Missing Subjects: Women and Gender in The Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

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Daly, Kathleen

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Ransley, Janet

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Although the Australian Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) tabled its National Report over a decade ago, its 339 recommendations are still used to steer Indigenous justice policy. The inquiry is viewed by many policy makers and scholars as an important source of knowledge regarding the post-colonial lives of Indigenous people. It began as an investigation into Indigenous deaths in custody, but its scope was later broadened to encompass a wide range of matters affecting Indigenous Australians.
There have been numerous criticisms made about the way the investigation was conducted and about the effectiveness and appropriateness of the recommendations made. Of particular relevance to this thesis are those criticisms that have highlighted the failure of the RCIADIC to consider the problems confronting Indigenous women. It has been claimed that although problems such as family violence and the sexual abuse of Indigenous women by police were acknowledged by both the RCIADIC and other scholars as having a significant impact upon the lives of Indigenous women, the RCIADIC failed to address these and other gender-specific problems. The RCIADIC reports themselves do not contradict these claims since they explicitly state that the RCIADIC was primarily concerned with the problems faced by Indigenous men and youth. This thesis is a critical analysis of the way in which the problems confronting Indigenous women were considered in the Indigenous texts of the Aboriginal Issues Units (AIUs) and in the official reports produced by the RCIADIC, the extent to which these considerations differed, and the reasons why the RCIADIC responded to the problems relating to Indigenous women in the way that it did. Data were collected from close readings of the Indigenous texts and official reports and from 48 interviews with people who either worked for the RCIADIC or were in some other way associated with the RCIADIC. There are two analyses conducted in the thesis. The content analysis is an intersectional race and gender analysis of the Indigenous texts and official reports with a view to identifying the extent to which the RCIADIC failed to address the concerns of Indigenous women. The procedures analysis is a critical analysis of the principal ideological and procedural reasons for the RCIADIC's focus upon men and Indigenous youth and its resultant marginalisation of Indigenous women. The thesis concludes that although the RCIADIC did not completely ignore Indigenous women, it inadequately considered the problems that posed major risks to their health and safety, namely, family violence and police treatment. The official reports of the RCIADIC contained information about housing, offending patterns of Indigenous women, the problems associated with visiting family members in prison, and the need to inform families of a death in custody and of post-death investigations which was not contained in the Indigenous texts. Importantly, however, the official reports more than the Indigenous texts took a 'community-focused' approach to the problems faced by Indigenous people, and this approach was ultimately framed in a way which emphasised the needs of Indigenous males and youth rather than that of Indigenous women. Finally, the thesis identifies seven principle reasons for the male-centred focus of the RCIADIC, the most important of which were the emphasis placed on male-centred politics ahead of the concerns of Indigenous women, by Indigenous people and RCIADIC staff, the liberal legal ideology informing the choices of the predominantly male lawyers who controlled the inquiry, and the time and resource constraints imposed on the RCIADIC by federal, State and Territory governments.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

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Australian Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Indigenous justice policy

Indigenous women

marginalisation of Indigenous women

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