16th November 2023 12:32
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (12:31): 

My question is to the Attorney-General, and it relates to the current prohibition on cannabis and consequential arrests among our First Nations people. The potential harms caused from encounters with the criminal justice system are well documented, and our First Nations people experience these encounters at far higher rates than non-Indigenous Australians.

Figures provided by the Minister for Police bear this out, with 8000 to 10,000 people arrested every year for simple non-commercial possession of cannabis.

In this context people identifying as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander were eight times more likely to be arrested for possession of cannabis than non-Indigenous people and 50 per cent less likely to receive a caution.

Given the Victorian government’s stated position that prevention, diversion and early intervention are the most effective and fiscally responsive ways of reducing youth crime and given that this diversion is clearly failing, can the Attorney-General explain why in 2023 the personal possession of cannabis is still a crime?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:32): 

Thank you, Mr Ettershank, for your question. You raise important issues, and it is certainly acknowledged by the Victorian government, particularly justice ministers, the unacceptable over-representation of Aboriginal people in our justice system.

There are a range of programs that we are all committed to for reducing that and tackling that. It was a big focus of the Yoorrook Justice Commission. I and my colleagues regularly attend the Aboriginal Justice Forum, which is made up of a range of Aboriginal leaders from around the state but importantly involves all of our justice agencies, so corrections are represented, police are represented, and policymakers are represented.

When it comes to the crime of drug possession, that is not a matter for the Attorney-General. I acknowledge why you have asked it in the way you have, but the question as framed does not fit in my responsibilities because I am not responsible under the general orders for the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981.

But I am more than happy to provide you with other information that is at my disposal in relation to programs that are designed to divert people away from the justice system, particularly those from our First Nations.

The PRESIDENT: Mr Ettershank, a supplementary?

David Ettershank: I think that perhaps in that non-answer the question was answered. I have nothing further.


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