome and to address these issues. But we know there is no quick or silver bullet to doing so. It is why, though, we have spelt out clear targets, clear funding, and work to try to address this tragedy that ensues. (Time expired)
This government needs to close their own gap. It has been 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody released its final report. The government refuses to implement all of the report's recommendations that could save black lives today. This would also prevent the loss, trauma and grief that we experience every single day. Why haven't you done anything? (Time expired)
I understand that an independent review into the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was conducted in 2017. At the time, it found that the Australian government and governments of all political persuasions had fully or mostly implemented 91 per cent of recommendations for which the Australian government has responsibility. It also found that 18 partially implemented recommendations have largely been superseded by subsequent government actions and policies, that 78 per cent of the 339 recommendations in total—noting that many of those related to states and territories as the operators of the judicial system—have been fully or mostly implemented and 16 per cent partially implemented, and that around 90 per cent of recommendations relating to the safety of Indigenous Australians taken into custody have been fully or mostly implemented.
My point of order is on relevance, the relevance being that my question was around, 'What is the government going to do about the recommendations?' not, 'Give me a spiel on what recommendations have been implemented or not implemented and a dodgy, dodgy report,' which they base on desktop only.
I would say, and I imagine that in doing so I would be joined by all other senators, that we are deeply sorry for their anguish, for their loss, for the pain felt in those families and those communities, for the circumstances that led to those individuals being in custody and for the failings in relation to systems or communities that brought them to the point of being in custody, but that we are determined to continue to try to find pathways to reduce the rate of Indigenous incarceration, that we will, as governments have been—state and territory, Commonwealth, Labor and Liberal—continue to implement the recommendations and to go beyond the recommendations in a number of other policies and measures most recently outlined in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and that we're committed to continuing to work with communities in partnership to achieve those outcomes. (Time expired)