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Government premature on deaths in custody improvements

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Federal Member for Aston



Minister Tickner made a statement in the House of Representatives today concerning the first report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. In response I warned the Government of the dangers of being too premature in congratulating themselves on the reduction in the number of indigenous

deaths in custody.

Whilst I obviously welcome the fact that there were no Aboriginal deaths in police lockups, am concerned that, although there has been an overall drop in the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody, the low statistical numbers make it dangerous to draw early conclusions. Premature self-congratulations can lead to complacency.

I agree with Commissioner Hal Wootten's recent comments that we have seen lots of legislation and bureaucratic activity, but no real results in terms of improving the lot of Aboriginal people.

Minister Tickner has said that the first year has largely been taken up with setting up mechanisms for implementation. At the same time he has blamed State governments for not pulling their weight. The Federal Government cannot have it both ways - if it needs time to set up Federal structures, so do State governments.

More importantly, where the issue of Native Title is concerned, the Federal Government was quite prepared to use its powers relating to Aboriginal people deriving from the 1967 Referendum. However, when it comes to matters like health, housing, education and employment, it claims that these are matters under State jurisdiction.

Again, it cannot have things both ways. While I am not advocating that the Federal Government usurp State programs, the Commonwealth has a responsibility to provide leadership with tangible programs on the ground. The Minister must sit down with the States and work out co-operative mechanisms to address the real disadvantage which is the root cause of over-representation of indigenous people in custody. The Government can no longer act as Pontius Pilot and say "It is the responsibility of ATSIC" - or "It is the responsibility of State Government" - or "We have provided the money".

The Keating Government has the authority and it has allocated the money so it is now time they took decisive action. They have had 10 years in Government to think about this disgrace to the nation - it is time the talking stopped and the action started. COMMONWEALTH

(Refer to Hansard 1/3/94 for speech) PARLIAMENTARY LIaRARY 1 March 1994 MfCAH 13A4 For further information contact Peter Nugent on (06) 277 2088 or (06) 231 6828