The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (QLD) Ltd is appalled at the state of play for children and juveniles currently languishing in police watch houses across Queensland. It is totally unacceptable that such vulnerable young people are being subjected to this type of traumatic treatment whilst under the care of the state. Holding kids in these facilities is extremely dangerous and simply creates an unsafe environment where another death in custody is more likely to occur due to human rights abuses.
The Australian Labor Party announce critical funding measures to address the disadvantage experienced by First Nations people in the justice system.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (QLD) Ltd (ATSILS) has welcomed the funding commitments announced today by The Australian Labor Party (ALP) in relation to addressing family violence and the disadvantage experienced by First Nations peoples in the justice system.
A Human Rights Act for Queensland is powerful medicine for advancing and protecting the rights of vulnerable Queenslanders.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (QLD) LTD (ATSILS) commends the Palaszczuk Government for their steadfast commitment to advancing human rights protections for all Queenslanders with the introduction of a human rights bill in parliament today.
ATSILS CEO Shane Duffy said, “This is an historic day for all Queenslanders, especially the most vulnerable in our communities, and the importance of the legislative protection of human rights is the critical foundation needed to progress towards a fairer and more equitable Queensland.”
We represent many vulnerable people in diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the State who have for too long been disadvantaged by poor policies and laws that entrench poverty, perpetuate discrimination and fuel the ongoing over-representation of our people in the justice system.”
ATSILS looks forward to seeing the positive impact this legislation will have on strengthening human rights protections for individuals – particularly society’s most vulnerable. We especially welcome the much needed protections related to the cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the economic, social and cultural rights to education and healthcare contained in the bill.
“Having human rights protections enshrined in law will be a real litmus test for addressing elements in this cycle of disadvantage and discrimination that our clients, their families and other vulnerable groups in communities experience daily,” Mr Duffy said.
ATSILS strongly endorses the introduction of a human rights charter in Queensland. This is in many respects a defining moment that has the clear potential to make for better outcomes and a fairer Queensland. A human rights instrument will see enhanced protections and rights for all Queenslanders and is particularly significant for the most vulnerable who often do not have the financial resources to enforce their human rights by way of legal representation and advocacy.
ATSILS looks forward to continuing the positive dialogue with the Palaszczuk Government and key stakeholders now and into the future as Queensland positions itself to lead the country in human rights protections.
ATSILS CEO Shane Duffy was invited to Canberra recently to attend A Special Gathering of prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders asked to provide advice to Government on a refreshed ‘Closing The Gap’ agenda. The gathering coincided with the first Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting of 2018.
Shane was one of 64 State and Commonwealth delegates selected to come together to provide advice on future policy priorities, and how all governments can be held to account for driving change. A delegation from the Special Gathering then attended the COAG meeting to provide advice of the gathering directly to First Ministers.
The Special Gathering agreed the next phase of the Closing the Gap agenda must be guided by the principles of empowerment and self-determination as articulated in the 2008 Close the Gap Statement of Intent. The group demanded from government a community led, strength based strategy that enables us to move beyond surviving to thriving.
The Gathering agreed that existing targets should be retained and critically reviewed, and that the following areas are of highest importance for setting additional future targets as part of this refresh:
– Families, children and youth
– Justice, including youth justice
– Economic development
– Culture and language
– Eliminating racism and systemic discrimination
We call on governments to negotiate specific targets in these areas with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and our representative bodies.
Here is a link to the full statement from the group:
Family Matters Report 2017: Without urgent action the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed from family will triple in the next 20 years
NOVEMBER 29, 2017 BY FAMILY MATTERS
The rate at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are removed from their families is an escalating national crisis.
Without immediate action from all levels of government further generations of children will be lost to their families, cultures and communities, according to a new report from the Family Matters campaign.
The report – launched at Parliament House on 29 November – reveals a shocking trend in the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, who are now nearly 10 times as likely to be removed from their family as non-Indigenous children – a disparity which continues to grow.
If we continue on this path, carved out by the flawed approaches of consecutive governments, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care will more than triple in the next 20 years.
“Twenty years ago, the Bringing them Home report brought public and political awareness to the destructive impact of the Stolen Generations on communities, families and children – a historical pain that has caused trauma with lasting impacts. We cannot allow the history of trauma to devastate yet another generation of our children.
“In the 20 years since Bringing them Home, and nearly 10 years since the national apology, the numbers of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care have continued to escalate.”
– Natalie Lewis, Family Matters Co-Chair
The Family Matters Report shows that only 17 per cent of the child protection budget is spent on services aimed at preventing issues for families before they develop, while the bulk of spending is invested in reacting to problems when they arise.
The Family Matters Report clearly shows we have a system that invests in failure and not success.
“Only one in every five dollars spent on child protection is invested in family supports. Supportive and preventative services – designed to build the capacity of families to care for children and allow children to thrive – are crucial to addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.”
– Natalie Lewis
The Family Matters Report provides a comprehensive analysis of child protections systems in every state and territory, judged against a series of building blocks to ensuring child safety and wellbeing.
The disproportionate representation of our children, and the failure to adequately provide for their wellbeing and ensure fulfilment of their rights, are characteristics common to all jurisdictions.
“Those of us working for our communities are striving to address these fundamental system failures, but what we really need is governments to resource our vision for a better future for our children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been forthcoming with solutions to these issues for many, many years. We need to work together now to prevent another generation of children growing up separated from their family, culture and connection to country.”
– Natalie Lewis
Addressing violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and rising imprisonment rates requires a nuanced approach, according to Antoinette Braybrook and Shane Duffy, Co-Chairs of the Change the Record Coalition.
This article is part of a #JustJustice series running at Croakey this week to coincide with Guardian Australia’s Breaking the Cycle project (which is featuring a number of #JustJustice articles), and to mark the publication of the second edition of the #JustJustice book.
Antoinette Braybrook and Shane Duffy write:
In recent months we have seen a renewed and welcome discussion about the crisis of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. What we need now is for all levels of government to start listening to peak and representative Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, so that we can work together to address the unacceptably high rates of violence towards our women and children.
We all want to live in a safe community – with less crime and fewer victims. As a result we often default to the assumption that locking up as many people as possible will keep us safe.
But the evidence proves otherwise, with punitive approaches often compounding underlying issues. If we really want to address both rates of violence and rising imprisonment rates, we need to adopt a more nuanced approach.
Since our launch in April 2015, the Change the Record campaign has been working towards twin goals – to stop the disproportionate rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children, and to end the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
These two goals are mutually reinforcing in a number of ways. Family violence is both a cause and a consequence of imprisonment. Our women are at the epicentre of the national family violence crisis. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are currently 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence than non-Indigenous women and 10 times more likely to be killed as a result of violent assault.
However, it is important to note that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who access our services experience family violence at the hands of men from a range of different backgrounds and cultures.
Underlying, interlinked root causes to violence, prison rates
At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women also represent the fastest growing prison population in Australia and it is estimated that around 90 percent of our women in prison have previously been a victim/survivor of family violence.
The experience of women accessing our services tells us that, more often than not, the criminal justice system fails to protect women from family violence, with punitive approaches providing an incomplete response to stopping the violence.
Both violence and imprisonment rates are also driven by a range of underlying and interlinked root causes, such as mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, poverty, family violence, exposure to the child protection system and other factors.
If we want our justice system to work, we need to recognise and respond to the complex needs of the individuals involved. For instance, the resources that are currently put into imprisoning our people could be better spent on investment into holistic wrap-around family violence services that aim to build resilience and reduce offending.
This includes for example a focus on prevention and early intervention programs, such as Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria’s Sisters Day Out program or Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service’s Kunga Stopping Violence Project.
We need Governments to shift their focus away from responding after an offence has been committed, towards investing in services which build communities, reduce violence and prevent offending from occurring in the first place.
Turn-away rates of 30-40 per cent
An example of the complexity of these issues is the story of Ms Dhu – a young, vulnerable Aboriginal woman who tragically died in police custody after being imprisoned for unpaid fines. At the time of her arrest, she was only 22 years of age and was a victim of domestic violence. She was arrested at the same time as the perpetrator and locked up in a police cell adjoining his.
The sad reality is that Ms Dhu should never have been arrested and she certainly should not have been locked up. Instead, she should have been provided access to holistic family violence support services – such as access to safe housing, community services, legal assistance and prevention and early intervention programs.
However, chronic under-funding and budgetary cuts to services means that we currently don’t have capacity to meet demand. For example, Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) around the country are currently reporting a turn away rate of 30-40 percent because they are so under-resourced.
As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we both know first-hand the pain that is caused by violence against our women and children, and we want the violence to stop. But we also know from personal experience the ongoing impact of intergenerational trauma, mental health issues and the breakdown of our communities that is caused by the escalating over-imprisonment of our people.
Talking about addressing violence and imprisonment rates in tandem is difficult but, if we are to make progress in this area, it is critical that we adopt a balanced response which tackles these dual issues head on.
We don’t need more knee-jerk, ill-considered policies. It is essential that peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are front and centre in the solutions. Governments must meaningfully engage with the experts in frontline service delivery rather than seeing them as an afterthought.
Continuously defaulting to a simplistic ‘law and order’ approach only perpetuates cycles of trauma and disadvantage, and will not make our communities safer in the long-term.
It is in all of our interests to work together to develop smarter approaches, which are targeted at addressing the underlying causes of crime. This approach will not only cut offending and imprisonment rates, but critically will also increase safety by working to address the root causes of violence against women and children in the first place.
Antoinette Braybrook and Shane Duffy are Co-Chairs of the Change the Record Coalition.
This video explains Justice Reinvestment (JR). It describes how JR can be used to reduce imprisonment of young people, and of young Aboriginal people in particular.
ATSILS Executive Team give insight into the organisation’s history, the critical element of cultural competence in our role and our journey into a state-wide legal service with 25 offices across Queensland.
ATSILS “These Are My Rights” cards are available to all clients and are designed to help you protect your rights and create safer interactions with Police if you’re ever detained. If you need legal assistance, Call ATSILS on our Free call hotline: 1800 012 255