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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6263


Mr McCLELLAND (BartonAttorney-General) (16:44): I thank the honourable member for his question. Firstly, he referred to the famous Mabo decision and, of course, the native title legislation that arose from that. I have to say that the Federal Court of Australia has been making some real inroads, and I will just take the opportunity to commend them. The government legislated to give the Federal Court of Australia stronger case management powers, and the judges have actively engaged in this process. For instance, two years before these powers were granted in October last year, I think nine claims were resolved. In the year before, 13 claims were resolved. Since those powers were given to the court in October last year, 37 cases have been finalised and there look like being an additional 43 cases by the end of this year. So the court is making some real inroads by cutting through some of the nonsense that can occur in this area to get the parties to focus on the real issues involved in the cases.

But the issues of Indigenous justice are very significant and are indeed, I think, some of the crucial issues confronting the government of Australia of whatever political persuasion. The government has invested a considerable amount of resources in closing the gap—that is, in terms of health, education, employment opportunities and the like—but the reality is that, if communities are not safe, they are not going to prosper, and in fact it will be difficult to get those community workers there in the first place.

The statistics about the involvement of Indigenous adults in the justice system are very concerning, and as a nation we need to do something to turn this around. The statistics are alarming. In 2010, Indigenous adults were 14 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians, and they constituted 26 per cent of the prison population. Of those in prison, 74 per cent of the Indigenous prison population had a prior imprisonment, compared to 49 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians—in other words, indicating that the period of imprisonment was not effective as a deterrent. And in 2008 Indigenous young people were 29 times more likely to be detained and constituted 50 per cent of the juvenile detention population on any average day, despite constituting a much smaller proportion of the population.

While the states and territories have general responsibility for criminal law enforcement, it is clearly an issue that the Australian government wishes to take a lead on in setting some standards. In the budget there were some specific allocations in the area of Indigenous justice, but the reality is that any amount of resources, if not properly targeted, is not going to address those issues and turn around those alarming statistics. That is why the federal government is working with the state governments on program evaluations to assess whether the diversionary and rehabilitation programs can be improved and to assess which are working and which can be considered best practice. The first stage of the evaluations, including a total of 20 programs, is focusing on four areas: Aboriginal courts and conferencing, offender support and reintegration programs, diversion programs and night and community patrols. That evaluation will be completed by the end of the year. The purpose of the evaluation is to build the evidence base about what actually works to reduce offending and recidivism and improve community safety. Currently, quite frankly, not enough is known about what is really working. To make a real dent in the rate of over-representation of Indigenous Australians within our justice systems, we need to invest in programs that make a difference. The Commonwealth government is working with the state and territory governments to identify those programs so that we can renew and redouble our efforts to turn around those alarming statistics.