University and community leaders talk law and order
The University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle Campus
Crime prevention, juvenile crime and Indigenous incarceration in Western Australia were the focus of a law and order forum held on the Fremantle Campus last month.
Hosted by popular radio announcer, Geoff Hutchison from 720 ABC Perth, panellists included WA’s Chief Justice, the Hon Wayne Martin; Nyoongar Elder, Dr Noel Nannup, Bishop of Broome, the Most Reverend Christopher Saunders, Malcolm McCusker QC, investigative journalist for The West Australian Newspaper, Colleen Egan and Commissioner of WA Police, Karl O’Callaghan.
Delivering the keynote speech was Monsignor David Cappo, a Catholic priest and South Australia’s (SA) Commissioner for Social Inclusion. He plays a key role in developing social policy reform in South Australia and has been working to address pressing social issues including school retention, homelessness, youth offending and mental illness.
In her forum introduction, Vice Chancellor Professor Celia Hammond explained that Notre Dame was established to provide higher education within a context of Catholic faith and values.
“We do this primarily through the undergraduate and post-graduate degrees we offer to students,” says the Vice Chancellor. “However, it is also implicit within the very notion of a Catholic university that we actively engage and facilitate rational and reasoned discussion within the community on issues which strike at the heart of what it means to be a fair and just community. Law and Order is one of those issues. In holding this Law and Order Forum today, we are seeking to encourage discussion and reflection.”
Increased crime, high risk behaviour, substance abuse and domestic violence were some of the major issues Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan said were being dealt with by police in WA.
He said society and the government are the heart of the problem and that there is a misunderstanding by the community about the role of police officers. He noted that there was a perception by politicians and the community that employing more officers would address problems.
To illustrate that this perception was inaccurate, he gave the example of the towns of York and Halls Creek which had approximately the same population. “The town of York has five police officers stationed there compared to Halls Creek which has 23 police officers. More police officers hasn’t fixed the town’s problem,” he said.
He stressed that there is a need for a more holistic response to crime.
“Legislation such as stop and search powers and mandatory sentencing are only stop-gap, short term solutions in themselves. They won’t resolve the long term problems behind crime unless we properly resource other services such as housing, health, child protection and education.
“Less than 50% of people are incarcerated for crime, more than 50% are incarcerated for social issues such as family violence and substance abuse, particularly in indigenous communities.”
Bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders spoke of the need to look for more flexibility in the delivery of the law. He noted the unique problems in the Kimberley area which lawmakers and the judiciary often don’t properly understand.
“Governments have tended to be very Perth-centric,” he said. “Too often traffic offences are landing people in jail. This surely isn’t the best use for society’s resources?”
He gave the example of young indigenous men in the Kimberley who were illiterate and therefore struggled to get their drivers’ licenses which is fundamental to gaining employment. Without employment they were challenged to support their families.
“When people are sent to jail, we must realise they are part of a family and a community. Take a father or key figure out of these and you damage the family community. We need to provide indigenous men with a sense of hope,” he stressed.
Chief Justice Martin also addressed indigenous incarceration, saying the biggest issue is the gross over-representation of Aboriginals in prison. He noted the imprisonment rate has more than tripled – 25 times more than non-Aborigines – and in WA the rate is double that of Northern Territory.
He explained that Aboriginals in WA are 43 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginals and that they are also grossly over-represented as victims, partly because they commit more crime, due to dispossession of land, family dysfunction, poor health, low employment and schooling, racism, structural discrimination.
“There is misplaced public confidence in punishment discouraging people to re-offend. Sure, there must be consequences for crime but prison itself won’t rehabilitate. A high proportion of crimes are committed by people not behaving rationally – crime is not a rational phenomenon.”
The Vice Chancellor was delighted by the level of discussion and debate generated by the forum. “We rarely have the opportunity to explore these issues in sufficient detail,” she said. “It is good to hear debate which goes beyond the sound bite, beyond the superficial and beyond stereotypical name calling.
“I was pleased that our speakers suggested alternate ways of managing people who have, or are at risk, of committing offences. For example: Malcolm McCusker’s point that mental problems shouldn’t be treated by prison and drug addicts should be in rehabilitation; Commissioner O’Callaghan suggestion that prison is not the place for people who haven’t paid traffic fines; ‘Precaution is better than cure’, the Chief Justice’s suggestion to look at the causes of crime and get tough.
Other speakers at the forum included Judge Denis Reynolds, Children’s Court of WA, Magistrate Deen Potter, Children’s Court of WA, Alex Cassie, Search for Your Rights and David Wray, Office of Crime Prevention.
- To download the transcript please click here (PDF)
- To download the Powerpoint presentation please click here (.PPT)
Media contact: Michelle Ebbs 08 9433 0610, 0408 959 138
Ebbs, Michelle, "University and community leaders talk law and order" (2010). Media Release Archive. 87.