Robert ‘Bob’ Debus was born in Sydney and educated at The University of Sydney. Before serving two terms in the New South Wales parliament (1981/88 and 1995/2007), he worked as a solicitor, publisher and ABC radio broadcaster, producing Radio National programs including the first editions of the program Background Briefing. He was National Director of The Australian Freedom from Hunger Campaign (1988/1994) and worked to achieve an amalgamation with Community Aid Abroad now known as Oxfam Australia. He entered the Federal Parliament for a term in 2007.
In the period 1995 to 2007 he held many portfolios including Minister for Corrective Services (1995/2001), Minister for Emergency Services (1995/2003), Minister for Environment (1999/2007), Minister for Arts (2005/2007) and Attorney General (2000/2007). In the Federal Parliament he held the position of Minister for Home Affairs.
Bob Debus has a life-long concern about justice for Indigenous people. In the early 1970s he was among a group of activists who supported Professor Hal Wootton in the establishment of the original Redfern Aboriginal Legal Service.
As Minister for Corrective Services he introduced wide ranging improvements to rehabilitation services of benefit to Aboriginal inmates and opened Yeta Dinnakal, the successful low security institution at Brewarrina focussed on the restoration of pride in culture.
As Attorney General he significantly strengthened Aboriginal justice initiatives, establishing Australia’s first network of circle sentencing courts and a network of Aboriginal community justice groups. He established the NSW Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce, which in turn produced a path finding report, Breaking The Silence (2006).
As Minister for Environment he implemented established legislation to vest ownership and management of national parks in traditional owners, notably handing back Biamanga and Gulaga National Parks on the NSW South Coast, and the Worimi Conservation Lands at Stockton Bight. Australia’s first Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA), signed with the Bundjalung people, created Arakwal National Park, Byron Bay.
In 2009, as Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, he initiated the work of the parliamentary enquiry into Aboriginal youth in the justice system published in 2011 under the title Doing Time – Time for Doing.