Prime Minister fails Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Prime Minister fails Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

The Federal Government has completely failed to lead in its response to the Northern Territory Royal Commission’s report on how to fix youth justice and child protection systems.

Shahleena Musk, a Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the Federal Government was trying to wash its hands of responsibility at the very time it needed to show leadership to fix broken youth justice systems across Australia.

"This official response shows that the Prime Minister’s words are hollow. When Australia was confronted with the horrific images of child abuse within our youth prisons, Malcolm Turnbull talked big and we hoped it was a sign of some strong national leadership. Now is the time for the PM to steer all states and territories towards implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations," said Ms Musk.

The Prime Minister established the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory following the ABC’s Four Corners exposé of children in the Don Dale youth prison being hooded and tied to chairs, stripped naked and tear-gassed. Yet three months after the release of the Commission’s groundbreaking report he has cherry-picked recommendations and distance the Federal Government from the Northern Territory Government.

"Stop passing the buck. Too many children, families and communities have been harmed by our punitive and ineffective child protection and youth justice systems, we owe it to them to ensure each and every recommendation from the Royal Commission is pursued with vigour from all levels of government," said Ms Musk.

The Royal Commission confirmed children were also subjected to verbal abuse and racist remarks, improper controlling behaviour including the withholding of food and water, humiliating and degrading acts, locked in solitary confinement, and emotionally and physically mistreated. Most of the children being mistreated are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids.

"This is a national problem and it needs a national response. We know the abuse and mistreatment of children in youth prisons is not just confined to the NT – there’s a wealth of complaints and independent inquiries all pointing to similar abuses around the country," said Ms Musk.

Today the Prime Minister is meeting with the premiers and chief ministers of all states and territories at the regular COAG meeting. Ms Musk said he needs to rethink his response and provide national leadership to help all states and territories to heed the lessons of the Royal Commission.

"A significant number of the recommendations have relevance across state borders, including the call to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Approximately 600 children younger than 14-years are locked away in youth jails each year across Australia. The Federal Government should be supporting all states and territories to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14-years in keeping with international law,” said Ms Musk.

For interviews or further information please call:

Alycia Gawthorne, Communications Officer, Human Rights Law Centre, 0425 016 380