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Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system

CHAIR —We are obliged to get out of here at 20 past four, but having noted that you have been listening all day to what has been going on we are very happy to quickly hear your observations. Do you have anything to say about the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Bond —I am from ANTaR Queensland. I am currently a community campaigner, but I have been secretary, president, vice-president et cetera over the years.

CHAIR —‘ANTaR’ means?

Ms Bond —It is like ‘Oxfam’ in that it is now used as ‘ANTaR’, but it started as Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation. We now call it ‘ANTaR: Working for Justice, Rights and Reconciliation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.

Ms Gillies —I am a member of a working group within ANTaR which is supporting a campaign to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment in Queensland. The project is called Project 10%.

CHAIR —I should say for the purposes of our records that you have given us a document which is headed ‘Project 10%’ and which in several pages explains what you see to be the nature of the problem. That is an exhibit for the inquiry.

Ms Gillies —Specifically, the role of the working group and of ANTaR is to support as a secretariat the lead agencies in this campaign, the lead agencies being Murri Watch and ATSIWLAS, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal and Advocacy Service. Our role is to assist in documenting, advocating and lobbying. We are meeting tomorrow with Cameron Dick, the Attorney-General. We have met with the Premier and so on.

Ms Bond —I would like to just give a quick background to how this campaign came about. In late 2000, Premier Beattie, with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Board, signed the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Agreement which had the aim of reducing Indigenous imprisonment by 50 per cent in 10 years. Nothing really happened—that is, the policy was there, but there was very little implementation of what had been suggested in the policy. In 2005, they got Professor Chris Cunneen to do a review of what had been happening and the review was very scathing. It basically said that very little had happened.

In 2006, the Minister for Police and Corrective Services, Judy Spence, announced $2 billion for building a megaprison which would house 4,000 people. She was on record as saying that she assumed that about 90 per cent of the inmates would be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. This rang alarm bells for a lot of people. In 2006, the government did a review of Cunneen’s review and said they were going to do some more things and they did start to do a few things. However, this idea that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment was going to rise exponentially was of great concern, as you can imagine, to the peoples themselves and to their supporters. In 2007, Keith Hamburger, of whom you will have heard, I am sure, gave a talk and really put into words what the implications of all this were going to be. It was then that groups started to talk—to discuss with elders and to discuss with service organisations how to get something actually happening.

So this campaign, which is led now by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, is uniting the elders, service providers and communities. All of these parties have other core businesses, which is a problem, but they realise they have to unite and to focus—to get all these people about whom you have heard today to get some focus, so that we can somehow negotiate with the government to do things like listening properly to the community groups about finding new ways of interacting with them and about actually implementing stated policies instead of just listing them.

The campaign is fairly new—we only got the name in December. We are sort of working on it. It is developing. It is, at a minimum, a 10-year campaign and I think it is going to be picked up nationally in many ways because this is obviously an issue in other states as well. Young people are obviously a core issue, as is the imprisonment of women—although the men naturally matter, too. The issues of the imprisonment of young people and its prevention are very important. We have here, on the back, the five points of influence where we think intervention can really come in and those have been picked up by people today.

CHAIR —I was going to say: I hope you are encouraged by the way, during the course of the day, people from all sorts of perspectives were generally referring to this cluster of issues, weren’t they?

Ms Bond —Yes, sure.

CHAIR —They did not refer to them identically, but there was a recognition of those particular strategic points for attempting to deal with the issues.

Ms Bond —The campaign is hoping to continue to put the political pressure on to enable the actual, proper implementation of things. We are also hoping to get strong support from the philanthropic bodies and bodies like that, because it is not only an issue for government, it is an issue for each of us. An example was that magistrate. She was doing something herself—to mentor. It is for all of us to be involved and for the companies who are helping, such as the BoysTown people.

CHAIR —I sometimes find the issue quite difficult to get into perspective. Our inquiry exists because we know that overall rates of Aboriginal imprisonment have been getting worse. Queensland is not the worst offender by any means in this respect and yet it strikes me quite often as we are having our hearings that we meet a succession of government people expressing attitudes that could hardly have been thought of in most parts of the bureaucracy a generation ago, of NGOs that show extraordinary levels of understanding and commitment, again, of a dimension that was unimaginable a generation ago. One sees levels of goodwill from the mainstream towards the Indigenous community, which again certainly did not exist in the past in anything like the dimensions that exist now. Three-quarters of a million people marching across the Sydney Harbour Bridge—these may be merely symbolic gestures but they have their symbolic significance. That leads me at least to feel somewhat encouraged that it is possible to do something but, as we have been hearing today, it is the case, isn’t it, that the implementation is still far, far short of what is necessary.

Ms Bond —It is something that you have to keep chipping away at is the thing.

Ms Gillies —I want to add a couple of points—I know time is precious and going. There is nothing I have heard today in the time that I have been here that I would not concur with, and I agree with you about the level of commitment and understanding that has certainly increased. The information that we have is a distillation of consultations in four community groups around the Brisbane area—south, west, central and north. Out of that distillation we asked people what were the issues; what were the barriers; what were some of the solutions; what would work if it were funded; and what could be continued? From that we found some very good solutions and ideas that came from four of those five areas of action, so we heard of some very good strategies that were occurring in terms of prevention of kids getting into conflict with the law, so at risk. In remand and sentencing we heard of some options that were being introduced that were helpful: a review of the bail system and so on—although there are still heaps of problems there.

We have heard today about programs within the detention and prison systems that are constructive and in the post release support; however, out of those four consultations—and it is anecdotal—we were not able to glean one positive story about police contact with young people and with Aboriginal groups generally. We were not able to get one example, and there was a feeling that they were identified whether they were in their cars, in the park, no matter where. There was a visibility, a negativity and an assumption of mischief, and that was a very strong feeling, so I think there is an element of that.

The CMC review that was done last year about policing in remote areas had very much the same thing to say about the importance of having a proactive relationship. We have met with the cultural advisory unit in the police, and the number of people who are in that unit compared with the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in conflict with police officers is a drop in the ocean. So we would see that as a major area that really requires effort.

The only other thing that I would like to say is that we totally concur with the things that John just said about BoysTown about the local community owned, controlled and governed as partner and facilitators. The point that many people made when we were talking about what does work is that programs are often funded for a particular time or as a trial, and we would like to see evaluation built into anything that is funded—indicators, actual measures—in the performance measures of all government directors and agencies.

CHAIR —I actually told a group who was giving evidence at a hearing in New South Wales that I was going to call one chapter of our report: The funding ran out on the pilot program. Thank you very much.

Ms Bond —Thank you very much for fitting us in. We really appreciate it.

CHAIR —I declare the meeting closed and thank everybody in the room for their attendance today.

Resolved (on motion by Ms Rea):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 4.20 pm