The future of Aboriginal Justice Agreements

Proposal 10–1           Where not currently operating, state and territory governments should work with peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to renew or develop Aboriginal Justice Agreements.

10.31  AJAs have not featured in recent inquiries relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration.[25] There is, however, momentum to introduce AJAs in some states and territories. For example:

  • In 2015, the South Australian Council of Social Services called for an agreement to address rising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates.[26]

  • In 2016, the Making Justice Work coalition called on the NT Government to prioritise the creation of an Aboriginal Justice Agreement.[27] The ALRC has been told that an AJA is now under development as part of the government’s policy platform.

  • In 2017, the Human Rights Law Centre and the Change the Record Coalition recommended that state and territory governments develop and implement community led justice agreements, with a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the justice system.[28]

10.32  The ALRC recognises that while AJAs are not a complete solution to the high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, AJAs are an important initiative that can assist in bringing about a reduction. It is not just the agreements themselves but the infrastructure which they create that plays a critical role in the facilitation of collaborative, culturally appropriate, and effective criminal justice responses.

10.33  The success of some of the proposals made in this Discussion Paper relies on the development of collaborative relationships between government and peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.[29] AJAs could provide a foundation on which to facilitate, build and solidify these relationships.

10.34  The ALRC also recognises that AJAs may be challenging to develop. They rely heavily on government agencies working together, and the development, identification and engagement of peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.[30] States and territories that seek to formalise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in criminal justice decision making would need to develop suitable governance structures that reflect the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and requirements in that jurisdiction. A strong governance structure is critical. For example, the evaluation of the AJA conducted in Queensland found that, although an increase in incarceration rates had slowed under the Agreement, the government’s failure to train and properly resource Community Justice Groups had affected the effectiveness of the Agreement.[31]

10.35  The ALRC understands that justice policy and initiatives are constantly developing. It is likely that AJAs or similar initiatives may already be underway in the states and territories without current agreements. The ALRC also recognises that NSW, Queensland and Western Australia have implemented AJAs and have not renewed them in the same form.

10.36  The ALRC welcomes submissions on the proposal that, where not already operating, AJAs be developed in each state and territory. Particularly, the ALRC welcomes any comments regarding: experiences with current AJAs; potential obstacles to the implementation of AJAs; and whether other policy frameworks regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates are providing good outcomes.