The CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) has condemned comments made by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the weekend.
Mr Abbott, who was recently awarded Companion of the Order of Australia to honour his work with Indigenous Australians, had commentary appear in the Herald Sun on Sunday, stating there is no evidence of judicial discrimination when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the legal system.
“Obviously the Indigenous incarceration rate is much higher than the general incarceration rate,” he said.
“That shouldn’t be so unless there’s evidence that courts are more likely to imprison Indigenous offenders than non-Indigenous offenders, and there is none,” he added.
VALS CEO Nerita Waight condemned these remarks, saying Mr Abbott had no substantial evidence to back his claims.
“I would suggest that Tony Abbott should go back and get an education around the history of Australia,” Ms Waight said.
“When you look at how our women in particular are becoming the most imprisoned cohort in Australia, and in my own state of Victoria, I'm seeing our interactions with the justice system for our people increased by 23.5% over two years.
“That tells me that all legislation that is being introduced in the name of law and order has detrimental effects on our people.”
Across the country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up less and three per cent of the population, but about 30 per cent of the prison population.
In the latest statistics by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4.7 per cent of Indigenous men are incarcerated compared to the 0.3 pc of non-Indigenous men.
Labor’s spokesperson for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney also told SBS News that Mr Abbott’s remarks lacked understanding.
“Dismissive comments such as this are not helpful and demonstrate a complete lack of understanding and detachment from the realities of over-representation of Indigenous Australians in our justice system,” she said.
But Ms Waight said the issue of ignorance is much more widespread than one political figure making incorrect comments on Indigenous affairs.
“I find it really interesting that there's this rush from members of the government to condemn racist attacks against other ethnic groups such as Asian people, yet they don't address the motivation for Black Lives Matter protests,” Ms Waight said.
“They don't seem to understand a lot of the issues that we face, they don't also acknowledge that they live in and govern a country that is founded on colonisation and violence that is perpetuated throughout generations of people.
“The whole national government has a real problem when it comes to acknowledging Australia's past.”