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‘National tragedy’ in focus

‘National tragedy’ in focus

By Marie-Claire Muir

Human Rights 


Laws and legal frameworks will be examined in the ALRC inquiry into the increasing incarceration rate of Indigenous Australians.

On 10 February 2017 the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) received terms of reference for a new law reform inquiry into the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the prison system.

Announcing the inquiry, the Attorney-General George Brandis QC noted that in the 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the number of Indigenous Australians in the prison population has increased from 14 per cent in 1991 to 27 per cent in 2015, despite being only 3 per cent of Australia’s population. Indigenous women are now 30 times more likely to be incarcerated than their non-Indigenous peers. The Attorney-General described this situation as a “national tragedy”.

The terms of reference ask the ALRC to examine the laws and legal frameworks that lead to the disturbing over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the prison system. There will be a focus on the criminal justice system, including laws and practices relating to cautioning, remand and bail, parole and laws that regulate the availability of alcohol, driving offences and unpaid fines. The ALRC has also been asked to look at access to justice issues – such as the remoteness of communities and access to legal assistance and language interpreters – and alternatives to custody, diversion, rehabilitation and appropriate community-led solutions. Notably, under the terms of reference the ALRC will not be looking at youth detention or out-of-home care. The full terms of reference are at

With receipt of the final terms of reference in February, the inquiry team hit the road on the first round of national consultations in Sydney, Dubbo, Perth, Alice Springs, Darwin and Melbourne. The team is talking with a broad range of stakeholders including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their organisations, state and territory governments, policy and research organisations, criminal justice and law enforcement agencies, legal assistance service providers, the broader legal profession and community and non-government organisations. It will visit regional and remote locations further into the inquiry.

Following its usual practice, the ALRC has constituted an advisory committee to provide quality assurance in the research and consultation processes. The ALRC recognises the time and commitment offered by the committee members lending their expertise to this inquiry (see for a list of members).

In the middle of the year, the ALRC will release a discussion paper, which will include our research to date and proposals for reform. The discussion paper will be accompanied by a formal call for submissions. The ALRC will embark on a second round of national consultations after the release of the discussion paper, seeking feedback on the proposals to assist in developing the final recommendations.

The report with recommendations will be submitted to the Attorney-General in December 2017.

Subscribe to the inquiry enews at


  • The terms of reference for the Indigenous Incarceration Inquiry have been received.
  • Judge Matthew Myers has been appointed lead Commissioner.
  • The discussion paper is to be released in June/July 2017 with a call for submissions.
  • The final report is due in December 2017.

Marie-Claire Muir is communications manager at the ALRC.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by commentators are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV). No responsibility is accepted by the LIV for the accuracy of information contained in the comments and the LIV expressly disclaims any liability for, with respect to or arising from any such views.

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