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Issue #1742      August 3, 2016

Rush to whitewash

It is an indication of the cruel dysfunction and collusion at state and federal level of government that the perpetrators of the NT child abuse and torture of juveniles, the NT government, will be involved in the design and administration of the royal commission to investigate it. Perhaps the churches should have designed and administrated the royal commission into their institutions’ sexual abuse of children in their care?

CPA members attending the rally in Sydney on Saturday. (Photo: Tom Pearson)

The abuse and torture of juvenile inmates at Darwin’s Don Dale detention centre has rightly outraged many people and exposed Australia to the world as a violator of human rights. The 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody emphasised that prison should be a “measure of last resort” if the vicious cycle of criminalisation and imprisonment is to be addressed.

More than 28 percent of total prison inmates in Australia are Aboriginal even though they represent only three percent of the population. One in three women prisoners and more than 50 percent of juveniles in detention are Aboriginal. In the Northern Territory 96 percent of juveniles in detention are Aboriginal.

According to Ruth Barson, the director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, the NT is without a doubt in breach of its human rights obligations under the Convention against Torture and Mistreatment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ms Barson says the NT youth justice system is “substandard”, the main youth detention facility being a decommissioned adult prison.

The NT system does not meet basic, minimum international standards and nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people’s over-imprisonment is at crisis point. “Critically,” says Ms Barson, “the NT government cannot be immune from the commission’s investigation. It has known about this treatment for years.”

The Turnbull government’s swift call for a royal commission, with narrow terms of reference and restricted to the NT, smacks of what it is, an attempt at a whitewash, made all the more evident by the appointment of former NT chief justice Ross Martin as the royal commissioner.

This is a reflection of both the federal and territory government in damage control to minimise the political fallout.

This is a national issue that requires a national approach.

Indigenous organisations, including the Northern and Central Land Councils, the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT and legal groups, have rejected Martin’s appointment. Medical Services Alliance chief executive John Paterson stated that the Prime Minister had “let Territorians down” and undermined the royal commission.

The current criminal justice system sucks Indigenous people up and deposits them like waste in custodial institutions. The incarceration rates allow the abuse and deaths in detention to happen and continue.

Clearly the NT government, from Chief Minister Adam Giles down, are lying about their knowledge and complicity in the abuse. As a first measure they should be made to resign.

Tom Pearson

Next article – New Aboriginality rules in Tasmania

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