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Issue #1728      April 27, 2016

Royal Commission 25 years on*

Still waiting for action

Members of the Change the Record (CTR) coalition – which seeks to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison – gathered in Canberra last Friday [April 15] to mark 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC).

CTR co-chairs Shane Duffy and Jackie Huggins said the Royal Commission’s 339 recommendations were extensive and included various measures to address the systemic racism within the justice system, as well as broader actions to address Aboriginal disadvantage. But 25 years on, many of the recommendations remain unimplemented.

“The handing down of the final report 25 years ago was a watershed moment in Australian history,” Duffy said.

“It’s now a generation on and governments at all levels have still failed to act.

Strong, resilient

“We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are strong and resilient, but successive government policies have been ineffective – the crisis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment and experience of violence continues to devastate our communities.

“This is a national crisis and requires an immediate response.”

In 1991, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were seven times more likely to be in prison, now in 2016 that figure has risen to 13 times.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are more likely to go to prison than university. At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are experiencing high rates of violence, being 34 times more likely to be hospitalised for family violence-related assault.

Last year the CTR coalition released “Blueprint for Change” – which provides a critical roadmap for governments to draw upon.

The CTR coalition called on all political parties to place the wellbeing of Indigenous communities at the heart of policy decisions, and urgently prioritise imprisonment and family violence rates.

“Governments at all levels can honour the findings of RCIADIC by taking immediate steps to tackle these issues head-on,” Dr Huggins said.

“The strength of our ‘Blueprint for Change’ is that it does not try to offer a singular simplistic solution to these complex problems. Instead, it recognises that if we are truly going to change the record, we need to tackle the issue on many fronts in a coordinated and united way.

“We can be the generation to change the record, but it will require concerted effort from all levels of government, driven by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions and community support.

“An evidence-based approach is in all of our interests – smarter solutions will mean safer communities.”

Vital

The Change the Record coalition believes that it is vital that governments work through COAG to urgently establish a national, holistic and whole-of-government strategy to address imprisonment and violence rates, and set national justice targets to drive coordinated action across the country.

The CTR coalition also called for immediate safeguard measures to prevent any further tragic deaths in custody, including funding of custody notification systems, or similar services.

“We also need a commitment to independent investigations of police-related deaths,” Dr Huggins said.

Koori Mail

*This is the first of a series of Koori Mail articles on the Royal Commission to be published in the Guardian

Next article – Journey into the class battlefield – Lessons from the cutting of Newcastle’s rail line

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