Aboriginal, legal and human rights organisations have called on the federal, state and territory governments to adopt the blueprint for change set down by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on Indigenous incarceration.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice commissioner June Oscar said the report “provides an impetus for change and represents an important opportunity to transform the narrative regarding Indigenous peoples and justice systems in this country”.
She supported the call for a national inquiry into child protection laws and processes.
“We must embrace strategies aimed at early intervention and family supports,” Ms Oscar said.
The ALRC report was given to the Federal Government in December but tabled in Parliament last week.
Federal Social Services Minister Dan Tehan has said the government would consider the recommendations.
Response should be swift
The Aboriginal Legal Service in NSW and the ACT, the Law Society of NSW, Community Legal Centres NSW and Kingsford Legal Centre released a joint statement calling for swift action by governments.
Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT chief executive officer Lesley Turner said the imprisonment rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had worsened since the final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991.
He said it was now at crisis point.
“The cycle of incarceration will continue devastating families and communities if we do not remodel our approach to criminal justice,” Mr Turner said.
Law Society of NSW president Doug Humphreys said the current approach to justice was leading to the incarceration of more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women than ever before.
He said it was “resulting in the destruction of families and communities and more children not only ending up in out-of-home care but following down a path of crime”.
‘Landmark opportunity to make a difference’
Change the Record, an organisation made up of leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, human rights and community organisations, said it was time to act.
“The ALRC has called for national justice targets under ‘Closing the Gap’ to reduce both over-imprisonment and violence – it’s a clear signal that the Federal Government needs to take a lead,” Change the Record co-chair Antoinette Braybrook said.
“The new Attorney-General has a landmark opportunity to make a difference.”
Peak Australian legal body for the legal profession, the Law Council, warned the report’s recommendations should not be shelved like those from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Law Council president Morry Bailes said the disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in incarceration was a “national crisis” needing immediate action.
Labor senator Pat Dodson told the ABC the report was a wake-up call for the nation and its governments.