• Thousands of people attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Brisbane. (AAP)Source: AAP
The report says 'longstanding abuses' against First Nations people in Australia have taken a toll on the country's human rights reputation.
Keira Jenkins

14 Jan 2021 - 5:25 PM  UPDATED 14 Jan 2021 - 5:25 PM

Australia's human rights reputation has been suffering because of its failure to address abuses against First Nations people, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

HRW Australia director Elaine Pearson said these include the overincarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and government failures to address Indigenous deaths in custody.

"Australia's treatment of Indigenous people really creates a lasting stain on its human rights reputation," she told NITV News.

'Report after Report'

This year marks three decades since the findings from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were handed down and Ms Pearson said First Nations people are still being locked up at rates that are much too high.

Despite making up just three per cent of the Australian population, First Nations comprise 29 per cent of people in prison. At least seven First Nations people died in custody in 2020.

"We've had report after report, telling the government what needs to happen," Ms Pearson said.

"I think what needs to change is political will right from the top and I think the policies that are designed need to be done in partnership and led by Aboriginal people.

"I think that's actually where we have seen failures. We might have well-meaning interventions but they're going to be doomed to fail if they're not led by the communities that are most affected by these policies."

Ms Pearson said while governments need to do more work to improve this, suggesting raising the age of criminal responsibility, decriminalising public drunkenness and investing in diversion from prison, there were positive steps taken in some jurisdictions.

The report noted that the Western Australian Government passed laws to limit the number of people jailed over unpaid fines, a practice that disproportionally affects First Nations people.

"We did see some progress in 2020, it's not all bad news," she said.

"I think this will have a positive impact." 

Ms Pearson said Human Rights Watch is still calling Australian governments to take action, despite some steps in the right direction.

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