Pat Turner, for decades a strong Aboriginal voice, is the lead convenor of the Coalition of Peaks, which brings together about 50 indigenous community peak organisations. In this role she is part of the negotiations for a new agreement on Closing the Gap targets.
Unlike the original Rudd government targets, the refreshed Closing the Gap agreement, soon to be finalised, will set out targets for progress on justice and housing.
But the issue is, how much progress should be the aim?
“We want to push the percentages of achievement much higher, but we are in a consensus decision-making process with governments … what the targets will reflect is what the governments themselves are prepared to commit to,” Turner says.
The Australian Black Lives Matter marches have focused attention on the very high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal people, often for trivial matters. In this podcast Turner canvasses both causes and solutions, advocating major changes to the justice system.
She points to “huge issues with drug and alcohol abuse”, with inadequate resourcing to deal with these problems.
She urges reform for sentencing arrangements for those charged with minor offences, criticising a system which imprisons people who cannot pay fines, or post bail. “It would be less expensive overall for the jurisdictions, and it would more beneficial to the community [if those people weren’t in prison]”. And she identifies the “the over-incarceration of women [as] a major concern.”
Among the changes needed, she says, is better training of police.
“Now I’m not saying that all the police behave badly - we have got outstanding examples of how the police work with our communities.” But “we just can’t wait for ad hoc ‘good guys’ to come out of the system and engage properly - we need wholesale reform of the police departments.”
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra