A coalition of organisations, including Amnesty International, have called for national action on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment and violence rates, following recent positive initiatives by governments in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The group includes leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, human rights and legal organisations.

NT and WA take positive steps

Change the Record Coalition Co-Chair Shane Duffy said, “In the past few weeks, positive steps forward have been taken. We welcome for instance the inclusion of justice targets in the Northern Territory’s new Aboriginal Affairs Policy. We have long called for the development of national justice targets and it is important to see the Territory taking initiative in this area”.

“We also welcome a recent commitment by the Western Australian Government to work towards supporting prevention and diversion initiatives to keep people out of the criminal justice system in the first place. It was also encouraging to hear that Western Australian Government has expanded a support service for Aboriginal people in custody; however what is really needed is a commitment to fund and legislate for a ‘Custody Notification Service’, an independent and mandatory service administered by an Aboriginal community-controlled legal service."

Governments must translate their plans into tangible and meaningful action. This can only be achieved in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and community-controlled organisations.

Shane Duffy, Change the Record Coalition Co-Chair

“Actions speak louder than words, and we remain deeply concerned by the ongoing impact of laws, such as mandatory sentencing and the Northern Territory’s Paperless Arrests scheme, which disproportionately impact upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

“It was also extremely distressing to hear reports from a Senate Inquiry last week that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who are victims/survivors of domestic violence, have intentionally breached bail in order to go back to prison due to a lack of safe support services available in their communities”.

Partnership needed

“Governments must translate their plans into tangible and meaningful action. This can only be achieved in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and community-controlled organisations,” said Mr Duffy.

Fellow Co-Chair Jackie Huggins said, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rates and the ongoing experience of violence by our communities is a national crisis which requires a national and multi-partisan response.

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It is critical that the Federal Government takes a leadership role, and that action at the State and Territory level is matched by a countrywide commitment to tackle this issue. Without national co-ordination we risk well-intentioned policy announcements not getting the traction that they should, and being few and far between. The setting of national justice targets, and establishment of a holistic and whole-of-government strategy aimed at meeting them, is urgently needed.”

“To change the record for the better, all levels of government need to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, their organisations and representative bodies to design and invest in holistic early intervention, prevention and diversion strategies. These are smarter, evidence-based and more cost-effective solutions that increase safety, address the root causes of violence against women and children, cut reoffending and imprisonment rates and building stronger communities” said Dr Huggins.