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Commonwealth leadership on deaths in custody continues

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The Hon. Robert Tickner, MP


5 January 1996

Commonwealth leadership on deaths in custody continues

A deaths in custody 'summit' of the kind proposed by the Opposition would serve no practical purpose in reducing the unacceptable detention rates of Aboriginal people.

Mrs Gallus's call for a summit on Aboriginal deaths in custody shows her lack of awareness of the ongoing high level discussions which continually take place between state and federal ministers across a range of portfolios in relation to this important issue.

The unacceptable levels of Aboriginal detention rates and deaths in custody are permanently on the agenda of the following regular ministerial forums: the Standing Committee of Attorneys General, the Australian Police Ministers Council, the Corrective Services Ministers Council and the Ministerial Council on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.

Mechanisms of reform in relation to this issue have been and will continue to be vigorously pursued in these forums and in the public arena by Commonwealth Ministers who have expressed strong dissatisfaction with the levels of detention.

But does Mrs Gallus really believe that another general politicians' talkfest would contribute to a resolution of this unacceptable situation?

The most constructive thing Mrs Gallus could do is sit down with her conservative state colleagues and urge them to fully implement the Royal Commission's recommendations.

The blueprint for reform was clearly laid out in the Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which was the most comprehensive study of Aboriginal disadvantage ever undertaken in this country and supported by the Commonwealth and every State and Territory Government.

However, what is needed is the political will on the part of the states and territories to fully respond to the two thirds of the Royal Commission's recommendations which fall within their exclusive jurisdiction.

We need less of Mrs Gallus's talk, and more action on the part of the states and territories.

However, the Government is prepared to consider the holding of a conference concentrating on the specific issue of juvenile justice.

A meeting of this kind would serve an important purpose because of the variation which currently exists between the states and territories in their approach to juvenile justice.

There are also valuable lessons to be learnt from overseas examples such as family conferencing as practised in New Zealand and now being piloted in several Australian jurisdictions.

A conference focussing on this issue would specifically target the real cause of the problem - the high rates of detention which begin more frequently and at earlier ages for Aboriginal young people compared to the general community.

The idea of a juvenile justice conference comes about, not as the result of Opposition grandstanding, but from the sincere and legitimate concerns expressed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Michael Dodson.

The Government will be holding talks with the Australian Institute of Criminology in the near future to explore the options for a juvenile justice conference.

The proposed conference will seek to impose targets for reducing detention rates and look at practical alternatives to detention for Aboriginal youth.


Gary Highland, Mr Tickner's Office, 06 277 7431; 018 628 430;

06 239 4540 (home)

Simon Overland, Mr Kerr's Office, 0419 208 669