NACCHO Aboriginal Women’s Health #SistersInside #imaginingabolition : Our CEO Pat Turner address to @SistersInside 9th International Conference Decolonisation is not a metaphor’: Abolition for First Nations women

NACCHO supports the abolition of prisons for First Nations women. The incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women should be a last resort measure.

It is time to consider a radical restructuring of the relationship between Aboriginal people and the state.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities must be part of the design, decision-making and implementation of government funded policies, programs and services that aim to reduce – or abolish –the imprisonment of our women.

Increased government investment is needed in community-led prevention and early intervention programs designed to reduce violence against women and provide therapeutic services for vulnerable women and girls. Programs and services that are holistic and culturally safe, delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

NACCHO calls for a full partnership approach in the Closing the Gap Refresh, so that Aboriginal people are at the centre of decision-making, design and delivery of policies that impact on them.

We are seeking a voice to the Commonwealth Parliament, so we have a say over the laws that affect us. “

Pat Turner NACCHO CEO Speaking at  Sisters Inside 9th International Conference 15 Nov

See Pats full speaking notes below

Theme of the day: ‘Decolonisation is not a metaphor’: Abolition for First Nations women

About Sisters Inside

  • Sisters Inside responds to criminalised women and girls’ needs holistically and justly. We work alongside women and girls to build them up and to give them power over their own lives. We support women and girls to address their priorities and needs. We also advocate on behalf of women with governments and within the legal system to try to achieve fairer outcomes for criminalised women, girls and their children.
  • At Sisters Inside, we call this ‘walking the journey together’. We are a community and we invite you to be part of a brighter future for Queensland’s most disadvantaged and marginalised women and children.

Sisters Inside Website Website 

In Picture above Dr Jackie Huggins, Pat Turner, Jacqui Katona, Dr Chelsea Bond and June Oscar, Aunty Debbie Sandy and chaired by Melissa Lucashenko.

Panel: Why abolition for First Nations Women?

Panel members:

  • Dr Jackie Huggins AM FAHA (Co-Chair, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples)
  • Pat Turner AM (CEO, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation)
  • Dr Chelsea Bond (Senior Lecturer, University of Queensland)
  • Jacqui Katona (Activist & Sessional Lecturer (Moondani Balluk), Victoria University)
  1. Imprisonment, colonialism, and statistics
  • The Australian justice system was founded on a white colonial model that consistently fails and seeks to control and supress Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in the prison system:
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 12.5 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians.[i]
    • Our women represent the fastest growing group within prison populations and are 21 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous women.[ii]
  • Imprisonment is another dimension to the historical and contemporary Aboriginal experience of colonial removal, institutionalisation and punishment.[iii]
  • Our experiences of incarceration are not only dehumanising. They contribute to our ongoing disempowerment, intergenerational trauma, social disadvantage, and burden of disease at an individual as well as community level.
  1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s experiences of imprisonment
  • The Change the Record report found that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who enter prison systems:
    • are survivors of physical and sexual violence, and that these experiences are most likely to have contributed to their imprisonment; and
    • struggle with housing insecurity, poverty, mental illness, disability and the effects of trauma.
  • Family violence must be understood as both a cause and an effect of social disadvantage and intergenerational trauma.
  • Risk factors for family violence include poor housing and overcrowding, substance misuse, financial difficulties and unemployment, poor physical and mental health, and disability.[iv]
  • Imprisoning women affects the whole community. Children are left without their mothers. The whole community suffers.
  1. Kimberley Suicide Prevention Trial
  • The Kimberley Suicide Prevention Trial, of which NACCHO is a member, provides a grim example of the link between trauma, suicide, incarceration and the social determinants of health.
  • The rate of suicide in the Kimberley is seven times that of other Australian regions.
  • Nine out of ten suicides involve Aboriginal people.
  • Risk factors include imprisonment, poverty, homelessness and family violence.
  • Western Australia has the highest rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment.
  1. Imprisonment and institutional racism
  • The overrepresentation of Aboriginal peoples in prison systems is not simply a law-and-order issue.[v] The trends of over-policing and imprisoning of Indigenous peoples are examples of institutional racism inherent in the justice system. [vi]
  • Institutional racism affects our everyday encounters with housing, health, employment and justice systems.
  • Institutional racism is not only discriminatory; it entrenches intergenerational trauma and socioeconomic disadvantage.[vii]
  • Exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Indigenous people. We are twice as likely to die by suicide or be hospitalised for mental health or behavioural reasons.
  1. Ways forward see opening quote Pat Turner 
  2. The role of ACCHSs in supporting Indigenous women

Increasing access to the health care that people need

  • Racism is a key driver of ill-health for Indigenous people, impacting not only on our access to health services but our treatment and outcomes when in the health system.
  • Institutional racism in mainstream services means that Indigenous people do not always receive the care that we need from Australia’s hospital and health system.
  • It has been our experience that many Indigenous people are uncomfortable seeking help from mainstream services for cultural, geographical, and language disparities as well as financial costs associated with accessing services.
  • The combination of these issues with racism means that we are less likely to access services for physical and mental health conditions, and many of our people have undetected health issues like poor hearing, eyesight and chronic conditions.

Early detection of health issues that are risk factors for incarceration

  • The Aboriginal Community Controlled Health model provides answers for addressing the social determinants of health, that is, the causal factors contributing to the overrepresentation of Indigenous women’s experiences of family violence and imprisonment.
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health organisations should be funded to undertake comprehensive, regular health check of Aboriginal women so that risk factors are identified and addressed early.

Taking a holistic approach to health needs and social determinants of health and incarceration

  • Overall, the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health model recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people require a greater level of holistic healthcare due to the trauma and dispossession of colonisation which is linked with our poor health outcomes.
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health is more sensitive to the needs of the whole individual, spiritually, socially, emotionally and physically.
  • The Aboriginal Community Controlled Model is responsive to the changing health needs of a community because it of its small, localised and agile nature. This is unlike large-scale hospitals or private practices which can become dehumanised, institutionalised and rigid in their systems.
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health is scalable to the needs of the community, as it is inextricably linked with the wellbeing and growth of the community.
  • The evidence shows that Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations are best placed to deliver holistic, culturally safe prevention and early intervention services to Indigenous women.
  1. About NACCHO
  • NACCHO is the national peak body representing 145 ACCHOs across the country on Aboriginal health and wellbeing issues. In 1997, the Federal Government funded NACCHO to establish a Secretariat in Canberra, greatly increasing the capacity of Aboriginal peoples involved in ACCHOs to participate in national health policy development.
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health first arose in the early 1970s in response to the failure of the mainstream health system to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the aspirations of Aboriginal peoples for self-determination.
  • An ACCHO is a primary health care service initiated and operated by the local Aboriginal community to deliver holistic, comprehensive, and culturally appropriate health care to the community which controls it, through a locally elected Board of Management. ACCHOs form a critical part of the Indigenous health infrastructure, providing culturally safe care with an emphasis on the importance of a family, community, culture and long-term relationships.
  • Our members provide about three million episodes of care per year for about 350,000 people. In very remote areas, our services provided about one million episodes of care in a twelve-month period. Collectively, we employ about 6,000 staff (most of whom are Indigenous), which makes us the single largest employer of Indigenous people in the country.


[ii] Human Rights Law Centre and Change the Record Coalition, 2017, Over-represented and overlooked: the crisis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s growing over-imprisonment: NB: The foreword is written by Vicki Roach, a presenter in the next session of the Abolition conference

[iii] file://nfs001/Home$/doris.kordes/Downloads/748-Article%20Text-1596-5-10-20180912.pdf – John Rynne and Peter Cassematis, 2015, Crime Justice Journal, Assessing the Prison Experience for Australian First Peoples: A prospective Research Approach, Vol 4, No 1:96-112.

[iv] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2018. Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia. Canberra.


[vi] ‘A culture of disrespect: Indigenous peoples and Australian public institutions’.


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