The Australian Greens said today that the Prime Minister should abandon budget cuts and commit to justice targets if he is serious about addressing growing incarceration rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
"The Government cannot claim to be serious about reducing incarceration rates while they refuse to establish justice targets as part of closing the gap and while they continue with their regime of budget cuts that strip $534 million out of funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs," Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues said today.
"As the Productivity Commission has pointed out, cutting funding to Aboriginal legal aid is having an impact on frontline services and will obviously impact on incarceration rates.
"It is clear that the budget cuts imposed by the Government have been made without consultation and in a way that is causing funding chaos. More and more front line services will be affected and this will lead to more cases of people failing to get the justice they have a fundamental right to. Cutting funding also means that the underlying causes of incarceration will not be addressed.
"The self-proclaimed Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is showing no leadership when it comes to the growing gap in incarceration rates, the indefinite detention of people with cognitive impairments or deaths in custody.
"Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and a range of community leaders and organisations are campaigning for justice targets, but the Government is not listening to them. Instead the Prime Minister falls back on the tired mantra of school, jobs and safer communities. More than this is needed.
"Just this week, the Government washed its hands of critical findings made against the Commonwealth by the Australian Human Rights Commission following their investigation of complaints brought by four Aboriginal men with cognitive impairments held in indefinite incarceration.
"Despite the Commission finding the rights of these four men have been breached, the Government's response, presented by the Attorney General, lacked any respect or understanding of the fact that people with cognitive impairment, the majority of them Aboriginal, continue to be held in detention around Australia with no action or care from the Government.
"If the Prime Minister genuinely cared about reducing incarceration he would ensure the Government took a leadership role in ensuring the Commonwealth, States and Territories are working together to put a focus on justice reinvestment and address issues such as indefinite incarceration, deaths in custody and services to remote communities.
"The Government should reverse their half-billion dollar budget cuts and commit to a justice target in order to close the growing gap in incarceration as a matter of priority," Senator Siewert concluded.