NACCHO CTG and Aboriginal incarceration rates : Abbott must Close The Gap on black justice

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If Abbott were to seriously take on the incarceration issue, he would have to openly and actively confront the issue of ongoing systemic discrimination against Indigenous Australians, and acknowledge its historical causes, including colonialism and racism.

That would mean talking to the nation plainly about deaths in custody and acknowledging the fact that a black man can still face violent treatment and be left to die in “protective custody” without police facing serious punishment.” Max Chalmers

According to the latest national figures, indigenous young people – who  comprise just 5 per cent of the population – were detained at a staggering 31  times the rate of non-indigenous young people on an average night in June 2012.  Most were yet to be sentenced (see report below)

School attendance is a far less controversial topic than Indigenous incarceration rates.

No wonder Tony Abbott made it the centrepiece of his ‘Close the Gap’ speech.

In the lead-up to the 2013 election, Tony Abbott took a brief moment out from his relentless denigration of the government to broach a policy area that usually doesn’t make the debate.

Cautiously, he vowed to be a prime minister for Australia’s first peoples.

“It is my hope that I could be, not just a prime minister, but a prime minister for Aboriginal Affairs,” he said

In an address to Federal Parliament yesterday, Abbott took a tentative step towards positioning Indigenous Affairs alongside the government’s holy trinity of policy talking points.

His government is “no less serious [about Indigenous Affairs] than it is about stopping the boats, fixing the budget, and building the roads of the 21st century.”

Putting Indigenous Affairs on the national agenda is a move that should draw praise. But the way Abbott has chosen to frame the issue raises questions about how serious his government really will be in its efforts to help overcome the outrageous disadvantage Indigenous Australians continue to experience.

Indigenous groups were quick to point out one particularly glaring omission from Abbott’s remarks.

“Today, Australia’s national shame is the mass imprisonment of Aboriginal people, particularly young people. Australia’s Aboriginal children are detained at the world’s highest rates,” Phil Naden, the NSW and ACT Aboriginal Legal Service CEO noted in a press release.

“More than half of the young people in detention today (over 52 per cent) are Aboriginal, and most are unsentenced.”

Indigenous incarceration indeed remains a national shame. The Australian Bureau of Statistics paints a bleak picture, with rates of incarceration continuing to rise markedly between 2002 and 2012. West Australia is beyond crisis point, with the rate of incarceration for Indigenous Australians 20 times higher than non-Indigenous.

Source: ABS.

Source: ABS.

Despite the 1991 Royal Commission, deaths in custody have increased, along with the surging incarceration rate. There is little reason to think that the next generation of Indigenous Australians will fare much better.

Instead of raising the issue of justice, Abbott framed his address around education. Truancy rates must be reduced, he said, and the time for excuses was over.

“Generally speaking, the more remote the school, the more excuses are made for poor attendance,” he observed, before pledging to end the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years. No reference was made to a similar standard with which to target improvements in justice outcomes.

“We were very surprised to hear there was no bipartisan commitment today towards incorporating justice targets into the Government’s Closing the Gap strategy,” Naden said on Wednesday.

Improving rates of Indigenous school attendance is an easy sell to white Australia. Everybody can get on board with sending kids to school; there is an implicit blame placed on Indigenous communities for failing to enforce school attendance, or teach their children adequate patterns of civil behaviour.

“One of the worst forms of neglect is failing to give children the education they need for a decent life,” Abbott said, following the statement up with a list of state and federal government programs designed to lower truancy rates.

But like his entire address, the line was left open, raising the question of who exactly is responsible for that neglect? This is the Liberal Party’s characteristic approach: the individual is to blame for their personal failings and societal causes don’t rate a mention.

If Abbott were to seriously take on the incarceration issue, he would have to openly and actively confront the issue of ongoing systemic discrimination against Indigenous Australians, and acknowledge its historical causes, including colonialism and racism.

That would mean talking to the nation plainly about deaths in custody and acknowledging the fact that a black man can still face violent treatment and be left to die in “protective custody” without police facing serious punishment.

It would mean taking on the state and territory governments – especially the Liberal ones – whose tough on crime policies disproportionately affect their Indigenous constituents.

It would mean investigating and policing routine police brutality, such as the recent taser attack by police on an Indigenous woman in Queensland, in which she lost an eye.

And it would mean facing off against a host of other powerful actors, like the Australian Hotels Association, who have succeeded in reversing the NT government’s efforts to limit liquor supply.

Abbott’s record on the issue is not strong so far. One of the Coalition’s nastiest election eve announcements was the decision to slash $42 million from Aboriginal legal aid, a figure that was significantly reduced after the election but will do much damage.

If he decides to pivot on the issue, and to devote the state’s energy and resources to lowering the almost unbelievable rates of incarceration, he will find a host of allies who are ready to take up the challenge. There is a growing awareness that by focusing state resources on policing and prisons we do nothing to attend to the causes of incarnation.

The justice reinvestment movement is starting to make this case publicly. There are also scores of Indigenous communities finding local solutions to the localised and diverse causes of incarceration.

There is some evidence to suggest the government will start to take an interest in such programs. Warren Mundine, the head of Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council today announced a program to help provide jobs training for Indigenous teenagers in WA.

Abbott has frequently used his time in outback Indigenous communities as evidence that he can succeed where so many previous PMs have either failed, or failed to even try. But if he is serious about using his position to help reverse the shameful disparity in living standards between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, he must make justice a top priority

TIME TO MIND THE GAP

Biana Hall SMH

Thx Tracker

Imagine if more than half the young people detained in Australia today were  from Sydney. Imagine if they were white. Newspaper letter writers would whip  themselves into a frenzy, GetUp! would run a national campaign and tens of  thousands would take to the streets to march for the freedom of Australia’s  children.

Instead, 53 per cent of young people in detention are indigenous. And instead  of a national outcry, Australia is gripped by a national silence.

According to the latest national figures, indigenous young people – who  comprise just 5 per cent of the population – were detained at a staggering 31  times the rate of non-indigenous young people on an average night in June 2012.  Most were yet to be sentenced.

Last week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivered a heartfelt speech on the  government’s progress on the Closing the Gap goals to improve indigenous  people’s health and life expectancy.

The news wasn’t good. Abbott said there had been ”almost no progress” in closing the decade-wide gap between the life expectancies of indigenous people and non-indigenous people. There had been ”very little improvement” towards halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy, and indigenous employment ”has, if anything, slipped backwards”.

”We are not on track to achieve the more important and meaningful targets,”  Abbott  said.

Declaring that Australia’s challenge was to ”break the tyranny of low  expectations”,  Abbott announced that from next year, indigenous  school-attendance data would be included in the government’s Closing the Gap  measures.

He set an ambitious target to lift the attendance rates of all schools to  more than 90 per cent within five years (in very remote communities, just 31 per  cent of children are meeting the minimum attendance standards).

It’s a very welcome start, but some observers were dismayed at what he didn’t  say: that cutting the incarceration rate of indigenous people should be at the  forefront of attempts to close the gap.

The NSW and ACT Aboriginal Legal Service has long called for justice targets  to become part of the Closing the Gap goals.

Chief executive Phil Naden described the ”mass incarceration” of indigenous  people as Australia’s ”national shame”.

“Disadvantage robs Aboriginal people of a long, healthy life, and the  incarceration of Aboriginal people affects all targets.”

In 2011, a parliamentary inquiry recommended that justice targets become part  of the overall Closing the Gap strategy. Contact with the justice system, it  said, ”represents a symptom of the broader social and economic disadvantage  faced by many indigenous people in Australia”.

”We have reached the point of intergenerational family dysfunction in many  indigenous communities, with problems of domestic violence, alcohol and drug  abuse, inadequate housing, poor health and school attendance, and a lack of job  skills and employment opportunities impacting on the next generation of  indigenous Australians.”

So how, we should be asking, can we pretend the national shame of mass  Aboriginal incarceration isn’t symptomatic of other problems?

For a moment, it looked like the federal government might act. Before  last  year’s election, Labor said it would include justice targets in the Close the  Gap measures. In August, the Coalition’s indigenous affairs spokesman Nigel  Scullion raised expectations when he told The Australian: ”We will be  looking carefully at that and doing research to see how you implement another  gap measure around this justice issue.”

But on Wednesday, the Prime Minister – who in December oversaw $13.4 million  in cuts to indigenous legal aid funding over four years – made no mention of  justice. Abbott said: ”I am confident of this: amidst all the mistakes,  disappointment and uncertain starts, the one failure that has mostly been  avoided is lack of goodwill.”

What we have so often lacked is political will

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/time-to-mind-the-gap-well-overdue-20140215-32sf5.html#ixzz2tWAEtaRw

3 comments on “NACCHO CTG and Aboriginal incarceration rates : Abbott must Close The Gap on black justice

  1. It is indeed a sad situation. However, I question the ongoing causal ascriptions to colonialism, and, in the USA at least, to slavery. Modern societies haven’t operated on a basis of slavery or colonialism for quite a while. It is true that racism and serious economic inequality still loom. But their bases for perpetuation have changed. The economic factor is probably more important today than race per se–the winners in the wealth game don’t need to rely on colonialism, when simple incumbency suffices, in an economy where starting out in a “better” home with more wealth and more access to resources confers a large advantage. Because of this incumbency effect, Aboriginals will fare poorly even if no deliberate efforts to “keep them down” come from their better-off neighbors. The Aboriginals as a group haven’t accumulated much capital, precisely at a time when structural shifts in the world system are making it harder to acquire capital if you don’t already have it. Although existence of a history of colonialism shouldn’t be denied, continuing to rub that issue in the public nose in hope of eliciting “white guilt” is a strategy that garners diminishing returns. The “whites” have come to a belief that they bear no personal responsibility for the sequelae of historical events, a thing we’re seeing reflected in current political process in the USA, and I suspect in other parts of the western world as well. The unfortunate truth is that Aboriginals will have to engineer improvements in their lot on their own–outside agency is becoming less and less likely to do it for them.

    Nice color scheme on you blog, by the way.

  2. Traditional Governance has been a source of controlling it’s members in traditional time in most traditional governing structure which often elders of the community over saw to it’s implementation and it’s corrective measures. This allowed for the effected member to realize it’s mistake and allowed the member to be given a choice of returning as a full active member or risk being left alone. Often because traditional societies where social oriented where it was accentual to move up the ladder within that society you had to have good moral standing and being left alone did not prove a healthy choice. In keeping with traditional forms of justice would be one that took an active role with use of community elder who assumed the role as judge and jury. This would allow the community to utilize the knowledge base given by elders whom often seen from first hand knowledge of the youth as he or she had time to no the child as he or she grew up. This type of justice system would work in a closely nit communities that numbered less than 2 to 5 thousand and with larger communities this type of justice system would require a traditional based jury system. Taking a view from traditional justice where by allowing the youth to be a fully functional member of society by maintaining a good social standing in the community. Justice is served when that youth as seen it’s wrongs as a dysfunctional path that carries the burden of imprisonment and rehabilitation.

    Time served by members of society who have not been appropriately charged as a repeat offender is a crime to humanity and should be allowed free without further penalty and criminal record wiped clean.

  3. Pingback: Indigenous over representation in the Australian Prison System | Indigenous Disadvantage