First published 30 October 2020

The QUT Law Society (QUTLS) were joined by speakers Shane Duffy, Candice Hughes and Joshua Creamer for an Indigenous panel discussion examining the realities of ongoing racism in Australia, the global Black Lives Matter movement and its significance to Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Barrister Avelina Tarrago, a Wangkamadla woman and the current President of the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland, facilitated discussion about issues relating to Aboriginal deaths in custody, the importance of justice reinvestment to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates in the criminal justice system and the role of future legal professionals in achieving reform.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples only make up 3% of Australia’s population, and yet more than 1 in 4 adults in prison is Indigenous. Furthermore, more than half of all young people in detention centres identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Shane Duffy argued that incarceration rates could be decreased by introducing justice reinvestment within communities. “Justice reinvestment is about utilising the money that is being invested in prisons and rediverting it back into the community. It empowers local communities to design and implement their own solutions. It focuses on services and not sentences.”

Shane Duffy has worked in the human services industry for more than three decades and is currently the Chief Executive Officer for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS) in Queensland. In 2019 he signed a new innovative research partnership with QUT. Shane’s experience broadly covers local, regional, state, national and international advocacy on issues that impact disproportionately and adversely upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Candice Hughes explored the injustices committed against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the youth justice system. “There is a lack of support, cultural safety plans, focus and acknowledgement of kinship for our young people. A young person’s lack of relationship with family, culture and identity impacts their offending behaviour, but this is not being addressed in submissions to the court. If we do not address issues such as engagement with education, food, clothing, housing, mental health and substance abuse, they will keep reappearing in court. We are doing an injustice to young people by not addressing the triggers for their offending behaviour.”

Candice is a solicitor with YFS and has an interest in access to justice and social services for vulnerable people and disadvantaged groups.

Joshua Creamer, Barrister at Law practising and specialising in class actions and native title, offered this advice to future legal professionals, “Do not be someone who makes up the numbers. Be someone happy to stand up and make a difference. Real leadership, for me, is when you are prepared to make personal sacrifices for the greater good.”

Panellists: Joshua Creamer, Candice Hughes and Shane Duffy

Ultimately, the panellists concluded that in order to reduce the systemic racism experienced by Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, there must be understanding, continual learning and reflection by non-Indigenous future legal practitioners.

First Nations Officer and final year Bachelor of Laws (Honours) student Wyatt Cook-Revell said, “Successive governments have designed policies and procedures to disadvantage and oppress First Nations people systemically. I hope that the messages from Uncle Cheg and the panellists inspire non-Indigenous peoples to support us by acknowledging, respecting and listening to our voices.”

QUTLS would like to thank McCullough Robertson Lawyers for sponsoring this event.

Watch the panel presentation here