Indigenous Justice – No Substance

As with all matters in the budget, closer inspection shows that the promises do not deliver on the expectations in indigenous justice.

To read the budget leaflet for indigenous families, you would almost think that this was an area of major concern for the government. A drug and alcohol court, extended Throughcare, and investment in the community legal centres. Let’s begin with the establishment of the drug and alcohol court, which it is claimed will improve justice outcomes for the indigenous community.

However. There is always a however. However, in response to a question on notice, Mr Ramsay revealed that the money allocated is for a scoping study to develop a model for a drug and alcohol court. Not for an actual court – a model.

Minister is that like the Model of Care for the National Bush Healing Farm, which we are still waiting on, 9 years later? This court, when it is finally established, will be available to all offenders, not just the indigenous community. And, we are told, specific support available for indigenous offenders will depend on the model that is ultimately chosen.

In other words, this is yet again all smoke and mirrors. No substance. No action.

Let’s now look at the Yarrabi Bamirr trial – this trial which is about delivering a culturally aware and family centred justice reinvestment program.  No money is mentioned on the leaflet, but an exploration of the budget papers would lead one to belief that almost four hundred thousand dollars would be allocated to this initiative. This is, of course, not the case. In fact, just over half that is allocated to this initiative.

And let’s now move onto the issue of Throughcare. A further 5.3 million dollars was to be delivered to improve outcomes when offenders transition back into the community and help reduce rates of recidivism. The ACT has some of the highest rates of recidivism amongst indigenous communities in Australia, so money spent here would be worthwhile. However.

Further investigation throughout the Estimates hearings, revealed that only indigenous women, who engaged with the program, benefited from it. And in fact, only sentenced males had access. Remanded males do not. The only specific indigenous monies to be spend from the 5.3 million is on the employment of a level 5 position of an Indigenous Throughcare Officer. And whilst we acknowledge that the indigenous community has access to a range of non-indigenous programs also offered as part of Throughcare, we also know that the best outcomes for change are when indigenous organisations work with indigenous inmates.

We would agree with the Estimates Committee recommendation that the ACT Government set targets for, and report on, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants in the Throughcare program. But we would add, that they also report on those successfully repatriated. That the government report on the recidivism rate of indigenous males and females, and prioritises the reduction of indigenous recidivism in our jails.

Finally, we come to an area where the government is prepared to spend some money on specific indigenous programs, community legal centres. Here 37.5 percent of the 2.5 million stated will be spent on the aboriginal and Torres Strait islander women’s access to justice program, the Canberra community Law’s aboriginal human rights program, and the Munjuwa aboriginal corporation. It is good to see that some money – just under a million dollars will be spend in this important area.