It’s 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its final report. The commission investigated the deaths of 99 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, generated 200 shelf metres of records and made 339 recommendations. One of the key findings, was that a reduction in rates of imprisonment would mean a reduction in risk of deaths in custody. But Indigenous people have doubled as a proportion of the prison population since the time of the commission – and many are still dying in custody today.
In the preface to the commission’s final report, the commissioners wrote that the issues underlying Aboriginal conflict with the law could not be solved by police and Aboriginal people alone. ‘The key is to be found in the hearts and minds of all Australians,’ they wrote.
In this discussion, our panel of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and human rights experts will discuss the significance of the Royal Commission, its findings and implications and the success and failings of policies implemented in its aftermath. What has worked? What hasn’t? And how can our governments shift the hearts and minds of all Australians?
Karly Warner is a proud Tasmanian Aboriginal woman with connections to the Cowen and the Lockley families. She is executive officer of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and former chair of the Administrative Law and Human Rights Executive Committee at the Law Institute of Victoria. She is also an advisor on the Aboriginal Advisory Council at Lander and Rogers. Karly has a passion for human rights and a demonstrated experience fighting for justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Ruth Barson has worked to advance the human rights of people enmeshed in the criminal justice system for over a decade. She leads the Human Rights Law Centre’s work advocating for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and children and adults in jails across Australia.
Ruth’s recent work includes High Court challenges to excessive police lock-up powers; and state and territory Supreme Court challenges to unfair imprisonment and detention laws. Ruth has also led the Centre’s advocacy in relation to youth justice; deaths in custody; inhuman conditions in detention; and racial inequality in the criminal justice system.
Shane is a descendant of the Kalkadoon people from Mount Isa in North West Queensland. Shane has worked in the human services industry for over two decades, serving as the chief executive officer for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS) in Queensland for the last nine years.
In addition to being the Chair of NATSILS (the national body for ATSILS), Shane has also been the Australian Legal Assistance Forum (ALAF) chair, and chair for the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Human Services Coalition (QATSIHSC). Shane's experience broadly covers local, regional, state, national and international advocacy on issues that impact disproportionately and adversely upon his people.
Rose Falla is a Wotjobaluk/Wemba Wemba woman born and raised in Melbourne. She was educated in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Rose has enjoyed a distinguished legal career, culminating in her appointment as Magistrate in 2013. Rose is the first Indigenous Magistrate appointed in the state of Victoria.