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Question without Notice: First Nations incarceration

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
16 August 2022

Dr RATNAM (Northern Metropolitan): My question is for the Attorney-General. There was yet another tragic death of a First Nations person in a Victorian prison just days ago. During the harrowing coronial inquest for Veronica Nelson we learned there were 505 Aboriginal deaths in custody since the royal commission. Now there have been 506. The record number of First Nations Victorians in prison and the tragic deaths in custody over recent years under this government have not happened by accident; they are directly attributable to discriminatory bail laws and unnecessary delays to vital legislative reforms to the police oversight system as well as child protection and youth justice, including the refusal to even debate raising the age of criminal responsibility. There have already been multiple reports that tell the government what needs to happen to reduce the unjust overincarceration of First Nations people. What is it going to take for the government to listen to First Nations communities and advocates and act to reduce overimprisonment of First Nations people by fixing bail laws, raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 and introducing proper independent police

Members interjecting.

The PRESIDENT: I agree. There are multiple questions. I will give you a chance to rephrase the question, Dr Ratnam.

Dr RATNAM: Thank you, President. To clarify my question: what is it going to take for the government to listen to First Nations communities and advocates and act to reduce overimprisonment of First Nations people?

Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services): Dr Ratnam, I am not waiting for anything. I and many of my ministerial colleagues meet regularly with representatives of Aboriginal groups and communities. We have an Aboriginal Justice Forum for exactly that, where these issues are canvassed and I hear from Aboriginal stakeholders directly, because that is where I want to learn. That is where I want to have the conversations. I am not waiting is the answer to your question.

Dr RATNAM: Thank you, Attorney. According to a recent Guardian newspaper report, the government stated that it has unfinished business on this issue and might do something about it should the government be re-elected. Attorney, there are three bills before this house right now that we could debate that will address issues of First Nations overimprisonment:
the Greens bills to reform bail and raise the age and the government’s own child protection bill. Why is the government delaying reforms that could reduce First Nations imprisonment? 
Ms SYMES: Dr Ratnam, we have a lot of legislation before this house. I am on record as saying justice reform is always ongoing. It is not something that I am ever going to complete in my time as Attorney-General. Even if I get another four years after the election, I will not complete the job. It is something that I am always working towards, always responding to the needs of stakeholders, whether they be Aboriginal justice advocates, whether they be victim-survivor groups. We will continue to bring in legislation that responds to community needs and updates our justice system. That commitment from me personally stands

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
16 August 2022


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