Webinar Series

Optional Protocol on Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)

An international panel of OPCAT experts, discussing the role that OPCAT could play in the prevention of the death, torture and ill-treatment of people detained in Victoria, and across Australia. 

2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. However, since this watershed report was handed down, at least 455 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody.  

In 2017, Australia ratified OPCAT, the objective of which is to ‘establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. As such, Australia was required to set up detention oversight bodies, National Preventive Mechanisms, in all States and Territories (including Victoria) by January 2022.  

At this critical moment, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service was honoured to host an international panel of OPCAT experts, who discussed the role that OPCAT could play in the prevention of the death, torture and ill-treatment of people detained in Victoria, and across Australia. 

Introduction: Nerita Waight (Chief Executive Officer, VALS) 

Moderator: Andreea Lachsz (Head of Policy, Communications and Strategy at VALS) 

Panellists: Senator Lidia Thorpe (Senator for Victoria, Australian Parliament), Professor Sir Malcolm Davis (Former Chair 2011-2022, UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture), Dr Elina Steinerte (Vice Chair, United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention), Ben Buckland (Senior Advisor, Association for the Prevention of Torture), Dr Matthew Pringle (Founder, Canada OPCAT Project) 

Aboriginal Community Justice Reports Project

This panel of Australian and Canadian experts discuss the background and benefits of the Aboriginal Community Justice Reports, and how to participate in the Project. 

In 2017, the Australian Law Reform Commission recommended that State and Territory Governments, in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, ‘develop and implement schemes that would facilitate the preparation of ‘Indigenous Experience Reports.’’  In 2018, the Victorian Government and the Aboriginal Justice Caucus committed to piloting Aboriginal Community Justice Reports over the five-year period of Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja: Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase Four.  

The Reports, modelled on Canada’s Gladue Reports, and adapted for the Victorian context, will include a more holistic account of individual circumstances, including as they relate to a person’s community, culture and strengths, as well as making recommendations regarding community-based options.

Moderator: Andreea Lachsz (Head of Policy, Communications and Strategy at VALS) 

Panellists: Judge Lawson (Judge in Charge, County Court Koori Court Division), Nerita Waight (Chief Executive Officer, VALS), Larissa Behrendt (Associate Dean (Indigenous Research), University of Technology Sydney), Thalia Anthony (Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney), Jonathon Rudin (Program Director, Aboriginal Legal Services, Canada), Lyne St-Louis (Founder and Director, Taiga Vision in Quebec, Canada) 

Addressing Coercive Control

Recorded on International Women’s Day 2022, Chelsea Watego, a Munanjahli and South Sea Islander woman and Professor of Indigenous Health at QUT, delivers a speech exploring the possibilities of addressing coercive control without criminalisation and why it is so important. 

In January 2022, VALS published a policy paper titled “Addressing Coercive Control Without Criminalisation: Avoiding Blunt Tools that Fail Victim-Survivors”. On International Women’s Day, VALS hosted speaker, Professor Chelsea Watego, and facilitated a panel discussion to continue this important conversation.  

CONTENT WARNING: This webinar discusses issues that potentially include references to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people who are deceased, have experienced trauma, violence, abuse, racism and coarse language.  

If any part of our discussion raises issues or concerns for you, we encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to call Yarning Safe’N’Strong – a helpline run by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service – on 1800 959 563. Any viewers can call lifeline on 13 11 14.  

A First Nations panel of experts engage with and expand upon the concepts raised in the above speech.

Panellists: Professor Chelsea Watego (Academic at QUT, Writer, and Author of Another Day in the Colony), Nerita Waight (Chief Executive Officer, VALS), Nayuka Gorrie (Actor, Writer and Activist), Dr Amanda Porter (Senior Fellow (Indigenous Programs), Melbourne Law School), Dr Crystal McKinnon (Vice Chancellor’s Indigenous Research Fellow, RMIT) 

Solitary Confinement

A panel discussion formed around the lived experience of three people who generously shared their stories and views on solitary confinement.

What is solitary confinement, and how, when and why is it usually used?  

Is there a right to healthcare in prisons, and what sort of care is provided in practice? What do we know about the mental health of people in custody, mental health services in custody, and mental health outcomes after release from custody?  

What did the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody say about solitary confinement, and what have been the recent experiences of individuals and families? What are the impacts of systemic racism? 

Panellists: Professor Stuart Kinner (Group Leader, Justice Health, Centre for Adolescent CHealth, MCRI), Kriti Sharma (Lead #Breakthechains Campaigner, Human Rights Watch), Dr Sharon Shalev (Research Associate, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford), Megan Williams (Research Lead and Assistant Director, National Centre for Cultural Competence)