THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, 21 JUNE 2023
SUBJECT: Real time reporting of deaths in custody.
GREG JENNETT: A big shift has come into place from today on the visibility and awareness of deaths in custody. An online reporting dashboard will track deaths of all inmates who die while held behind bars. It's a major step forward, of course, for Indigenous Australians who are heavily over represented in jails. And this is a modern implementation of a recommendation first made by the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody. That was 32 years ago now. Our political reporter Nicole Hegarty sat down with the Attorney-General to talk about this announcement earlier today.
NICOLE HEGARTY: Thanks for joining me Attorney-General. So this new dashboard is being launched today, how will it actually operate?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: There will be real time reporting of deaths in custody, and we're delivering on election commitment in doing this. It's been a long time coming. The Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody made this recommendation 32 years ago. And finally, going live on the 21st of June, we are going to have, in dashboard format, all deaths in custody reported. The dashboard will include numbers, it will include which state the death has occurred in and will identify, where it is possible to identify that fact, if it is an Indigenous death.
HEGARTY: What's the overall aim here? Is it a matter of transparency or ultimately reducing these instances that we're seeing all too common?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The idea is that if we have, in real time, better data from every state and territory of deaths in custody we can then identify problems and do something about it. Obviously, every death in custody is a tragedy for all concerned. It's a tragedy for families but it's also a systemic issue and by reporting in real time on deaths in custody we've got a better chance of dealing with those systemic problems. It's about getting the information out there so that we can take action.
HEGARTY: What checks and balances will be in place?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Obviously the death won't be reported on, won't be incorporated in the real time or near real time reporting, until families are notified, until there is enough information there to make it the right thing for it to be reported on. So we're very alive, and states and territories have been working with the AIC, to make sure that we get this part of it right. They won't be reporting until families have been notified. They won't be reporting until the facts have been identified.
HEGARTY: There have been 544 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission back in 1992. How come we're only seeing real time reporting some 32 years later?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's taken a long time, much too long and that's why, at the last election, we made a commitment that, if we were elected to government, we will deliver real time reporting of deaths in custody. And I'm very proud to say that I've worked with attorneys-general across the Commonwealth, I've worked with police ministers, AIC has put a power of work into this and as of the 21st of June this year, finally 32 years after the Royal Commission, we're going to have real time reporting of deaths in custody.
HEGARTY: And how far will this go to improving confidence in police and prisons to go about making sure inmates are treated correctly?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's of course, our objective. We want to end deaths in custody. We want to grapple with systemic problems that are there in the system. This is part of, and only part of, the solution but it's an important part.
HEGARTY: How will the data gathered through this process better inform Federal Government decisions in terms of investment?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We made commitments at the last election to a range of work in relation to Indigenous justice. We made commitments and we've honoured the commitment to provide some $13.5 million to grieving families so that they can participate in coronial inquests. We've made commitments to embark on what will be a long journey of Justice Reinvestment and that work has started to look at alternative approaches to justice in Indigenous communities. We've given additional funding on a short-term basis to Aboriginal Legal Services and we are of course funding custody notification services in four states.
HEGARTY: The Productivity Commission has in recent weeks released some new data which says that the rates of deaths in custody are at a 15 year high in accordance with their data, what sort of consultation has been had with families of people who have lost loved ones within custody?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We know that there has been consultation with grieving families right across all states and territories. This is something that's been a long time coming and we've made it a priority for our government. One of the things I've done is to reestablish the Standing Council of Attorneys-General, which is going to meet on a quarterly basis, and also to reestablish the Police Ministers Council, which is going to meet twice a year. In both those bodies, which are meetings of me as Police Minister and me as Attorney General with respectively, state and territory attorneys-general and state and territory police ministers. As a standing item on the agenda we have Indigenous justice. This is something that has to be done on a cooperative basis with the states and territories. It's not something that the Commonwealth can do by itself. There are things that the Commonwealth can do by itself in terms of funding, in terms of coordinating this real time reporting. That's a Commonwealth action but it can only take place with the cooperation of states and territories because most of the data for this real time reporting comes from the states and territories. The Government is committed to reducing Indigenous incarceration. That does mean working with the states and territories. But this is a long term commitment that our government makes, and we will have to keep working at it.
I would also like to thank Senator Patrick Dodson, my colleague in this Parliament since 2017. He, of course, was a Commissioner of the Aboriginal Deaths In Custody Royal Commission. He's been working on this every day for the last 32 years and it's in large part due to his efforts as a Senator since joining the Labor Caucus in 2017 that we went to the election with this commitment to real time reporting of deaths in custody, and now we are achieving real time reporting of deaths in custody.