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Justice advocates note lack of progress on OPCAT as anniversary lingers

Aaron Bloch -

Victoria's implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) "has not made any progress" according to CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS), Nerita Waight.

Originally signed by the United Nations on 18 December 2002, and was ratified by Australia on 21 December 2017, the protocol aims to protect people's human rights whilst in detention by providing a process for independent inspections of all places of detention within a country; enabling accountability.

Following Australia's ratification, a January 2022 deadline was instated for National Preventative Mechanisms to be implemented to protect against torture, mistreatment, abuse and other breaches of human rights.

Waight expressed her disappointment at the lack of progress given the upcoming deadline, and said that "no state in Australia has done a good job, but Victoria is definitely at the back of the pack".

Waight criticised the Victorian government for continuing to expand prisons whilst making "almost no effort to ensure they are run properly".

"Independent detention oversight would ensure human rights violations were not occurring. This is desperately needed in Victoria after an IBAC report earlier this year revealed some terrible instances of abuse and corruption in Victoria's prisons."

VALS support "culturally-safe" independent oversight where "the processes need to be designed to make people from diverse background feel comfortable to tell their stories to the organisation".

As a result, VALS advocate for the use of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations "in the design and implementation of independent detention oversight".

Of particular concern to Waight and VALS is "the lack of appropriate healthcare provided" to First Nations people within detention and custodial settings.

"There have been at least 500 Aboriginal deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 30 years ago and healthcare has been a factor in many of them," she said.

VALS claim that inappropriate treatment and denial of healthcare requests have led to Indigenous deaths in custody.

"Independent detention oversight could help shine a light on the lack of healthcare in prisons and persuade governments into doing a better job, and to provide expert advice on how to improve healthcare," concluded Waight.

Steven Caruana, Coordinator of the Australia OPCAT Network, described the outlook of OPCAT implementation as "woeful, to the extent where Australia won't meet its obligations by January 2022".

"Australia's had 4 years to implement a preventative mechanism but we've seen little to no progress."

Caruana believes that a significant issue that is preventing full implementation appears to be funding, describing it as "preposterous that there's no investment in this mechanism which could prevent multiple human rights breaches, and show both domestically and internationally that Australia is serious."

Caruana agreed with Waight's assessment of Victoria's progress, however believed New South Wales' implementation of OPCAT remains as bad as Victoria.

"Victoria and NSW have made no public comments about OPCAT and how they intend to implement it," he said.

The National Indigenous Times contacted the Office of the Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Officer of the Premier of Victoria however, did not receive a response before time of publication.

By Aaron Bloch

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