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Question: Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Recommendation 226 from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody calls for the independent investigation of complaints against police and the employment of Aboriginal people or use of Aboriginal organisations in an independent police complaints body. That recommendation sets out key principles that should guide the design and implementation of police complaints mechanisms rather than providing a specific model. It is also one of the 107 recommendations that both previous Labor and Liberal South Australian governments had claimed was fully implemented and accordingly were no longer reported on.

However, both the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM) and the Aboriginal Justice Advocacy Committee's independent Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody monitoring report and the Australian Human Rights Commission independent report note major problems with the South Australian police complaints system, including noncompliance with recommendation 226.

That royal commission identified that a lack of police accountability undermines the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' communities and the police and that a perception of a lack of accountability for wrongdoing continues to undermine confidence and trust in police. Given that currently the South Australian police commissioner has said he will not release even basic statistical details about police officers at the centre of proven or admitted misconduct, despite a request from the South Australian Ombudsman, I think that this particular recommendation requires some revisiting.

My question to the minister is: what steps will the minister take to ensure that recommendation 226 of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody for an independent complete police complaints process is fully and properly implemented in South Australia?


The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for her important question and her interest in this matter. I will say by way of general background I understand that the Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into the operation of the Police Complaints and Discipline Act. I won't make too many very specific comments, but I will say I look forward to reading the outcomes of that inquiry and the recommendations that are made by the committee to see what, if any, changes can be made in relation to this area. Certainly, that committee has done good work and has made recommendations that this parliament has taken up in the past.

In relation to the matter generally, the operations of police complaints, I understand that back in 2020, during the term of the last government, Gordon Barrett QC conducted a review. It was a statutorily required review into the Police Complaints and Discipline Act. That review noted that in all Australian jurisdictions there is some role for police in investigating complaints about police conduct, noting that there are skill sets that are required for investigations that are quintessentially those possessed by police officers. It was noted in that particular report the possibility of some role of police during investigatory stages having those sorts of skills.

In South Australia, the Police Complaints and Discipline Act provides for oversight in management of police complaints by the Office for Public Integrity and empowers that office to give directions to police investigating complaints or reports. If it eventuates there are proceedings against the police officer alleging a breach of discipline, they are heard by the Police Disciplinary Tribunal, which is constituted by a magistrate of the Magistrates Court. Those are the workings at the moment, in a very broad sense, of the Police Complaints and Discipline Act scheme, but, as I say, I look forward to seeing what reports and recommendations are made by the Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee.

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