Dennis Eggington – Image, http://www.caama.com.au
The Aboriginal Legal Services Western Australia (ALSWA) has endorsed a recent report by a parliamentary inquiry committee into police services and custodial situations. ALSWA CEO Dennis Eggington however said that endorsement is one thing and implementation of the recommendations another matter. If the recommendations are not followed through then the report is more waste.
Earlier this year, ALSWA presented its own findings to the Community and Justice Standing committee. ALSWA’s legal services director, Peter Collins criticised not only the police, whom he accused of disproportionate arrest rates and maltreatment when it came to Aboriginal people, but also slammed Government legislation – mandatory legislation, move on orders, curfews, three strike behaviour policies – and described cultures of rampant racism.
“There is no doubt in my experience that Aboriginal people are policed far more harshly in this State,” said Mr Collins.
Mr Collins is correct – WA arrests, sentences and incarcerates Aboriginal people at the nation’s highest rates. Mr Collins criticised police for arresting Aboriginal people for something as benign as swearing.
“It is hard not to think that similar language used by a non-Aboriginal person would go through to the keeper,” said Mr Collins. He was disgusted by the Government’s push for a law that would punish repeat offenders by “naming and shaming them.” He said if this “insidious legislation” was passed it would be a racist disgrace.
Mr Collins described the Prohibition Behaviour Orders Act 2010 as “a form of ethnic cleansing” targeted at Aboriginal peoples. He said that orders of this nature were not behaviour management strategies but an obvious agenda to remove Aboriginal peoples from various precincts.
The In Safe Custody report made 22 recommendations from replacing ageing infrastructure (some of the watch houses should be condemned) to enforcing requirements for a minimum two police officers and 24/7 medical staff at watch houses, and that a number of cultural training programs should be implemented for police.
Mr Eggington said that the report merely validated many of the concerns that had been held for many years by the ALSWA.
“We endorse the findings and recommendations, along with those from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC).” He said that the RCIADIC findings, now 22 years old,
“need to be implemented once and for all.”
“There are such simple steps that can be taken, such as providing ALSWA with a properly funded phone service for Aboriginal people to contact for legal advice if they’ve been taken into custody.”
“It also makes good sense that the WA Police expand their cultural training for recruits and sworn police officers.”
Mr Eggington said that the Aboriginal Visitor’s Scheme needs to be supported with access to all Aboriginal people in all lock-ups. According to a former 20 year AVS officer, Joyce Capewell, the AVS has been neglected by police and prisons services and far too many towns and communities have no AVS.
Mr Eggington pushed that no time is wasted in implementing the report’s recommendation 17, that amendments are made to the Inspector of Custodial Services Act 2003 to enable the Inspector to assume oversight responsibility for all police lock-ups. Mr Eggington also supports that amendments should be made to the Criminal Investigations Act 2006 to ensure that detainees in lock-ups receive timely access to legal services, and in particular ensure there is immediate notification of, and access to, legal services by Aboriginal detainees. He said that evidence should be made inadmissible in court where a detainee’s right to legal access has been deliberately suspended.
One of the report’s recommendations urged for the State Government to supplement Federal Government funding to ALSWA given the unmet demand (of Aboriginal detainees).
Mr Eggington said State Premier Colin Barnett should expedite the implementation of the recommendations and that he should “resource the development of a national Indigenous interpreters framework through Western Australia.”
Mr Eggington said that if common sense prevails there is “the capacity to put to an end unnecessary injury or loss of life within police lock-ups.”