By Ben Wilson
As the controversy over black deaths in custody in Australia gathers momentum, the big Black Lives Matter marches around the nation have been added to, with an alliance representing more than 1000 legal services, representing First Nations and non-indigenous Australia, welfare, disability organisations and others, which has come up with a five Point Plan to bring about major change.
The Plan has the following points
- Repeal punitive bail laws, mandatory sentencing laws and decriminalise public drunkenness.
- Stop imprisoning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and raise the age of legal responsibility from 10 to 14 years.
- Legislate for independent investigations of deaths in custody and the resourcing of independent police oversight bodies.
- Implement all recommendations from the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Pathways to Justice report and the “countless independent investigations, coronial inquests and reports that have been published in the three decades since”.
- End the solitary confinement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in police and prison cells through legislative safeguards and by setting up independent bodies to monitor the conditions and treatment of people detained.
Pauline Wright, the President of the Law Council of Australia, said, “We are still waiting for a response from government to the seminal Pathways to Justice report, more than two years after its publication. This simply is not good enough.”
“The Law Council supports the implementation of strong, national justice targets to see an end to the gross over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system. This is a national tragedy on our own doorstep which cannot be ignored.”
Scott Morrison has told parliament that this is an “extremely important issue.”
“Every death in custody, and particular Indigenous deaths in custody, is an absolute national shame and tragedy,” he said.
But nothing has moved, other than referring the matter to the National Federation Reform Council. Meanwhile the deaths and more numerous racial profiling type attacks continue.
The Five-Point Plan has been presented to Australia’s political leaders, and there is an expectation that they will be considered in the parliaments. It may well get Labor and the Greens on side. It may even get others. Unfortunately, this does not mean that the proposals will be acted on.
The concern is, that like in the past, actually doing something about the problem will be moth balled, and this mean that waging a public campaign must be the most important part of the strategy.
Most important at this point, is the lifting of public support for change. A recent Ipsos poll, for example, indicated that this is an issue still not well understood by a considerable section of the public.
The matter is being muddied by those within mainstream and social media campaigning against any change, explaining the high rate of incarceration as no more than misbehavior, and branding deaths in custody as fake news.
Most Australians do recognise this serious problem, and support the call for serious action. It is now a matter for raising the capacity of this support base, as the way to push through change.
The alliance that has come together to support the Five-Point Plan, is making a considerable contribution to this.