What’s the immediate situation in relation to deaths in custody right now?
It’s been 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, that’s an entire generation that have grown up during that time and there hasn’t been change. Governments around Australia have failed. They have failed on the 339 recommendations of the royal commission and we haven’t seen the change that we need to see.
I think that that is completely unacceptable and if governments are serious about ending the over representation of Aboriginal people in custody, which is what we need to do if we want to end this issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody, then we need to make some serious changes.
What would you change right now that you think would have an effect on the number of deaths in custody?
We need to see justice targets and accountability and we need a different approach; we need to be supporting Indigenous led solutions in terms of diversion and addressing the underlying causes of why our people are ending up in the justice system if we are ever going to see real change.
I think the government could very easily adopt justice targets and that would mean we would be on track to get real progress in the area of reducing the over representation of Indigenous people in custody. It’s not clear why the federal government and the state governments are dragging their feet on this issue. Some states are leading the way; so Victoria, ACT and even the Northern territory have adopted targets about reducing that gap between the number of Indigenous and non-indigenous people in custody.
Why Justice Targets?
So why justice targets are so important is about that accountability, about setting really public goals and then having the government support on that year to year and really tracking and measuring that progress and having clear strategies in place that work with Indigenous people and organisations, across different government departments to try and tackle this issue in a really holistic way. Governments have been good at tackling other key areas but justice remains neglected.
It's about tackling the root causes
We know there are a number of issues relating to Indigenous disadvantage which are part of the reason why so many people are in the Justice system; family violence, substance abuse, employment issues; these kinds of things. While the government has put a lot of effort into creating targets around education and health, why isn’t it the same for justice? We know that they are all interconnected.
This requires an all of government approach not an ad hoc one
There are extremely high rates of Indigenous people in the justice system, it’s not OK for the federal government to pass the buck to the states and territories on this; we know that issues they are taking action on, such as health, they’ve always traditionally been seen to be state and territory issues as well, so why is there a difference now with justice. We need to be taking a nationally coordinated approach on justice and indigenous justice related issues.
Roxanne Moore, Amnesty International, is speaking tonight at UTSpeaks: Fatal Injustice a panel discussion on Indigenous deaths in custody.
Human rights lawyer Roxanne Moore is a Noongar woman from Western Australia and Indigenous rights campaigner with Amnesty International. Previously she worked for the Australian Human Rights Commission, was a Principal Associate to the Hon Chief Justice Wayne Martin AC QC; worked as a commercial litigator and has international experience with UNHCR Jordan and New York University’s Global Justice Clinic. Roxanne studied law at the University of WA, and completed an LLM (International Legal Studies) at NYU as a 2013 Fulbright Western Australian Scholar specialising in human rights law.