Calls for law re­form

Broome Advertiser - - Front Page - Peter de Krui­jff

End­ing jail time for un­paid fines, no driver’s li­cence sus­pen­sion for fine de­faults and re­peal­ing manda­tory sen­tenc­ing are some of the rec­om­men­da­tions from a re­port to ad­dress the over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of in­dige­nous peo­ple in prison.

The sug­ges­tions from the Aus­tralian Law Re­form Com­mis­sion were the re­sult of a re­view look­ing at ways to re­duce the num­ber of Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­ders in jail.

In 2016, in­dige­nous peo­ple made up 27 per cent of pris­on­ers de­spite only mak­ing up about 2 per cent of Aus­tralia’s pop­u­la­tion.

WA had the high­est rate of im­pris­on­ment of Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, at 3383 pris­on­ers per 100,000 per­sons.

The re­port was handed to the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral’s of­fice in late De­cem­ber but was not tabled in Par­lia­ment un­til last week.

It rec­om­mends the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­de­pen­dent jus­tice rein­vest­ment body sup­ported by State and Fed­eral gov­ern­ments.

One rec­om­men­da­tion was for the Com­mon­wealth to es­tab­lish a na­tional in­quiry into child pro­tec­tion laws and pro­cesses affecting Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­ders.

Aus­tralian Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der so­cial jus­tice com­mis­sioner June Os­car said it was right be­hind the idea.

“This is un­ac­cept­able and is cer­tainly contributing to our chil­dren be­ing re­moved from their fam­i­lies and put into care in ev­er­in­creas­ing num­bers,” she said.

“We must embrace strate­gies aimed at early in­ter­ven­tion and fam­ily sup­ports within the child wel­fare and jus­tice spa­ces.”

WA La­bor Sen­a­tor Pat Dod­son, who was a com­mis­sioner dur­ing the Royal Com­mis­sion into Abo­rig­i­nal Deaths in Cus­tody, said the re­al­ity of in­car­cer­a­tion of first na­tions peo­ple in Aus­tralia was a cri­sis.

“Na­tional jus­tice tar­gets should in­clude spe­cific tar­gets to re­duce cur­rent in­car­cer­a­tion sta­tis­tics, which will al­low a fo­cus on jus­tice rein­vest­ment, com­mu­nity safety and pre­vent­ing crime,” he said.

“In or­der to en­sure change, jus­tice tar­gets must be im­ple­mented. “This re­port can­not be ig­nored and rec­om­men­da­tions must play a key role in over­due re­forms.”

Min­is­ter for So­cial Ser­vices Dan Te­han said the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment wel­comed the re­port but would not yet com­ment on its find­ings.

The re­port said the case of young Pil­bara woman Ms Dhu, who died in a Hed­land lock-up four years ago while pay­ing off fines, il­lus­trated “es­ca­lat­ing im­pacts that mi­nor of­fend­ing can re­sult in when com­bined with racial stereo­types, as­sump­tions and dis­crim­i­na­tion by po­lice”.

Fine de­fault should not re­sult im­pris­on­ment and the State and Ter­ri­tory gov­ern­ments should abol­ish pro­vi­sions for im­pris­on­ment if there were un­paid fines, the re­port says.

WA At­tor­ney-Gen­eral John Quigley was not yet able to com­ment about the re­port and wasn’t able to give an up­date on WA’s re­form of fine leg­is­la­tion by time of print.

But he did say the WA Gov­ern­ment was com­mit­ted to the in­tro­duc­tion of a cus­tody no­ti­fi­ca­tion ser­vice, a key rec­om­men­da­tion re­sult­ing from Ms Dhu’s death.

“A Cus­tody No­ti­fi­ca­tion Ser­vice will be in op­er­a­tion in WA be­fore the end of 2018,” Mr Quigley said.

“I have no doubt that this im­por­tant ser­vice will save lives.”

Pic­ture: Danella Be­vis

So­cial jus­tice com­mis­sioner June Os­car.

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