The Australian Bar Association is committed to advancing and advocating for the legal rights of First Nations Australians. The ABA regularly responds to requests for advice and submissions to assist in the formulation of policies with respect to First Nations 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 First Nations Issues committee members are:
Simeon Beckett (NSW) – Co-Chair
Avelina Tarrago (Qld) – Co-Chair
Andrew Boe (Qld/NSW)
Thomas Keely SC (Vic)
Susan Phillips (NSW)
Anne Sheehan (Vic)
Damian Beaufils (NSW)
David Yarrow (VIC)
The ABA has proactively campaigned for law reform measures to tackle Australia’s First Nations incarceration rates. Among the proposals, the ABA has strongly recommended that mandatory sentencing laws, that have the biggest impact with minimum effect on First Nations 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 First Nations over-representation is that of State and Territory government bail and sentencing policies, particularly in jurisdictions with high populations of First Nations 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: