Forensic psychological assessment of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people

Dr Bob Montgomery1

1Private practice, Southport, Australia

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people are a relatively small proportion of the total Australian population but make up a disproportionately large proportion of Australians facing our courts and incarcerated in our prisons. Racist explanations for these discrepancies have been widely accepted since the British invasion of Australia and are still often shared within the community. I propose that much of the social distress readily seen today amongst ATSI people is the result seen in aboriginal peoples worldwide who were invaded, dispossessed, hunted, and divested of their traditional cultures. This process has been clearly seen in the application of British and then Australian law to the behaviour of ATSI people, to their extreme detriment. A more recent part of this process has been the application to ATSI people of psychological assessment tools and procedures, largely if not completely developed or adopted by, and for application to, Australians belonging to the predominant culture. The inappropriateness of this and its resulting negative impact on ATSI people are increasingly being recognised. I will outline the necessity, if valid and just forensic psychological assessments of ATSI people are sought, for the development of culturally appropriate assessment tools and interview procedures for use with ATSI clients and the training of forensic psychologists and psychiatrists in their appropriate use. This will be illustrated by recent forensic psychological assessments of two Aboriginal men, each alleged to have committed serious crimes with possibly serious legal outcomes.


Psychologist for over 50 years, half in university posts and half in practice. Member, APS, since 1969; Fellow since 1991; Director 2004-2007; President-Elect 2007-2008; President 2008-2010; elected Honorary Fellow 2013. Tutor at Sydney University and University of NSW (1967-1968), then Macquarie University (1969-1971); Lecturer then Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University (1972-1981); Visiting Professor at University of Hawaii (1977) and University of Oregon (1978); Foundation Professor and Head at Bond University (1994-2001); Professor and Head at University of Canberra (2003-2004); Adjunct Professor at University of the Sunshine Coast while he established their Psychology Department and program (2006-2011). 30+ journal publications, including two in Science and one in Nature; author or co-author of 13 best-selling self-help books. Private practice in Melbourne (1981-1993), Canberra (2003-2004) and on the Gold Coast (2005-present) in forensic, clinical & health psychology, Fellow in those APS Colleges. Often in the media, on behalf of the APS or at media request.

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