Greens Senator Stewart’ Australia has the highest rate of incarceration of First Nations peoples. Is the government ashamed of that?
Senator Rachel Siewart Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) : I move:
That the Senate take note of the answer by the Minister representing the Minister for Indigenous Australians (Senator Ruston) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to deaths in custody of First Nations peoples.
I asked: is the government ashamed of the fact that 437 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the 1991 royal commission report? Australia has the highest rate of incarceration of First Nations peoples per capita in the world. Is the government ashamed of that? Apparently not. I asked whether that is recorded in a centralised process across Australia. No, it isn’t. There was no answer to that either, and that is symptomatic of the problem that exists in this country: a failure of governments to address the causes of First Nations peoples ending up incarcerated. They aren’t changing the record. They aren’t changing the drivers that result in people ending up in custody, and they’re not holding people responsible for those deaths in custody. There has not been one conviction in relation to any of those deaths in custody.
What we need to do is change the record. Change the Record, the organisation that has been tracking the issue of justice for our First Nations peoples, is also articulating what the government should be doing. Across Australia, the government should be repealing the punitive bail laws that are the reason people end up in prison. The government should be getting rid of mandatory sentencing. How much more evidence does this mob need that mandatory sentencing is leading to First Nations peoples being discriminated against and is contributing to them ending up in prison? The government should be ending things like the criminalisation of public drunkenness. They should be decriminalising that. The government should be making sure that children don’t end up in prison. For far too long, governments across Australia have been obfuscating the issue; we need to address the fact that this country is locking up children. We need to end racist policing and require police accountability on these issues.
We need to make sure we genuinely implement the recommendations of the royal commission. I can tell you that the report that was tabled a couple of years ago—in fact, it wasn’t tabled and it was not released publicly; there had to be an order for the production of documents requiring that it be tabled in the Senate—found that, supposedly, two-thirds of those recommendations had been implemented. But, if you actually read the report— and, in estimates, we finally dragged the information out of the bureaucrats—it was, in fact, a desktop survey and they couldn’t track the information. This is a travesty. The government should be ashamed of its record.
Attribution: Parliament of Australia Website