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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9652


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (15:30): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs (Senator Scullion) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians.

I also to take note of his supplementary comments and answer after question time, when he gave additional information on my question relating to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. He said—as I understand his comments—that between 1993 and 1997 the federal government and state and territory governments were reporting annually against the targets but that that ceased in 1997. Herein lies part of the problem. There are continually short-term approaches to an issue that is entrenched and needs a long-term secured approach to be addressed. As I said when I asked my question, incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have gone up 88 per cent in the last 10 years. Clearly, we need to be doing something about this issue. At the moment the Commonwealth government and, it appears, the state and territory governments are no longer collecting or publishing information as it relates to the 339 recommendations. We know that many—in fact, probably most—of these have not been implemented. It is extremely distressing that there is no up-to-date data around the implementation of the royal commission recommendations on Aboriginal deaths in custody.

I go so far as to say that, if these recommendations had been implemented in full, we would not be in the situation that we are in now. When I asked about the issue of justice targets, the minister rejected the need for justice targets. I find it passing strange that the government and the minister himself have introduced targets on education, yet we cannot have targets on closing the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration. The Change the Record Blueprint for change is calling for the setting of justice targets:

… which are aimed at promoting community safety and reducing the rates at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people come into contact with the criminal justice system:

They call for a target to:

Close the gap in the rates of imprisonment between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 2040;

I ask: why can't we commit to that? Secondly they ask that we:

Cut the disproportionate rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to at least close the gap by 2040; with priority strategies for women and children.

In addition, these targets should be accompanied by a National Agreement which includes a reporting mechanism, as well as measurable sub-targets and a commitment to halve the gap in the above—

the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples—

by no later than 2030.

Surely this is something that we should be committing to. The argument that we do not need targets actually does not hold water when we have a set of targets we are trying to meet through Closing the Gap.

The report released by the Australian Medical Association last week very clearly linked closing the gap in life expectancy and health outcomes, the very things that we report on every year in this place—at the beginning of next year, we will see a report by the Prime Minister on how we are meeting those targets to close to gap. If we do not need a target to close the gap on justice and incarceration—if it is not working—why are we committing to the other targets? Clearly, they are working. They are giving us a really good indication of where we are at. People in each state and territory and in the Commonwealth are measuring against these targets. They give us a really good indication about how we are progressing, and they give us something to clearly aim for. We need that for incarceration rates and to meet our justice targets. In its report, the AMA clearly links incarceration and Closing the Gap. In other words, you cannot do one without the other. We have a set of targets around closing the gap in life expectancy and in health. We need justice targets to close the gap in incarceration rates, otherwise we are not going to meet our target date of 2031 for those other Closing the Gap outcomes, which everybody in this place, as I understand it, has committed to. We have all signed up to these targets. Surely, it is not beyond the wit of Australia to set justice targets and then meet them.

Question agreed to.