Question: ABORIGINAL DEATHS IN CUSTODY
The Hon. J.S. LEE (14:33):
My questions are to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs regarding Aboriginal affairs:
1. Does the minister agree that the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody provides a necessary and relevant document for sentencing judges to confront, discuss, analyse and evaluate and, if so, what action has the minister taken to ensure that occurs?
2. Is the minister aware of support given by the judiciary to the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody since 1991 and, with that, what actions has the minister taken to ensure that the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody is confronted, discussed, analysed and evaluated in the community itself?
3. If such actions have been taken by the minister, what feedback from the community has been received by the minister to date?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:34):
I thank the honourable member and I think much of the answer I have previously given is relevant to the questions the honourable member asked. Certainly, many of the issues that confronted the commissioners, including commissioners like Elliott Johnston from South Australia, who was part of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, are as relevant today as they were then.
I am pleased that one of the commitments of this Labor Government that we will soon implement is a commission into incarceration rates of Aboriginal people. We will look to our best practice, not just around Australia but right around the world, in terms of reducing incarceration rates and what services are provided within the prison system and upon release from the prison system that can reduce Aboriginal people's contact with the justice system.
There are examples from around the world, New Zealand and Canada in particular, of the use of various sentencing options and use of different methods of incarceration for First Nations people that have shown some success. I know the Labor Minister for Corrections in New Zealand, Kelvin Davis, who I know is a Māori man, in programs they have been running has had some significant success in reducing the incarceration rate of Māori people in New Zealand, and we are certainly looking at the lessons that can be learnt there.
We have implemented programs in South Australia that have worked. In either 1998 or 1999, the Nunga Court in South Australia was established, first in Port Adelaide and then Murray Bridge, and became the first and second Aboriginal sentencing courts anywhere in Australia. We are consulting now about strengthening those courts and taking them from a practice into codifying the legislation on the operation of the Nunga Court.
So certainly there have been things that have happened in South Australia that have had a deal of success in terms of sentencing, as the honourable member asked regarding Aboriginal people, but it is something we are keen to improve upon. I think the statistics are that 26 or 28 per cent of our incarcerated adult male population are Aboriginal people, and it is even higher for female Aboriginal people in the system in South Australia. It is something we are looking at and working on and, as the Uluru Statement from the Heart tells us, Aboriginal people are not innately criminal people, but incarceration rates are a blight on us and we will look to do what we can.