Indigenous Affairs Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has again moved to temper expectations for a royal commission-style inquiry into over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT justice system.
Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services chief executive Julie Tongs confronted Ms Stephen-Smith in an ABC radio talkback segment on Friday morning, pressuring the minister for a commitment to the inquiry.
"Considering it's NAIDOC week, I thought that the minister might be able to give us a direct answer about whether the government will have a royal commission into the overrepresentation into First Nations people in the justice system in the ACT. And the AMC," Ms Tongs said.
"We'd like a direct answer, yes or no."
But Ms Stephen-Smith said the decision was not hers to make alone, and again expressed the ACT government's concern a large-scale inquiry could repeat work already done.
"This is a decision that involves the expenditure of quite a considerable amount of public resource, but also needs to be made in partnership with the community broadly and by cabinet," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"So I can't make a commitment to you here and now off my own bat, and you know that. We've had a number of conversations about the reservations that the government has in relation to this."
Ms Stephen-Smith and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury have previously expressed their concern about an inquiry, writing to Ms Tongs earlier this year that the inquiry could take years to hand down recommendations that were likely to mirror those of previous inquiries.
On Friday, Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT government had recommended reconvening the meeting of Indigenous leaders to discuss next steps for the inquiry.
"One of the other things [Ms Tongs] and the 16 leaders recommended to us was a stock take of all the recommendations that have been made and where we're up to," she said.
"I think it is important to have that understanding and implementing the recommendations that have already been made. To think about, also, as we go forward for an inquiry, how we can ensure that is a truth-telling process but also a healing process."
MORE A.C.T. POLITICS NEWS:
A group of 16 senior Indigenous community leaders had unanimously decided to call for a wide-ranging inquiry, Ms Tongs told The Canberra Times in May.
"It's definitely gone past a review. It needs to be bigger than [the Alexander Maconochie Centre]. It needs to look at police, it needs to look at housing, it needs to look at over-representation. It needs to actually look at what's actually happening in the AMC," Ms Tongs said at the time.
The Justice and Community Safety Directorate has estimated the Indigenous incarceration rate would need to fall 24.4 per cent by 2031 to keep the territory on track to achieving parity with the non-Indigenous incarceration rate.
The Productivity Commission's 2020 report on government services found Aboriginal imprisonment in the ACT had grown by 279 per cent between 2009 and 2019, more than any other state.
The average daily number of Aboriginal people in the Alexander Maconochie Centre in 2009 was 29 in 2009-10; the number had risen to a daily average of 110 by 2018-19.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.