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Transcript of interview with Naomi Woodley: ABC Radio, AM: 21 June 2011: Indigenous justice

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Hon. Robert McClelland MP Attorney-General

Attorney-General Transcript Page 1 of 3




Tuesday 21st June 2011

Subject: Indigenous justice


Extended interview:

TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland says that the rates of indigenous incarceration are plainly unacceptable. He’s told Naomi Woodley in Canberra that whilst social and health factors are a contributing factor, changes to bail and sentencing laws are also putting more indigenous people in gaol. He’s urging State and Territory governments to introduce more flexible sentencing laws.

McCLELLAND: There have also been some justice decisions taken, for instance, tightening bail conditions which have been taken without regard to the circumstances of indigenous kids and in particular and quite often there is nowhere for them to be sent as their families are dysfunctional and so they are locked up.

I think there has been an increasing trend with law and order severity which I think the general community accepts particularly in respect to violent crimes. However, I think that locking people up for minor things like driving offences in circumstances where Aboriginals in remote communities, in particular, find it all put impossible to get a driver’s licence is taking that philosophy far too far.

NAOMI WOODLEY: So you would like to see more flexibility in sentencing?

McCLELLAND: Certainly, more flexibility in sentencing particularly in respect to those sort of cases. Obviously I think communities, Aboriginal communities included, are entitled to feel safe and so obviously you need to continue to come down very hard on crimes involving violence and personal abuse.

Attorney-General Transcript Page 2 of 3

But it seems that there is a ham-fisted response in respect to those circumstances [involving minor offences] which I think a reasonable person would say don’t justify imprisoning someone.

The point is that all the evidence suggests that particularly once a young person has experience with the justice system, they are more likely to reoffend. By not adopting a more sophisticated approach we’re actually adding to the increase in the future prison population and we need to break the cycle.

WOODLEY: But sentencing laws are largely State responsibility. Is this something that you will be pursuing through COAG with your Ministerial colleagues?

McCLELLAND: Yes, we have developed the Indigenous Justice Framework so we are looking at these. The Attorney-General’s Department is currently undertaking a study and evaluation of a number of really good programs. Diversionary programs, circle sentencing options and support programs for indigenous people who confront the justice system.

The first leg of that report will be available by the end of the year. We are trying to develop and promote best practice models out there. It must be said that this whole process of obtaining the information and then implementing the different approach is taking a very long time. Today’s report will cause people to redouble their efforts.

WOODLEY: The report is talking about a critical need for intervention. Putting the emphasis on critical. How quickly can you act?

McCLELLAND: Quite quickly if you address the bail circumstances and got some alternatives for Courts so that the Courts could send Aboriginal kids to other options if their family situation is dysfunctional. If you took a more reasonable approach in respect to imprisonment for minor offences.

If you got the police to look at various options such as alternative diversionary programs in partnership with the local community, you’d make a pretty significant impact very quickly. There’s also longer term initiatives, the ‘closing the gap’ strategy, health, education and employment outcomes. The evidence confirms that causes the trend of criminal behaviour obviously is a longer term project.

Attorney-General Transcript Page 3 of 3

WOODLEY: The Committee wants justice figures included in that annual ‘closing the gap’ statement. Why haven’t they been there before?

McCLELLAND: Look this is a matter that has been discussed at the Standing Committee of Attorneys General. In fairness, the Queensland Attorney-General was and I gather is very keen on doing that. There is a working group looking at that issue. I think it’s an issue that needs to come to the top of the pile.

WOODLEY: The Committee’s also calling for the consideration of Parliamentary quotas or dedicated seats to be set aside for indigenous people. Do you support that idea?

McCLELLAND: I’m not sure about that proposal specifically. I think we have to be more creative in encouraging indigenous people into Parliament. I think the political parties could be far more proactive themselves. Whether we need the legislative or even constitutional change is a broader issue that would take some reflection.