Closing The Indigenous Justice Gap

A Shorten Labor Government will deliver a $107 million package to address the disadvantage experienced by First Nations peoples in the justice system.




A Shorten Labor Government will deliver a $107 million package to address the disadvantage experienced by First Nations peoples in the justice system.
Nowhere is the story of unfairness and diminished opportunity more clearly defined than in the justice gap experienced by First Nations peoples.
An Indigenous man is 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than a non-Indigenous man and an Indigenous woman is 21 times more likely to be in custody than a non-Indigenous woman. An Indigenous child is 24 times more likely to be in detention. This is unacceptable.
For too long, our justice system has failed First Nations peoples. It has been 28 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and yet the vicious cycle that drives the unacceptable over-representation of Indigenous Australians in our justice system continues.
Labor believes that in tackling the entrenched disadvantages faced by First Nations peoples in the justice system, we must be guided by those who live the reality of the justice gap – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their community-controlled, representative organisations.
Labor’s plan to close the justice gap includes:
Properly funding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS)
Labor will strengthen access to justice for First Nations peoples by providing $40 million over four years to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS). This will greatly enhance the ability of ATSILS to fulfil their three critical functions:

  • Improving access to justice for Indigenous Australians.
  • Reducing the disproportionate disadvantage experienced by Indigenous people in the justice system.
  • Providing cost effective legal assistance.

Labor has also committed to maintaining the independence of the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program, which gives effect to the fundamental principle of self-determination for First Nations peoples by funding ATSILS as the community-controlled providers of culturally safe legal services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This will reverse the Morrison Government’s decision to roll ATSILS into the general funding stream for Commonwealth legal assistance, announced in the 2019-20 Budget in April.
In addition, Labor will provide $4 million over four years to the ATSILS peak body, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), to build its capacity to lead the sector and to support its strategic plan to improve justice outcomes based on community, culture and empowerment.
Justice targets
A Shorten Labor Government will work with the States and Territories to adopt justice targets under the Closing the Gap framework, so that the inequality in justice outcomes can be properly highlighted and to address unacceptable levels of incarceration among First Nations peoples.
This will focus national attention on Closing the Gap in these areas, complementing existing targets in education, employment, housing, life expectancy and mortality. 
Labor will uphold the principle that imprisonment should be an option of last resort. 
A Shorten Labor Government will also work with state and territory governments to grow and sustain alternative sentencing mechanisms such as Koori Courts and mediation forums to reduce pressure on the overburdened justice system.
Progressing justice reinvestment
A Shorten Labor Government will invest $21.75 million over four years into progressing justice reinvestment.
Labor will commit to extending the justice reinvestment project currently underway in Bourke, New South Wales, and introduce the trial to sites in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Labor will establish three new launch sites in a major city, regional town and remote community that build on existing community-led initiatives to explore the role of justice reinvestment in preventing crime and reducing incarceration.
These sites will be identified by working with state and territory governments, and with justice reinvestment initiatives currently at various stages of development across Australia.
Labor will support and resource a national framework for justice reinvestment. Through COAG, Labor will establish a national coordinating body, as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission, to build the evidence base, collect data and measure progress as the new targets are implemented, and to monitor the effectiveness of justice reinvestment in the Australian context.
Family Violence Prevention Grants
Labor will work in partnership with First Nations women to address unacceptably high rates of violence against Indigenous women. Labor will provide a dedicated First Nations’ stream of the $60 million Community Prevention & Frontline Service Grants program to support community-led and culturally-appropriate prevention programs.
We will also invest in Aboriginal-controlled frontline services, including at least $20 million for refuges and safe houses and a $21.5 million boost to Family Violence Prevention Legal Services over four years.
These commitments form part of Labor’s comprehensive strategy to address the scourge of family violence.
The injustice dealt to First Nations peoples is a stain on our whole nation. We must rise to the challenge of closing the justice gap.
If we properly fund First Nations-led legal services, show leadership with nationally coordinated targets, and invest in what works – we can close the justice gap.
This election is a choice between a properly funded, First Nations-led and evidence-based justice package under Labor, or further cuts and chaos to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services under the Liberals.
Only Labor can be trusted to deliver a fair go under the law for First Australians.