Productivity Commission inquiry into access to justice risks neglecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Community Law Australia today welcomed the submission made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services with supporting community legal centres to ensure that the upcoming Productivity Commission into Access to Justice examines those who face some of the greatest barriers of all.

Access to justice issues are intensified for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people which is why the submission calls for the Productivity Commission Inquiry to pay specific attention to this area. 

The conference heard from Eddie Cubillo, EO of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) who gave shocking examples of harsh sentencing. A young Aboriginal boy charged with criminal damage for throwing himself in front of a car, or a 15 year old who was forced to spend ten days in jail for stealing a $2 icecream.

National Association of CLCs (NACLC) Convenor Michael Smith said that the real stories of young people affected by an unjust and punitive legal system shocked and dismayed the conference. NACLC is supporting the NATSILS call for a cost benefit analysis and trial of justice reinvestment to address the access to justice issues for Australia’s first peoples. 

“So many Aboriginal people have been affected by trauma and are continually facing racism in terms of how the legal system and laws are stopping them from truly accessing justice.

“It costs over $652 per day to imprison one young person, surely taxpayer dollars could be spent more effectively to help people stay out of the prison system. 

“The Conference has heard from many Aboriginal leaders and thinkers who are committed to changing the problems that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders face when attempting to access justice. Until alternative ways are sought to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons, we cannot say that Aboriginal people have fair or equal access to justice,” Mr Smith said.

Community Law Australia campaign spokesperson Carolyn Bond said that the justice reinvestment program was a smarter way to ensure value for money and to help people contribute actively and equally in society.

“Justice reinvestment is about spending taxpayer dollars more effectively when it comes to the cycle of imprisonment. Allocating funds at the end of the cycle, such as increasing the capacity of prisons does nothing to address the systemic problems and social issues which can lead to detention and imprisonment.

“The shocking over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons shows that the system is not currently working. Investing in community-based programs that empower people to break the cycle means that our entire legal system will benefit,” Ms Bond said. 

Download the media release (PDF)