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Estimates: Questions on the recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Indigenous Deaths in Custody

In Estimates on Tuesday 15 December 2020, I asked if the Government was considering implementing recommendations from the Royal Commission into Indigenous Deaths in Custody.

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: I have a question that I am asking against the backdrop of the 1991 royal commission into Indigenous deaths in custody and Queensland’s ongoing high rate of Indigenous deaths in custody. I am curious to know if the government is looking to implement the remaining recommendations of the royal commission, including particularly abolishing the offence of public drunkenness, and adequately funding non-custodial facilities for the care and treatment of intoxicated persons.

Mr CRAWFORD: Rulings or decisions around what is a crime and what is not a crime are not a matter for my department. Obviously, that is for the Attorney-General and other ministers. More broadly, what I can speak about is the incarceration rate as well as deaths in custody and referencing the 1991 report. We certainly saw those emotions roll pretty heavily with the recent Black Lives Matter campaigns that ran across the world after the George Floyd incident overseas. Emotions are still very high amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

It starts with incarceration rates, but I think the work for this department is in the space prior to that. It is about what work the previous DATSIP department can do with others around avoiding arrest rates, avoiding incarceration rates. Whether that means changes to laws, we will have to wait and see what that looks like. We are not in a position to drive those. We are in a position to provide advice and connect those relevant departments to the stakeholders. It comes back to what I mentioned before about local decision-making and empowerment and putting traditional owners and community leaders in the driver’s seat and being able to provide that advice about where they go.

I will use an example around alcohol management plans. Currently in Queensland we have some communities that are well advanced towards community safety plans and being able to provide that shining light to government that they can manage their way out in their community, providing safety and everything else that goes along, as well as the reintroduction of alcohol. We are keen to work with them. That is one small example that goes towards a broader area about self-determination.

Mr BERKMAN: If I might, I wish to ask Dr Sarra a follow-up question. Going to those objectives that the minister referred to in previous answers with the focus on local decision-making, local empowerment and ensuring communities are at the centre of that decision-making, have you received feedback in your role about the retention of that offence of public drunkenness, and how do you think that might serve those overarching objectives if it were to be repealed?

Dr Sarra: If I could take a moment to reflect on the general role of what was the former DATSIP but is now the responsibility of part of what is the new department, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships part. It really is about, as the minister described, the fact that our role in government as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships is not to deliver education outcomes because that is the role of the education department, and not to deliver health outcomes because that is the role of the health department, and on justice outcomes, which we are discussing now, that is the role of Attorney-General’s, Queensland police and youth justice—various other departments. Our role is to work in partnership with all of those agencies in order to facilitate a circumstance in which they would do their work more effectively.

Earlier, the minister talked about reframing the relationship. That refers to reframing the relationship in all sorts of ways, across government departments and with communities. The Local Thriving Communities agenda and reframing the relationships in that part has been really important over the last couple of years because it enables Aboriginal leadership and Torres Strait Islander leadership in conversations facilitated by people in our department to ask some of the hard questions of government and to ask some of the hard questions of service providers.

To go to your specific interest, I appreciate your shared interest in those concerns. We are very determined to pursue better outcomes. I have been in continuing dialogue with the Police Commissioner in relation to how those matters can be dealt with more effectively. I think that was reflected recently in relation to the Black Lives Matter protest that occurred during the COVID circumstance. We were in a continuing dialogue and I think that circumstance was executed quite effectively—one could say in a way that was quite honourable and reflected a different relationship that exists, and different when you compare it to what happened in New South Wales, not that I want to put New South Wales down. I can assure you, member, that we are in a continuous dialogue with relevant people across government but also in a continuous dialogue with Aboriginal leadership and Torres Strait Islander leadership about those matters we are both concerned about.

Mr BERKMAN: Thank you.

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