Aboriginal Incarceration Rates Stem From Transition to Welfare Dependency: Mundine

November 3, 2020 Updated: November 4, 2020

Aboriginal leader and former politician Warren Mundine AO has blamed the high rates of Aboriginal incarceration on the breakdown of social norms that followed the “mass transition” from work to welfare dependency in Aboriginal communities in the 1970s.

Mundine was speaking at CPAC, the largest conference for conservatives in Australia, on Wednesday when he told the audience to “be prepared for a bit of truth talking, be prepared for a bit of myth-busting.”

Colonisation, segregation, and racism cannot be blamed for the high rates of Aboriginal incarceration, Mundine said.

He indicated that it was after the introduction of social welfare in the early 1970s that chronic dysfunction grew in Aboriginal communities.

“It was Aboriginal elders in the 1970s who came up with the word ‘sit down money’ because they couldn’t understand that they were going to be paid money for doing nothing,” Mundine said.

“It just was outside their psyche. Prior to the 1970s, most Aboriginal people were employed.”

Incarceration rates for Aboriginal people have nearly doubled since 1991, and suicide rates began escalating in the late 1980s, Mundine said.

Aboriginal People ‘Less Likely to Die’ in Police Custody

Mundine said that Aboriginal people were “less likely to die” while in police custody than non-Indigenous people because of the actions taken to prevent such deaths since the 1991 royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Aboriginal people represent 17 percent of deaths that occur while the person is in police custody, despite being only 3 percent of Australia’s population, Mundine said.

“But Aboriginals make up over 27 percent of all prisoners,” he said. “That means 87 percent of deaths in custody are non-Aboriginals, and non-Aboriginals make up 73 percent of all prisoners.”

A 2017 report into Aboriginal incarceration rates revealed that Indigenous people were 12.5 times more likely to be in prison than non-Indigenous people in 2016 (pdf).

“As noted by the royal commission, Aboriginals are more likely to die in custody because they’re more likely to be in custody,” Mundine said.

He said the higher incarceration rate was due to “violence and reoffending.”

Mundine said that Black Lives Matter protestors often used the talking point that 434 Aboriginal people had died while in police custody since the royal commission.

But this figure also includes deaths of Indigenous inmates that occurred from heart attacks, cancer, suicide and when another inmate killed an Aboriginal inmate, or if they drowned while attempting to escape from police custody.

Mundine said that things would improve when Aboriginal kids went to school, Aboriginal adults had jobs, and Aboriginal communities had real economies.

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