Justice reform must be a national priority in wake of damning NT report: Oxfam

Campaigns and Advocacy, General, Indigenous Affairs, Media Releases article written on the 17 Nov 2017

Responding to the final report of the Royal Commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said:

“The Royal Commission’s final report has laid bare a distressing case study which is part of a national crisis.

“The commission’s inquiry has revealed ‘systemic and shocking’ failures in detention, care and protection systems in the Northern Territory – failures that have subjected children to appalling mistreatment and that have been ‘ignored at the highest levels’.

“Today’s report – which followed harrowing evidence – has found failures in basic, binding human rights standards and laws and policies which have been flouted. It also makes crucial recommendations for sweeping reforms and fundamental changes to prevent this abuse from continuing.

“While the commission’s investigation and report was sparked by concerns about the shocking treatment of children in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin, there is ample evidence that this is not an isolated case.

“Across the NT border in Western Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up just six per cent of the population, but account for two thirds of those in custody. Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 25 times more likely to be sent to detention than non-Indigenous young people. And there have been too many allegations across the nation of the abhorrent abuse of young people in detention.

“But the commission’s report presents an historic opportunity for united leadership to be shown by federal and state governments to address the chronic over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in detention – and their disgraceful treatment within our justice system.

“This is also an opportunity that must be acted on – the commission’s report cannot become yet another to gather dust on shelves, its vital recommendations left to languish.

“Justice targets must be set nationally and community-led early intervention and diversion programs given priority as part of a national plan to tackle this crisis.

“Crucial to the success of governments’ response to this investigation will be the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, communities and leaders – Indigenous people must be supported to lead the response.

“Justice reform has to be made a national priority so that once and for all, Australia changes the record – not acting immediately would be yet another unacceptable failure for the young people who are our future.”

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