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Federal Labor commits $90m to ending deaths in custody

Rachael Knowles -

On the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Labor has announced a $90 million investment into ending Black Deaths in Custody.

Since the 1991 Royal Commission, over 474 First Nations people have died in custody, and the rate of First Nations peoples incarcerated has increased from 14 to 30 per cent.

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney has announced that Labor, should they be elected as the next Federal Government, will commit $90 million to end Black deaths in custody and reducing the rate of First Nations people interacting with the criminal justice system.

Labor will dedicate $79 million to expanding justice reinvestment across the nation, boosting funding for 30 communities to establish justice reinvestment programs as of 2023 and expanding already established services to reduce crime and re-offending.

This will include investment in rehabilitation services, domestic and family violence support, housing support, and education initiatives.

Justice reinvestment will be community-led and place-based, and will be developed with and by First Nations communities working with local police and courts.

To coincide with community programs, Labor will establish an independent national justice reinvestment unit.

"It is self-determination, the linchpin will be an independent secretarial body that will support how they oversee the 30 programs," Ms Burney said.

"It is a partnership program with States and Territories, we have only had the opportunity to talk to the Western Australian Government and they are so enthusiastic about it. I expect that to be the same across the country â€" whether Labor or Liberal.

"We have put this together because we want to drive down the number of people who actually go into the system."

Justice reinvestment program, the Maranguka Project, is currently running in Bourke, New South Wales.

According to a KPMG Australia report, the program has shown significant reductions in domestic violence, re-offending rates, juvenile charges and an increase in school attendance.

The Maranguka Project is saving the NSW economy $3.1 million â€" five times its operation cost. Similar projects are being rolled out in the NSW communities of Mt Druitt and Moree.

Labor has also said it will invest $13.5 million into redeveloping and strengthening the Coronial Inquest process.

The party hopes to improve access to justice for families who have lost loved ones in custody and provide improved accessibility to Aboriginal and Torres Strait legal services to ensure culturally safe support.

"Coronial Inquests need to lead to real change. It looks at individual deaths, and related circumstances, it looks at where the system fails," said Ms Burney.

"At the moment, families find it difficult and baffling to be able to interface with the Coronial Inquiry, and so never feel like they get the answers they need.

"We want to make it easier, with more support for families to access the Coronial Inquest process."

Following issues recently raised in Senate Estimates by Labor Senator Pat Dodson regarding the lack of real-time reporting of deaths in custody, Labor has plans to work with States and Territories for national real-time reporting.

"At the moment, no one takes responsibility," Ms Burney said.

"What we are talking about here is not just for First Nations people who are dying in custody, we are talking about real time reporting for all people who die in custody.

"The Federal Government is the absolute body, through the Attorney-General's Agency, to be able to work with the States and say that any death in custody, be it from old age, an accident, asthma, hanging, neglect, will be reported within 24 hours."

Ms Burney said real-time reporting became a priority for her after the two deaths in custody disclosed during the NSW Budget Estimates process.

"The reason this resonated with me are those two deaths in New South Wales in early March, which we would have never know about if it had not been for the Budget Estimates process," she said.

"At the moment there is no guarantee, for media, politics or anyone in the community, that we will find out [about a death in custody]."

Alongside the real-time reporting commitment, a Labor Government would bring together First Nations and State and Territory representatives for a national summit for action on First Nations deaths in custody.

"I am particularly keen to ensure that there are people in the room, mums and dads, brothers and sisters, children, husbands and wives who have had the experiences. You have to be listening to those people to understand what it means on a human level," said Ms Burney.

The Shadow Minister reiterates that the voices of families are integral to taking action and shares her criticism of the Prime Minister not meeting with families today.

"I can't understand why the Prime Minister would not take the opportunity to hear first-hand from families â€" it humanises these issues," she said.

If elected to Government, Ms Burney said Labor would have a strong commitment to First Nations people.

"We are incredibly dedicated to First Nations issues, Anthony [Albanese] and myself, along with a few others, will be going to Uluru after the ANZAC weekend to reinforce our commitment to the Uluru Statement," she said.

By Rachael Knowles


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