Oxfam welcomes PM pledge for Royal Commission but demands real change

Indigenous Affairs, Media Releases, News article written on the 26 Jul 2016

Following the shocking revelations on last night’s Four Corners program and the Prime Minister’s announcement this morning of a Royal Commission, Oxfam is calling for a real commitment to change the record on the appalling over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly children.

“The revelations and graphic footage of cruelty and torture of children at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin shook me to the core,” Oxfam Australia Chief Executive and former Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke said.

“Since when has cruelty been a necessary function of our juvenile justice system? The events are horrific and I find it astonishing that the Northern Territory Government has suppressed the former Children’s Commissioner’s report into the Don Dale abuses for so long.

“While we welcome the announcement of a Royal Commission into Don Dale, we note the cruel irony that this year is the 25th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Many of that inquiry’s recommendations have not been acted on, a quarter of a century later.

“We hope this Royal Commission at the very least looks at the engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and youth with the juvenile justice system in the NT, including causes and the obvious need for preventative measures and culturally safe processes. Most importantly, all its recommendations must be implemented. It’s also vital that it’s bi-lateral and supported by governments at a federal and territory level.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are 24 times more likely to be in detention. It’s a shocking record – one that’s devastating lives and tearing communities apart,” Dr Szoke said.

“Over the past decade, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ending up in prison has increased by 88 per cent. At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – especially women and children – are experiencing increasing amounts of violence. This is abhorrent.

“We need a new approach which is smarter, evidence-based and more cost-effective, which increases safety, addresses the root causes of violence against women and children, cuts reoffending and imprisonment rates, and builds stronger communities.”

Oxfam is part of the Change the Record campaign and has provided funding to help Aboriginal people reintegrate into their communities and access services after release from prison.

Oxfam is urging the Federal Government to show leadership and adopt the Change the Record Coalition’s ‘Blueprint for Change’,  a concrete plan for the Federal, State and Territory Governments put together by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous organisations to change the record on soaring Aboriginal imprisonment rates and high levels of violence.

The Blueprint urges a whole of government strategy, a working partnership with Indigenous communities and targets to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous youth behind bars, with statistics showing 54 per cent of the 885 young people in detention on an average night in the June quarter last year were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

For interviews or more information, please contact Amanda Banks on 0411 449 653 or amandab@oxfam.org.au