Contituency Statement - Murri Courts
During the hearings of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in 2010-11 and onwards, which I chaired, we discovered that Indigenous juveniles were 28 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous juveniles. Indigenous juveniles make up more than half of the detainee population on any given day here in Australia, and Indigenous young adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous young adults, so we made a number of recommendations which the government accepted in whole or in part.
In that context we looked at the Murri courts in Queensland. The Murri courts sentence Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders who plead guilty of an offence which falls within the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court in Queensland. Assistance is given by Aboriginal elders during that time, including one of the local Aboriginal elders in the Western Corridor, Uncle Albert, who lives in Inala in the electorate of Oxley. I have known him through his work in the local community, particularly as, virtually, the patron of Hymba Yumba, an Indigenous school in Springfield in my electorate.
The really tragic thing about all of this is that the Campbell Newman government in Queensland has abolished the Murri courts. The Murri courts operate in Brisbane, Cleveland, Cherbourg, Rockhampton, Townsville, Mount Isa and other places, including in Ipswich. It is a disgrace, because it means that Indigenous young people and young adults are more at risk of incarceration. Ipswich Children of the Dreaming spokeswoman Rosemary Connors, who gave evidence to the Doing time—time for doing report, said the Murri Court would wrap up at the end of December and expected the number of people to end up in jail to skyrocket. Children of the Dreaming look after 1,600 young Murri a year—men, mainly, but some women also—who are charged with offences and are sentenced. She said:
It's pretty much devastating … The cost to run the Murri Court bail program is a quarter of the cost of sending an offender to prison.
The program, she said, was a great help to the local Murri people. The Queensland Law Society President, Dr John de Groot, said the calculation by the Queensland Attorney-General in saying that it was not a good program was 'based on a false economy' and that the outcome of the move would 'end up costing Queenslanders far more than the government's expected savings'. The Queensland Law Society are very critical of this decision, and I agree with them. Locally the Murri Court sitting magistrate, Matthew McLaughlin, praised the program as 'generating positive results'. It is so short-sighted of the Campbell Newman LNP government and it shows their disregard for Indigenous people in the state of Queensland.