Statement on 30th Anniversary of Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Australian Greens

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which handed down its final report on 15 April 1991.

It is a day to solemnly reflect on the past 30 years, what we have done and what we still need to do to address the disproportionate number of First Nations people who are incarcerated, and take better care of those who are.

Over the past 30 years, actions taken by the ACT Government to address recommendations made by the Royal Commission include:

  • established the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body in 2008, the only forum of its kind in Australia
  • signed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement in 2015, which is in place until 2028

  • implemented the Galambany Court as part of the ACT Magistrates Court jurisdiction since 2004

  • instated the Warrumbul Court in the Children’s Court in 2018

  • entered into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Partnership, which seeks to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander over-representation in the ACT justice system, as both victims and offender

  • established an Inspector of ACT Corrective Services in 2018.

An independent report in 2018 showed the ACT Government had implemented 93% of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, but there is more work to do, including a concerted effort to reduce overincarceration rates.

As stated by Attorney-General, Shane Rattenbury:

“During 2020, First Nations people in the ACT were imprisoned at a rate 19 times that of the non-indigenous population. This is unacceptable.

“It’s my goal, reflected in the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement, to reduce incarceration of First Nations women and men to match non-indigenous incarceration rates by 2030.

“It is an ambitious goal but it is important that we’re ambitious. I believe that with decisive action, developed with and driven by our First Nations community, we can reduce the proportion of First Nation men and women in prison.

“A lot of important work is already happening across the ACT Government to address disadvantage in First Nations communities, which both causes and results from disproportionate incarceration.

“We are pushing ahead with raising the age of criminal responsibility as a very high priority because we know putting young children in jail only serves to entrench disadvantage, and that this disproportionately happens to First Nations kids.

“Change within the justice system is part of the solution, but this long, slow, difficult journey really requires all of society to front up to enduring racism.”

As stated by Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Rachel Stephen-Smith:

“One of the key findings of the Royal Commission was that, in order to address this national tragedy, governments must allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to identify and own the solutions on the issues that affect them and their communities.

“We are absolutely committed to the principle of self-determination and that is why the Attorney-General and I recently convened a roundtable with 25 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders representatives from across the community to talk about the next steps to address over-representation in the justice system.

“The initial meeting, which was also attended by Minister Gentleman and Minister Davidson, was a valuable and sobering discussion. The clear message was that we have more work to do to demonstrate our trust in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations to develop and implement solutions to the complex challenges resulting from the deep and ongoing impacts of colonisation.

“At the end of the meeting, local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives agreed to come together, independently of government, to consider as a collective what action they would like government to take on the proposed review into over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the ACT justice system.

“That meeting will take place today on the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and we look forward to receiving advice on the outcomes.

“It’s important that we continue to work in partnership, led by the community, so we can take those next steps together.”

As stated by Minister for Corrections, Mick Gentleman:

“Today we reaffirm our commitment to preventing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody and to reducing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system.

“ACT Corrective Services and ACT Policing have acknowledged that there is more to be done and are committed to working with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to achieve better outcomes.

“I acknowledge that 30 years on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, systemic racism and disadvantage continue to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians across all of society.

“That is why the ACT Government is supporting our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to determine a pathway forward and I look forward to hearing from them on these important issues.”

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