Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 01, 2022


Nunga Courts

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (14:37): My question is to the Attorney-General. Will the minister inform the chamber about South Australia's Nunga Courts and his recent visits to the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:37): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in this area. The South Australian Nunga Court, which currently operates out of the Port Adelaide, Murray Bridge and Maitland magistrates courts, provides Aboriginal defendants with a culturally appropriate sentencing option in an otherwise often confusing and stigmatising legal setting.

Nunga Courts are a proud South Australian initiative which aims to bridge the gap often faced by Aboriginal people in their interaction with the Western legal system. The Nunga Court operating at the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court is the first culturally appropriate court of its kind for Aboriginal defendants in Australia. It was established in 1999, while the Murray Bridge Nunga Court began in 2001, and together they are the two oldest specialist courts in sentencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people anywhere in the country.

This court allows for community elders and Aboriginal justice officers to provide the magistrate with advice on relevant cultural and community issues during the sentencing process. Formally acknowledging and taking this cultural advice into account is often effective in helping Aboriginal defendants overcome cultural barriers to understanding the law and court practice and procedure.

It also seeks to build relationships with Aboriginal communities and organisations to aim to reduce reoffending and provide holistic outcomes for Aboriginal defendants. One of the points of difference between the Nunga Court and mainstream court is that all parties, including the magistrate, are seated at the same level and in close proximity to facilitate direct communication.

I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to spend an afternoon at the Nunga Court in Port Adelaide and was impressed with how it worked and those involved. I was fortunate to visit the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court once more last week, where I spoke with many people who play a very significant role in the operation and continuation of the Nunga Court in South Australia.

Among those was my good friend and respected elder, Aunty Yvonne Agius, who was central to the development of this court, the first of its kind. I particularly want to thank Aunty for all the work in getting this court established and for the continued commitment to helping create a better future for the Aboriginal community in South Australia.

The South Australian court was largely the initiative of Magistrate Chris Vass, who was then a member of the judicial Aboriginal cultural awareness program and the regional manager of the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court and its associated circuits, including the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands.

The court came to be as a result of many years of discussions between Mr Vass and various other parties, including Aboriginal community groups, state government agencies, the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, police prosecutors and Aboriginal elders like Aunty Yvonne Agius, who I have mentioned earlier. When the court first commenced, it did so without funding but later on in December 1999 the Courts Administration Authority funded Aboriginal justice officers who continue to operate in the system, explaining court outcomes and sentence compliance, amongst many other roles.

I want to place on record particular thanks to Aaron Zammit, manager of the Aboriginal programs at the Courts Administration Authority, for facilitating my meeting at Port Adelaide and to all the other Courts Administration Authority representatives such as Magistrate Bennett, Magistrate Pandya, regional manager at Port Adelaide, and the many other elders and respected persons who continue to contribute to conversations around the Nunga Court. I look forward to seeing the continued work of this important part of our court system and to working further with experts to ensure their continued operation in South Australia.