Health and medical groups are backing a push for federal, state and territory governments to prioritise youth justice reform nationally in the wake of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) today issued a statement calling for jurisdictions to work together to ensure a strong and sustained commitment to working with Indigenous communities to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
RACP President Dr Catherine Yelland said:
Throughout the Royal Commission’s investigations, we have heard many heartbreaking stories of cruel and inhumane acts of abuse. We know that these acts did not occur in isolation in the Territory’s juvenile justice facilities but happened across Australia more generally.
We strongly believe other State and Territory governments through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) must now work together and ensure the Royal Commission’s recommendations are acted on to improve the country’s approach to juvenile justice.
We also believe that working in close partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their representative bodies, will be crucial to successfully implementing the Commission’s recommendations.”
Dr Robert Tait, an RACP Fellow and specialist paediatrician at Royal Darwin Hospital, said there was still plenty of work to do in responding to victims of historical abuse and improving health outcomes for young people in the current system. He said:
The evidence shows childhood and adolescence experiences influence our life ‘trajectory’ and can result in adverse health, educational and vocational outcomes into adult life, with increased subsequent mortality and morbidity.
This path can lead to inequity that is passed from one generation to the next.”
Tait urged the NT Government to consider a greater investment in paediatric services with a stronger focus on preventative strategies.
Meanwhile at NITV online, Summer May Finlay, a Yorta Yorta woman, contributing editor at Croakey, academic, writer and public health consultant, writes:
The current juvenile justice system in the Northern Territory and most likely those in other states and territories teaches children that as an adult you can do what you like. That the rules don’t apply. It teaches these children that power through violence is ok.
And what is that price these kids and society pay? The price is recidivism, poor education, low self-efficacy, trauma after trauma.
We are creating adults who are not prepared for anything but incarceration. By not investing in their future we are breaking them before they have had a chance to succeed.”
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians and other health and medical groups are among 100 organisations to have signed an open letter published by the Change the Record coalition calling for national action.
Signatories include the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA), Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA), the Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA), the Social Determinants of Health Alliance, and the Australian Physiotherapy Association.
The letter has been forwarded to the Prime Minister’s office, so the call for signatories is closed, but Change the Record suggests that Croakey readers can sign this petition by some of their member organisations calling for a national youth justice action plan:
(The open letter below is re-published with permission from Change the Record.)
Open Letter to the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers: Ensure national action on the Report of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory
We are horrified by the abuses and torture of children in detention in the Northern Territory, highlighted throughout the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (the Royal Commission).
We note the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, following her visit to Australia in March 2017 who found “the routine detention of young indigenous children the most distressing aspect of [her] visit.”
We are deeply concerned at the worsening rate at which Australia is locking up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, which is now 25 times the rate of non-Indigenous children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up more than half the total number of children in prisons Australia-wide.
We note that this abuse is not isolated to the Northern Territory. Throughout the past 18 months there have been independent Inquiries into youth detention in every jurisdiction except South Australia.
In addition to removing children from their families and communities, children are being subjected to prolonged abuse including isolation, restraint chairs, spit hoods and tear gas in youth prisons.
This is unacceptable.
All Australian governments must take immediate measures to reform our youth justice systems and address the recommendations of the Royal Commission. These must be developed collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to ensure that all of Australia’s children thrive.
The undersigned organisations call on the Australian Government, working with the Northern Territory Government and other State and Territory governments through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), to seize the landmark opportunity presented by the Royal Commission to:
- Work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their representative bodies to deliver a comprehensive and ongoing response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission
- Lead national reform through COAG of youth justice systems, laws, policies and practices. This must build on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, with a view to developing national minimum benchmarks for laws and policies
- Prioritise this issue as a standing item at future COAG meetings to ensure an ongoing comprehensive Commonwealth, State and Territory response to this pressing national issue
- Ensure there is independent oversight and monitoring of the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
Signed by the following organisations:
Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Service Victoria
Amnesty International Australia
Australian Association of Social Workers
Australian Capital Territory Law Society
Australian Child Rights Taskforce
Australian Council of Trade Unions
Australian Health Promotion Association
Australian Indigenous Alpine Sport Foundation
Australian Indigenous Doctors Association
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Australian Physiotherapy Association
Australian Youth Affairs Coalition
Bar Association of Queensland
Canberra Police Community Youth Club
Child Rights Australia
Children and Young People with Disability Australia
Community Legal Centres NSW
Community Legal Centres Queensland
Community Legal Centres Association WA
Democracy in Colour
Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre
Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria)
First Peoples Disability Network
Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre
Human Rights Law Centre
Indigenous Allied Health Australia
Indigenous Eye Health
International Social Service Australia
Jesuit Social Services
Just Reinvest NSW
Justice Reinvestment SA
Koorie Youth Council
Law Council of Australia
Law Society of NSW
Law Society of South Australia
Making Justice Work
Melbourne City Mission
Muticultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN)
National Association of Community Legal Centres
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
National Children’s and Youth Law Centre
National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
National Council of Single Mothers and their Children
National FVPLS Forum
People with Disability Australia
Plan International Australia
Protect All Children Today Inc.
Public Health Association of Australia
Save the Children Australia
Smart Justice for Young People
SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children
Social Determinants of Health Alliance
Southern Aboriginal Corporation
St Vincent de Paul Society of Australia
The Bridge of Hope Foundation Inc.
The Kimberley Foundation
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians
Weave Youth & Community Services
Woden Community Service
Youth Advocacy Centre Inc.
Youth Affairs Council of Victoria
Youth Coalition of the ACT
• See Croakey’s previous coverage of the #NTRC