The Guardian 9 November, 2005

Review report sparks action

The only Indigenous-led assessment of any Australian government's response to the 339 recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody has been handed to the Victorian Government.

Hailed as frank and fearless, the report was presented to State Attorney-General Rob Hulls, whose response was to the point: "This is a candid account of our shortcomings", he said.

"It is, quite simply, a government-commissioned kick up the arse there's no better expression for it and now it is time to gather our thoughts, assess our progress and draw up a map for the terrain in front of us."

Review Chairman Mark Rose, Co-Chairwoman Joy Murphy and a support team compiled their two- part review over 18 months.

"The 1991 report concluded that the high rate of Indigenous deaths in custody was a direct consequence of the disproportionate incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people", Dr Rose said.

"The recommendations addressed national race relations and suggested ways to break the cycle of disadvantage that continues to land Indigenous people in prison.

"But almost 15 years later, our people are still falling through the net."

The review included more than 165 meetings with the Koori community, hundreds of self- assessment reports from key government departments and interviews with Koori prisoners and staff at 11 Victorian prisons.

The resulting review looks at how to adjust and fine-tune the original recommendations for the contemporary needs of Indigenous Victorians.

"It's about unfinished business, the lives of those people who have died since the Royal Commission represent an ongoing struggle. Their unfinished business must be our unfinished business", said Dr Rose who, along with other speakers, took time to thank and acknowledge the involvement of the family members of those seven Aboriginal people who have since died in custody in Victoria.

Victoria Aboriginal Affair Minister Gavin Jennings said: "One death is one death too many, let's be very clear about that".

"The history of this nation over the last 200 years, the sins of dispossession, the sins of disadvantage, have profoundly let us all down. The issue of racism and reconciliation has not been resolved and we do not deny this."

Mr Hulls said that more than 200 years of dispossession could not be undone in only six years.

"Nevertheless, we had rightly hoped for more and I am, quite simply, ashamed that Koori communities are still at the bottom of all social indicators and that the same underlying issues of racism and disadvantage, persist", he said.

"The elected representatives of this nation must take responsibility for the state-sponsored march of dispossession that began with colonisation and that continues to pervade the experience of Aboriginal people".

(By Jirra Lulla Harvey for Koori Mail. 2/11/05)

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