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Statement acknowledging 20 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

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Rachel Siewert 18 Apr 2011

I start by acknowledging that this statement is being made on the land (boodja) of the Wadjuk Nyoongar people. I pay my respects to the traditional owners of this land and the elders past and present. It always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

I’d also like to acknowledge the excellent work done by the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee.

I am deeply sorry that I was unable to be with you today to discuss with you the pressing need to act on Aboriginal deaths in custody.

To act on fully and comprehensively implementing the findings of the Royal Commission.

To act on reducing the appalling over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our prisons, and in the criminal justice system.

To act on the alarming over-representation of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the juvenile justice system – on remand and in our lock-ups.

And, more specifically, to act on the underlying causes of this over-representation: To act to reduce the disadvantage in employment, education and health, and to act on the lack of cultural awareness and institutional racism within our police force - that results in young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being more likely to be targeted, harassed or charged than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 14 times more likely to be incarcerated and represent 26% of our prison population - despite representing less than 3% of our total population.  Between 2000 and 2010 the rate of imprisonment increased from 1,248 to 1,892 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander prisoners per 100,000 adults, as compared to a change from 130 to 134 non-Indigenous prisoners per 100,000 adults. Since the tabling of the report of the Royal Commission in 1991 we have seen 269 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people die in custody – that’s nearly one in five of all deaths in custody.

Too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being locked up, often for very minor offences, when incarceration should really be the last resort – not the first.

This is why The Greens are advocating for Justice Reinvestment … and supporting the excellent work being done by ALSWA. Justice reinvestment is about diverting a proportion of the money that we expect to go into locking people up and re-targeting it to provide services in at-risk communities to address the underlying causes of crime.

We need to be directing more resources into diversionary programs, rehab programs, as well as addressing health, education and housing.

You may be aware that during the last sitting the Senate unanimously supported a Greens motion calling on the Australian Government: To recognise the passing of twenty years since the report of the royal commission, to look at the outcomes of reviews into the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, report on progress (or the lack of progress) and to act on those findings and to work with the States and Territories to audit the standards of places of detention across the country and ensure we put truly independent monitoring in place.

You may also be aware that the Aboriginal Legal Services are working together this year on a project being led by NSW ALS to audit the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission by Commonwealth, State and Territory governments and departments. The Greens are keen to do what we can to support this process, and we are committed to working with the community, with the ATSILS, prisoner advocates and deaths in custody watch committees to use the findings of this audit to drive change.

This event today is mirrored by other rallies in other capital cities.

We need to send a clear message that enough is enough …

Its time to end the appalling over-representation of Aboriginal people, and particularly Aboriginal youth, in custody …

And its time to ensure that any person in custody in Australia – whether they are white or Aboriginal citizen or an asylum seeker – can be sure they are safe, are treated with care and respect and above all justice…

So that no-one need die in custody in Australia ever again.

Thank you.

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