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Indigenous deaths in custody in 2022 at the highest level in 15 years, report reveals

Dechlan Brennan -

A new report released by the Productivity Commission has revealed Indigenous deaths in custody last year were at the highest level in 15 years.

The Report on Government Services, released this week, noted whilst there was a falling number of deaths in police custody since reporting began in 2007-2008, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths was the "equal highest number in any year," with eight of the 22 deaths in custody in 2021-22 being First Nations people.

Kurin Minang Noongar woman Hannah McGlade, an international human rights law expert and member of the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, says that these levels of deaths in custody are "shocking."

"It is time we have federal and state governments take this seriously," Dr McGlade told National Indigenous Times.

"How are we are having such levels of deaths in custody, increases Aboriginal incarceration, in this era post Black Lives Matter?"

The eight deaths in police custody, which was confined to New South Wales (five) and Queensland (three), was the equal highest on record. The only other year with eight death was 2016-17.

Dr McGlade called on the Federal Government to listen to Labor Senator Pat Dodson, who in March argued that the government should set up a national Indigenous justice committee and a federal office to oversee state coronial inquests and ensure there was tailored Indigenous health services in jails.

She said that currently, laws are still being passed that negatively impact First Nations people. She pointed to the youth bail-breaching laws in Queensland as an example.

"We aren't seeing the commitment from governments to help Aboriginal people. What we are seeing are laws passed that are in violation of UN laws, laws that are prone to discrimination against Indigenous and First nations people."

The report has also revealed a ten year low in the public's perception of fairness and honesty in the police, with only 66.3 per cent of people agreeing that they "treat people fairly and equally."

The reduced police approval ratings come in the wake of a series of high-profile police incidents, including the death of 95-year-old Clare Nowland in New South Wales and the Yoorrook truth-telling inquiry recently hearing about the "horrific" raiding of an Aboriginal family's home in an anti-terror investigation.

It also revealed only 68.6 per cent of people believed the police "are honest,' down from 75.9 per cent in 2014-15.

A spokesperson for Victoria Police told National Indigenous Times that Victoria police "rate above the national average" for honesty and fair treatment.

"The overwhelming majority of people surveyed are also satisfied with the service we provide."

In the wake of Police commissioner Shane Patton apologising to the Yoorrook truth-telling inquiry for the past and present behaviour discrimination towards the state's First Nations people, Victoria police highlighted increasing Indigenous representation as "critical" to increasing trust in the police for Aboriginal people.

"Victoria Police is focused on strengthening its connections with the community, including building greater trust and stronger relationships with Aboriginal people," the spokesperson said.

"That's why we have committed to expanding the number of Aboriginal employees at all levels of the organisation through initiatives like our Diversity Recruitment Program which aims to boost the number of police and protective services officers from different backgrounds.

"We also run an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school-based traineeship program."

National Indigenous Times also contacted NSW Police for comment.





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