Too many First Nations deaths in custody: independents

The group has called on the Labor government to implement all the recommendations from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The group has called on the Labor government to implement all the recommendations from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Photo: AAP

Too many First Nations children are being removed from their families and too many Indigenous people are dying in custody, according to federal crossbench MPs.

The group, organised by Senator Lidia Thorpe, has called on the Labor government to implement all the recommendations from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the 1997 Bringing Them Home report on the Stolen Generations.

“We need the prime minister to take leadership here and stop coming out with all of these reports and the promises of addressing First Nations justice in this country,” she said in Canberra on Thursday.

“If you can’t … implement the recommendations that will actually save lives.”

In an open letter to the prime minister, Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, the MPs called for new powers for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner to oversee progress on the recommendations, many of which have not been implemented in the three decades since they were handed down.

The letter – signed by senators David Pocock, Jacquie Lambie, and Tammy Tyrrell, and lower house MPs Andrew Wilkie, Kylea Tink, Zali Steggall, Monique Ryan, Kate Chaney, Zoe Daniel, Helen Haines, Sophie Scamps and Allegra Spender – also calls for the new national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People to oversee implementation of the Bringing them Home report recommendations.

On Friday, health ministers from states and territories will join their federal counterpart Mark Butler for a roundtable with Indigenous health leaders.

“I’m sure one of the agenda items … will be a discussion about outstanding recommendations from the royal commission, particularly around culturally safe healthcare in prisons,” Butler said on Thursday.

Senator Thorpe said all states and territories should remove hanging points from prisons, which was one of the recommendations.

“I’ve had young fellas actually demonstrate how it’s done,” she said.

“Removing hanging points won’t only save First People in this country, removing hanging points would save other people also who are taking their lives in the system.

“Prisoners don’t have Medicare, prisoners don’t have NDIS, prisoners don’t have access to PBS (pharmaceutical benefits scheme) like everybody else, so we have people inside the system there on remand, who haven’t been sentenced, who have diabetes and can’t access their diabetic medication.” 

Senator Lambie said hundreds of First Nations people had died in custody since the 1991 royal commission was tabled in parliament. 

“Four of those deaths have occurred this year, and we are only in March,” she said.  

“Like many reports and royal commissions, successive governments ignore the recommendations. 

“This government has said time and again they are committed to improving the lives of Aboriginal people, I don’t understand why they haven’t done it already.” 

Closing the Gap data published in March showed rates of Indigenous suicide, adult incarceration and children in out-of-home care getting worse, and no improvement in rates of imprisonment of First Nations children. 

Productivity Commission data this year also showed the overall rate of deaths in custody at its highest in more than a decade.

Wilkie said it was unconscionable that decades after both reports, most recommendations had not been implemented.

“While we delay, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids continue to be disproportionately represented in out-of-home care and we regularly witness Indigenous people dying in custody, this is unacceptable,” he said.

“Yes, the voice to parliament failed, so it’s now time for the government to move on and implement real, tangible and effective reforms to protect and promote the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”


Topics: Indigenous
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