Establishing Walama Court must not be ignored in NSW budget or justice system

New South Wales Bar Association

This NAIDOC Week the New South Wales Bar Association has called again on the NSW Government to prioritise funding the Walama Court in the District Court in the upcoming Budget.

“Recognising and addressing the overrepresentation of First Nations people in our criminal justice system and sentencing processes is integral to the administration of justice in this State,” New South Wales Bar Association President, Michael McHugh SC, said today.

“The Association, with many others, has consistently advocated for the Walama Court to be established to reduce recidivism rates through increased cooperation between the criminal justice system and respected persons in First Nations communities, more vigorous supervision orders and diversionary programs. This can only have a positive effect on the justice system.”

The proposal has the support of the Police Association of NSW, the Law Council and was a key recommendation for NSW in the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2018 Pathways to Justice – Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples report. In January 2020, the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug “Ice” also recommended that the Walama Court be adequately funded and implemented by government.

The NSW Department of Communities and Justice Secretary told parliament in September 2019 that the Walama Court was “an excellent proposal” being considered alongside “a range of other proposals, in the 2020-21 budget cycle” and “the issue is simply one of funding”.[1] The Walama Court has been under consideration for many years now with ample time for funding to be allocated.

Mr McHugh SC said that “while the Association appreciates the significant budgetary pressures facing the NSW Government at this time, failing to invest in remedying the continued injustices faced by First Nations Peoples is simply not acceptable. This critical action must no longer be delayed.”

“Initiatives to address the overrepresentation of First Nations Peoples should not be placed in competition with other justice initiatives when there is no question of this pressing need for change.

“Incarceration has an unquantifiable and devastating social impact on First Nations families and communities.

“The Walama Court will in the long term also realise savings for the Government as reduced recidivism rates will mean more First Nations people no longer cycling through the criminal justice system. Each year, $216,550,617 is spent by NSW taxpayers on the imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders. It will also have the benefit of making immeasurable differences to the lives of Indigenous families and the families of the victims of current re-offenders.

“Establishing the Walama Court will address some of the key underlying issues that give rise to repeat offending, to reduce the disproportionate rate of Indigenous incarceration. This is long overdue,” Mr McHugh SC said.

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