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Victorian justice advocates continue calls for urgent bail reform

Rachael Knowles -

It's been over two hundred days since 50 human rights, legal and community organisations sent an open letter to the Victorian Government advocating for bail reform, however, no changes have been made.

The organisations, which include the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS), Djirra, Dardi Munwurro, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS), wrote to the Labor state Government on the urgent need for bail reform.

"While you wait, while you bide your time, while you look to the next election cycle, Aboriginal people continue to be locked up in Victoria at ever increasing rates, and continue to die in custody," reads the letter.

"This is happening on your watch."

"We, the undersigned, demand that the Victorian Government immediately begin the process of implementing the necessary legislative reforms to undo the failed policy of its punitive bail laws, which disproportionately impact on Aboriginal people, especially women, many of whom are victim-survivors of domestic and family violence."

Despite their lobbying, there was been no reform of bail laws, which were introduced in 2017.

Since the Labor government was first elected, the prison population in the state has grown by 20 per cent.

VALS notes that almost half the people in Victorian prisons are on remand, with Aboriginal women being the fastest growing demographic.

"When politicians make cynical political calculations and sacrifice Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for votes, the message they send is that our lives, our families, our communities and our dignity do not matter," said VALS CEO, Nerita Waight.

"Every day that we wait for Government action on bail reform in Victoria, more Aboriginal people are thrown into Victoria's prisons for minor offending that would be more effectively addressed within community.

"This is a crisis."

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended greater access to bail. VALS notes that if the Andrews Government wishes to pursue their "ambitious reform agenda" for Aboriginal Justice, they must work to end the "over incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people".

"If we don't fix Victoria's bail laws urgently, much of the Andrews Government's reform agenda will be put at risk â€" including the Treaty process and the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission," said Waight.

VALS alleges that the state government is not planning to act on bail reform until after the 2022 election.

"The Government is putting votes first, rather than saving lives. This political decision demonstrates that the Government is out of touch with what Victorians want â€" a fair, just, equitable legal system that actually improves community safety," said the service.

"We need urgent bail reform that reflects a commitment to rehabilitation and reintegration. This is a crisis that needs to be fixed immediately."

The National Indigenous Times contacted the Offices of the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs but did not receive a response.

By Rachael Knowles

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