The NSW Parliament has taken its first step to address the demands for justice arising from the Black Lives Matter movement, by launching a cross party parliamentary inquiry into how deaths in custody are investigated in this state.
Critically, the motion which was moved by the Greens, amended by the Opposition and supported by the Government, acknowledged “the unacceptably high level of First Nations people in custody in New South Wales.”
Currently there are 6 separate oversight bodies reviewing conduct in NSW prisons none of which has the capacity to send independent investigators into prisons to obtain critical evidence following a death in custody.
First Nations families have repeatedly stated they have no confidence in the independence of investigations into deaths in custody of their family members. This inquiry is the first and best chance in decades to put in place a credible, independent and properly resourced authority to investigate all deaths in custody in NSW.
Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of Research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS, Larissa Behrendt said
“This is an important first step in a more transparent process that builds confidence in investigating deaths in custody and ensuring reform.
Throughout this inquiry, we will continue our advocacy for the establishment of an independent body tasked with investigating deaths in custody operate with a commitment to principles of self-determination, with a central role for First Nations people in investigating the treatment of our people.
This is also a moment to acknowledge the consistent frontline work done by First Nations families who have had family members die in custody who have been determined that other families not go through the same thing”, said Ms Behrendt.
Greens MP and spokesperson for Aboriginal Justice David Shoebridge said:
“Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Sydney earlier this month to protest Aboriginal deaths in custody and this inquiry is a first step towards addressing their demands for justice.
“After a week of distraction and debates about statues, it gives me hope that Parliament was able to come together and acknowledge we need to act to address the gross over-representation of First Nations people in custody in NSW.
“This is a win for those brave families and Aboriginal communities who have campaigned for decades and demanded that politicians listen to them. Last night at least some of their demands were heard,” said Mr Shoebridge.
The terms of the Resolution Establishing the Inquiry are below
(1) That a select committee be established to inquire into and report on First Nations people in custody in New South Wales, and in particular
(a) the unacceptably high level of First Nations people in custody in New South Wales,
(b) the suitability of the oversight bodies tasked with inquiries into deaths in custody in New South Wales, with reference to the Inspector of Custodial Services, the NSW Ombudsman, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Corrective Services professional standards, the NSW Coroner and any other oversight body that could undertake such oversight,
(c) the oversight functions performed by various State bodies in relation to reviewing all deaths in custody, any overlaps in the functions and the funding of those bodies,
(d) how those functions should be undertaken and what structures are appropriate, and
(e) any other related matter.
(2) That, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the standing orders, the committee consist of six members comprising:
(a) two government members,
(b) two opposition members, and
(c) two crossbench members, one each from one from The Greens and one from another crossbench party.
(3) That the Chair of the committee be an opposition member and the Deputy Chair be a crossbench member.