Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:19): My question is to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, Senator Ludwig. A number of recent reports have revealed that Indigenous adults in Australia are 14 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous adults. For juveniles, the detention rate is 397 per 100,000, which is 28 times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous juveniles. Between 2000 and 2009 the imprisonment rate of Indigenous Australians increased by 66 per cent, while the rate for non-Indigenous Australians remained steady. Can the Attorney-General please explain why, if the Commonwealth government is serious about closing the gap, the allocation of grants for the 2011-12 financial year saw a significant number of organisations that are dedicated to helping Aboriginal prisoners make meaningful change in their lives have their funding totally or partially cut compared with the 2010-11 financial year?
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:20): I thank Senator Wright for her question. At the outset, there are a couple of issues to do with this question that I want to make plain. One is that the rates at which people are put in prison is a state and territory matter in the first instance. The Commonwealth has a very low rate of imprisonment. Anyone imprisoned for a federal offence is usually imprisoned by the states and territories.
I will seek further information from the Attorney-General about the particular grants that the Attorney-General's portfolio provides. But as a general rule—and if I am wrong about this I will have it corrected—there would be open and competitive tenders for grants. If there were not, they would be by application and assessed on their merits. I have no doubt that the way the system would work in the Attorney-General's portfolio would be similar to many systems across government. I want to challenge the underlying assumption that was included in the question, that somehow the Attorney-General would be in a position to determine the outcome of particular granting systems within his portfolio or that it would not be through a merit based open selection process or a system that would ensure a competitive tender. If the Senator was suggesting that the Attorney-General is picking favourites, I reject that inference. I have no doubt the Attorney-General would be able to support that view. But I will seek additional information— (Time expired)
Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:22): Mr President, I thank the minister for his answer and ask a supplementary question. Is it the case that a strict case management approach has been proscribed for the provision of prisoner through-care services in the 2011-12 financial year? If so, why? And does this exclude the provision of complementary services such as financial counselling and holistic community support programs?
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:23): Again, I think it is best, given that I do not have anything specific in relation to this matter, that I seek additional information from the Attorney-General.
I would add, however, on the issue that was raised in the first question as well, that some of these matters relate to Closing the Gap, towards which the Commonwealth remains committed and is very serious about providing its energy and support. That is of course a matter that falls within Minister Macklin's portfolio. As Senator Wright has asked me the question as the Minister representing the Attorney-General, and it does not relate to my representational capacity, I chose not to answer that specific part of the question. I also did want to check whether or not the follow-up supplementary question also covers areas which are not within my direct responsibility as representing the Attorney-General's portfolio. Nonetheless, I will seek additional information from the Attorney-General. (Time expired)
Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:24): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. This may again be within Minister's Macklin's portfolio. Given that the June 2011 report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Doing Time—Time for Doing, recommended that the Commonwealth government endorse justice targets for inclusion in COAG's Closing the Gap strategy, can the minister please advise whether this recommendation has been implemented, or will be implemented, and whether this issue will be included on the agenda for the next COAG meeting?
Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:24): It does seem quite clear now that, notwithstanding the Attorney-General's significant interest in these issues, that these issues do tend to fall within the COAG process through Minister Macklin's representations as the minister responsible for Closing the Gap. What I will do, though, is ask the Attorney-General whether there is any additional information he might wish to supply in relation to Senator Wright's question. However, it does seem that it does quite rightly fall within Minister Macklin's portfolio.