Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Welcome everyone to Government House for the South Australian launch of the Justice Reform Initiative.

Even in a venue as distinguished and significant as Government House, it is unusual to welcome so many representatives from so broad a range of the constituent parts of our democracy.

Current and past Members of the Executive and Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum, members of the judiciary, commissioners, public officials, members of our impartial public service, representatives of the police and correctional services, academics, journalists, and others, all of whom are also, perhaps most fundamentally of all, citizens.

Such representation speaks eloquently to the mission of the Justice reform initiative.

Law reform - and the place that the prison system plays in it is - or should be - an on-going conversation between our law makers, the justice system and the citizens they serve.

At the heart of the Justice Reform Initiative is a desire to shift the public conversation away from imprisonment as a primary response to dealing with crime to a wider examination of how to break the cycle of incarceration; to a conversation that enables us to look beyond calls for tough law-and-order policies and longer sentences, which may or may not be appropriate in all cases.

In that way we can actively involve ourselves in a society that is committed to equality, fairness and opportunity.

Statistics outlined by the Justice Reform Initiative paint a sobering picture:

  • In 2018, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for 3% of the population, but 28% of the adult prison population.
  • Most of the young people in Australia’s juvenile justice system come from backgrounds where they have already suffered severe neglect or abuse and/or have been placed in out of home care.
  • The fastest growing cohort of Australia’s prison population is women, and a disproportionate number are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
    • Most have committed non-violent offences, and many are victims of domestic abuse.
  • More than 50 per cent of adults in prison have a history of mental illness, and more than 80 per cent of young people in custody have a diagnosed psychological disorder.
  • More than 50 per cent of people who are imprisoned return to prison within two years.

The task to tackle the underlying social determinants of how and why people become part of the prison system is large and complex.

A solution will require education, awareness, energy and a concerted effort across many sectors.

A solution will have to tackle social issues such as homelessness, mental health, unemployment, lack of educational opportunities and problematic drug and alcohol use.

A solution will also have to address indigenous disadvantage and address problems that were identified more than 30 years ago by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

I thank the Justice Reform Initiative for its vision to bring together Australians to raise awareness and broker meaningful change.

I know that in your chair, Robert Tickner, you have a passionate advocate for social reform, no doubt shaped in part by his former role as Australia’s longest serving Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

Having co-ordinated the national response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and as a former solicitor with the Aboriginal Legal Rights Service in Redfern, and CEO of Australian Red Cross, he has been a tireless advocate for social equity.

I also thank those who have chosen to lend their support to the Justice Reforms vision and mission.

I will take a keen interest in your progress and will do everything I properly can as Governor to encourage it.