An array of First Nations peoples and organisations were celebrated at the Australian Human Rights Awards, with finalists including Marlee and Keely Silva, Professor Bruce Pascoe, Jasmine Cavanagh and winners, UNSW law student and activist, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts and independent, not-for-profit organisation, Just Reinvest NSW.
Just Reinvest NSW took home the Community Organisation Award, the win coming only months after the organisation’s win at the HESTA Awards.
Created to combat the rising rate of Aboriginal people in incarceration, the organisation takes a community-led, community-owned, holistic approach to justice reinvestment initiatives and advocates for reform in the Australian justice system.
Beginning in May 2012, the organisation has had a long journey to the success it is today. They now engage with over 20 organisations as members and sponsors along with additional ambassadors and volunteers.
In 2013, Just Reinvest NSW partnered with community leaders in the far northwest NSW community of Bourke, starting up the first major justice reinvestment trial nationwide – the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project.
Managing Solicitor, Justice Projects at the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT and Chair of Just Reinvest NSW, Sarah Hopkins, said it was the Bourke community that initiated the relationship between organisation and town.
“When we began in 2012, in a way we saw ourselves as an advocacy organisation; looking more at policy and legislative reform around the prison population,” Ms Hopkins said.
“We initially envisioned that we would be really working with government, trying to persuade government to work with community-led justice investment initiatives. But when we started having those discussions with government, the community of Bourke reached out to us.”
Both Ms Hopkins and colleague Mick Gooda, a proud Gangulu man and former Commissioner of the Northern Territory Royal Commission into Child Protection and Youth Detention, visited Bourke upon the invitation from community.
“We went step by step with that, it was important to us from the outset that it was community led … the community wanted to see what justice reinvestment would look like in Bourke.”
“That led us to create a round table and bring together stakeholders that could support the work in Bourke and then it was all on from there … here we are five years on!”
Although still focused on legislative and policy reform, the community-led justice reinvestment initiative has been incredibly rewarding for the team.
“It isn’t a program, it’s an approach really. A whole of community approach, whole of government approach that is moving towards [systemic] change that will better support children and young people and their families.”
“There are working groups that are focused on three particular areas that were defined by the Bourke Tribal Council; early childhood, eight to 18 and the role of men.
“What the work in Bourke has looked like is providing the community with the data it requested and required to identify the problems and issues facing young people, and also the solutions so the Bourke Tribal Council are using that data, as well as community input into that data – to influence a strategy called Growing our Kids Up Safe and Strong.”
Just Reinvest is working to ensure the local voice is heard, prioritised and acted upon, reversing the top-down approach commonly used in Australia.
“The work we are doing is the opposite of a top-down approach and at every step of the way it is critical to ensure that it is a community led approach, the strategies are community led, that the data that is provided is at the request of community. It is, for us, a foundational principle that we work from, it is place based, community led and community owned.”
“The Just Reinvest approach from our perspective is about the human rights principle of self-determination. Ultimately we are there to support Indigenous self-governance.”
Bringing everyone to the table and ensuring each person’s voice is heard is creating significant change for the Bourke community and moving towards a more positive future for Aboriginal young people and families.
“Mick Gooda always says that the greatest change he sees in Bourke is people are feeling better about themselves. I think in a way that is right, it’s the mindset shift.
“We have seen great results in terms of reduction in offending and major categories of offending, but I think even more critically people are participating in the process and feeling more mobilised to create change – because there is a sense that change is possible.”
Just Reinvest NSW is heading into the new year hoping to expand their reach across NSW and the nation, slowly but surely creating positive and generational change.
For more information: http://www.justreinvest.org.au/.
By Rachael Knowles