Law Society joins equal opportunity fight for Indigenous community
The Law Society of NSW has joined forces with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) and NSW Council of Social Services (NCOSS) to urge the state government to address the barriers Aboriginal people face in obtaining and holding a driver licence.
The three bodies have come together in calling on the NSW state government to recognise the need for the barriers to be addressed, noting that statistics reinforce the need for “end to end” support for Aboriginal people trying to obtain a licence.
Among the statistics highlighted are: one in 20 Aboriginal people in jail is serving a sentence for unlicenced driving and other “driver licence” offences, while less than half of eligible Aboriginal people hold a driver licence compared to 70 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population.
Furthermore, the statistics show that only 51 per cent of Aboriginal families have access to a motor vehicle compared to over 85 per cent of non-Aboriginal families; 57 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people pass the Driver Knowledge Test (DKT) compared to 74 per cent for other groups in the community; 38 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a licence have had it disqualified, suspended or cancelled; and 12 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander found guilty of driving offences were jailed, compared to 5 per cent for the general population.
To try and combat the issues, the ALS, NCOSS and the Law Society of NSW have all provided submissions to the Staysafe Inquiry into Driver Education, Training and Road Safety.
They each reiterated that there must be properly resourced programs that are accessible to Indigenous people, including those in rural and remote areas.
“The licensing system in NSW effectively excludes marginalised and disadvantaged people including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly those living in regional and remote areas,” said Law Society of NSW president Pauline Wright.
“Poor literacy skills, lack of money and difficulties in obtaining a birth certificate make it difficult for many Indigenous Australians to complete driving tests. This results in a disproportionate number of Indigenous Australians facing incarceration, penalties and fines for driving offences.
“Having a driver licence can affect the quality of life for people in regional and remote areas where there may be little or no access to public transport. Licence sanctions for unauthorised driving and disqualification periods can have a significant impact that is disproportionate to the offence.”
Ms Wright added that a “continuation and expansion of programs including the Driving Change Program, run in partnership with Indigenous community organisations, and the NSW government’s Driver Licensing Access Program could help to reduce the barriers that prevent Indigenous people from obtaining licences”.
“There are also opportunities to partner with programs including Literacy for Life to support learning,” she said.
“Such programs can lead to greater employment, education and social inclusion.”