The Australian Bar Association is committed to advancing and advocating for the legal rights of Indigenous Australian. The ABA regularly responds to requests for advice and submissions to assist in the formulation of policies with respect to Indigenous Australians, the Australian legal system and the legal profession. Issues include, but are not limited to, native title, land rights, customary law, legal education, access to justice, Indigenous incarceration and racial discrimination.
The ABA has a dedicated Indigenous Issues committee made up of barristers from across Australia with specialist knowledge and experience of these issues. The Indigenous Issues committee members are:
Simeon Beckett (NSW) – Chair
Chris Bevan (NSW)
Andrew Boe (Qld/NSW)
Thomas Keely SC (Vic)
Tamzin Lee (NT/ACT)
Susan Phillips (NSW)
Kevin Rose (Qld)
Anne Sheehan (Vic)
John Southalan (WA)
Avelina Tarrago (Qld)
David Stevenson (Qld)
Recently, the ABA has proactively campaigned for law reform measures to tackle Australia’s Indigenous incarceration rates. Among the proposals, the ABA has strongly recommended that mandatory sentencing laws, that have the biggest impact with minimum effect on Indigenous people, be amended or removed, and funds saved from housing prisoners redirected into programs that rehabilitate and reduce recidivism.
The current situation:
A recent report by the Australian Institute of Criminology found a key factor contributing to the disproportionate Indigenous over-representation is that of State and Territory government bail and sentencing policies, particularly in jurisdictions with high populations of Indigenous people where mandatory sentencing laws operate, and individuals are often incarcerated for trivial offences.
Mandatory sentencing contributes to a higher rate of imprisonment which often unnecessarily increases the costs in the administration of justice. Under mandatory sentencing laws, a defendant has no motivation to plead guilty as there is no chance of a reduced sentence. This means that potentially more contested cases appear before the courts requiring the use of extra resources and producing further court delays.
The Australian Bar Association proposes the following: