CHURCH justice advocates have joined calls for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to widen the scope of a royal commission into Northern Territory juvenile detention, to include facilities in Queensland.
On July 26, Mr Turnbull announced a royal commission into the Northern Territory’s juvenile detention facilities after ABC TV’s Four Corners aired shocking images of guards brutalising inmates.
“We want to say emphatically that the mistreatment in Darwin which we saw on our TV screens recently is not unique to that juvenile detention facility; nor is it a recent development,” Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt said.
“Mistreatment and abuse has been reported from juvenile detention facilities here in Queensland too and it has been happening for many years.
“We know many members of our communities who have suffered greatly because of mistreatment in former juvenile detention facilities in Brisbane.
“Years after their detention, they and our communities are suffering the consequences of this mistreatment and we are all in need of healing.
“Throwing light on this historical abuse will be an important first step to bring about healing and change for the better.”
The St Vincent de Paul Society has called for government action to go beyond improving conditions at juvenile detention centres.
“It is time we questioned why we have a system in place that sees so many First Nations children incarcerated,” the society’s national chief executive officer Dr John Falzon said.
“Inequality is not addressed in prison. It is violently entrenched.”
Indigenous barrister Joshua Creamer and others in the legal profession have called for Queensland facilities to be included in the royal commission terms of reference.
He said the case of an 11-year-old boy in detention in Brisbane who suffered two black eyes and a bruised jaw in December last year was an example of the system failing.
A review of the case by the police and the internal ethical standards unit deemed the boy’s injuries were accidental.
The case is now under investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 24 times more likely to be locked up than non-indigenous children.
Aboriginal leaders say this level of incarceration threatened the fabric of their community and identity.
“We need to acknowledge this uncomfortable fact, and change public policy to address the injustice,” Dr Falzon said.
As well as an alarming over-representation in the criminal justice system, Dr Falzon said an unacceptably high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were in out-of-home care.
It is 25 years since the Australian Government signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises every child’s right to survival, protection and healthy development.
“By signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia committed to protect and support the most marginalised children – a promise which, 25 years later, is yet to be realised for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children,” Dr Falzon said.
“The St Vincent de Paul Society encourages Australians to call for lasting structural and legislative change to advance the rights of First Nations children throughout the country.”
By Mark Bowling