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Issue #1756      November 9, 2016

Survival “at stake”

The survival of Aboriginal people depends on the findings of the Northern Territory royal commission into youth detention not just being “dropped into a filing cabinet”, according to Lowitja Institute chair Pat Anderson.

Dylan Voller’s mother Joanne and sister Kirra at the rally in Sydney.

Anderson said commissioners were morally bound to ensure the inquiry wasn’t just a talkfest where “we all go away feeling all warm and fuzzy”.

“That cannot happen here. Please, I beg you, do not just put it in the filing cabinet,” she said. “In fact, I would go so far as to say the very survival of Aboriginal people in the NT depends on this commission making a real impact here.”

Anderson, who co-wrote the 2007 Little Children Are Sacred report, said there’s been no progress in the 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, despite many reports and recommendations.

“All this country does is talk about blackfellas,” she said.

“That’s got to stop. We are not going to be here in another 20, 25, 50 years.”

The royal commission held three days of public hearings in Darwin last week, including testimony from advocates, health experts and authors of major relevant reports.

In researching the 2007 inquiry into the protection of Aboriginal children from sexual abuse, Anderson said she interviewed countless families who shared deeply intimate stories in the hope of finding a solution.

“The government’s response was to have the Intervention. This was a huge betrayal – trust was lost,” she said.

One of the report’s urgent recommendations was Indigenous consultation on policy that directly affects them, including alcohol and domestic violence.

But the Howard government’s NT National Emergency Response, or “the Intervention”, was a package of changes to welfare, housing and law enforcement that Anderson said only added to Indigenous trauma.

“It’s a further abuse of Aboriginal people and it continues today. We’re on our knees here. The last 10 years have just been appalling,” she said.

Anderson said a media frenzy followed in which “every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander man in the country was suddenly a pedophile”.

NT Children’s Commissioner Colleen Gwynne told the inquiry more Indigenous children who are victims of abuse should be placed with Aboriginal families for foster care.

The Territory has the highest child placement rate in the country, but a comparatively low rate of placement of Aboriginal children in kinship care.

She said many kids in child protection leave their official foster carers and live somewhere else.

“It’s kind of a vicious cycle where the young people are put in a placement where there’s no cultural connection. There’s this constant absconding,” she said. Muriel Bamblett, who co-wrote the 2010 Growing them Strong, Together report on the NT’s child protection system, said she had discovered a “tsunami of need” in Aboriginal families living in abject poverty and overcrowded houses.

Bamblett, who is chief executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, described housing as the single highest priority for a child’s social and emotional wellbeing.

Psychologist Damien Howard told the inquiry that crowded housing has also created a “new epidemic” of middle-ear disease in Aboriginal children. This hearing loss can lead to learning difficulties, family breakdown and criminal involvement later in life, the commission heard.

More hearings will be held in November and December.

Sister wants brother released

The sister of the young man whose treatment in the NT’s Don Dale Youth detention Centre sparked a royal commission says he can’t be expected to give evidence while still in custody.

While speaking to a rally in Sydney, where about 150 people gathered to call for an “end to systemic racism across Australia”, Kirra Voller said her brother Dylan should be released immediately.

She told the crowd her brother, whose shocking and abusive treatment featured in the Four Corners report that prompted the inquiry, couldn’t be expected to give evidence against authorities while still being detained.

“He’s scared to tell us things,” Voller said. “It’s scary to think that my brother’s still in government care.” Dylan’s mother Joanne stood silently as her daughter addressed the crowd, with both women appearing to cry as they pleaded for compassion.

The protest came as the royal commission into juvenile justice opened in Darwin and heard conditions at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre routinely breached children’s human rights. Similar demonstrations were held around the country, including in Newcastle and outside the Darwin Supreme Court.

Koori Mail

Next article – Turnbull turns to refugee bashing

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