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Ten years on, a mixed report card for Victoria on Royal Commission recommendations.



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Ten years on, a mixed report card for Victoria on Royal Commission recommendations

 

12 April 2001

 

ATSIC Commissioner for Victoria, Marion Hansen, has called for a more concerted effort from the State Government in implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Speaking on the tenth anniversary of the Royal Commission’s findings, Ms Hansen said that while Victoria compared favourably with other states in responding to some individual recommendations, successive state governments had failed to grasp the key message of the Royal Commission.

“The Royal Commission found that Aboriginal disadvantage and inequality was responsible for our unacceptably high contact with the justice system.

“Overall, Victorian governments have delivered a fragmented response to the findings over the past decade, and not the whole of government approach that was required,” Ms Hansen said.

“The underlying economic and social problems that beset Aboriginal people 10 years ago are still with us today - along with the massive over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.”

“It’s a mixed report card for Victoria,” Ms Hansen said.

“Recent statistics on Aboriginal people’s contact with the state’s justice system still make for grim reading.

“There has been the same number of Indigenous deaths in custody in the decade since the Royal Commission (five) as there were in the decade leading up to it. The number of Indigenous prisoners in Victoria has increased by 50 per cent since 1991.

“A Monash University report released recently found that Aborigines in Victoria are 12 times more likely to be jailed than non-Indigenous people and our youth were twice more likely to be arrested for minor offences than non-Indigenous youth,” she said.

Ms Hansen said the signing of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement in May 2000 had been a major positive development.

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“In signing the agreement, the Government reaffirmed its commitment to implement the recommendations and to address - across the whole of government - Indigenous social and economic disadvantage.

“Now we’re looking to the Government to follow through on its commitment, by fully funding the justice agreement in this year’s Budget,” she said.

Ms Hansen said she was frustrated by the delay in implementing some of the agreement’s initiatives, including those aimed at improving the way courts dealt with Aboriginal people.

“After a nearly a year of the agreement being signed, we are still waiting on the judiciary and the Department of Justice to start putting these initiatives into action.”

Ms Hansen said the Government also needed to improve its act on the monitoring and reporting of implementation of the Royal Commission recommendations - another problem the Government acknowledged in the justice agreement.

“It is a disgrace that we haven’t had an annual report on implementation since 1997.”

Ms Hansen also called on the Victoria Police to make quicker progress on the review of its Aboriginal policies and practices - another undertaking in the justice agreement - particularly the review of Community Justice Panels.

The panels were set up under the Royal Commission to assist Aboriginal people who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Of other positive developments in Victoria, Ms Hansen pointed to the creation (under the justice agreement) of Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committees, the improvement to prisoner support services and the success of the Koori Juvenile Justice Program.

“These initiatives are promising, but the Government is aware that it must look at the overall picture,” Ms Hansen said.

“It now needs to tackle the underlying causes in a co-ordinated way and in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“For instance, the reform of public drunkenness laws should not be seen as simply a policing issue - it needs to be considered within a wide range of Indigenous economic and social issues as well.

“Issues such as high unemployment and poverty, poor health and housing, land rights, loss of culture and identity, and a lack of control by Aboriginal people and communities over policies that affect them,” she said.

For more information: Giuseppe Stramandinoli (ATSIC Victoria Public Affairs) 9285 7225 or 0419 508 125 Commissioner Marion Hansen 0417 549 842

 

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