“Aboriginal people imprisoned in Canberra are five times higher than the Australian average. We Canberrans are clearly in a class of our own when it comes to locking up Aboriginal children, men and women,” writes JON STANHOPE.
I AM on the mailing list of PeakCare Queensland, an organisation involved in the development and support of the child-protection sector.
On January 26, Australia Day, PeakCare released the following statement which reflects, perfectly, my views: “Australia has much to celebrate as a nation, but not on this date. The date on which this occurs should be one that permits all Australians to participate in the celebration. PeakCare recognises that the 26th January holds specific significance to many of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues and friends and it gives them no cause to celebrate.
“For non-Indigenous Australians, especially those with British ancestry, it is a date that should also prompt our own reflections on the events that transpired in 1788 and their devastating aftermath. They are events that also give non-indigenous Australians no cause to celebrate.”
Along with a growing number of Australians, I have come to believe that we simply must resolve to address the hurt caused by the celebration of our national day on the day on which the dispossession of the Aboriginal peoples of this nation effectively commenced.
The reality is that the consequences for Aboriginal peoples of the occupation of their land have been, and continue to be, catastrophic. The celebration of Australia Day on January 26 divides us. It is a festering sore that will not heal until its cause is addressed. It is, I think, past time we acted on the matter.
Ironically the continuing tragedy for Aboriginal people living in Canberra resulting from the occupation of their land and their consequent dispossession and the shattering of their culture was brutally exposed, on Australia Day, by an article published that day on the Guardian Australia website under the heading “Aboriginal woman in ACT prison alleges she was stripped naked [by prison officers] in front of male inmates.”
The sub-heading to the story was: “The sexual assault survivor, who is on remand in the prison says she felt ‘absolute fear and shame’.”
In the interests of transparency I acknowledge that the woman is known to me and I consider her a friend. Needless to say, I also believe her. I also think, in light of the stand she has taken following the painful ordeal she has endured, that she is one of the bravest people I know.
While the Guardian Australia article on Australia Day may have been prophetic, I am sure it was simply coincidental that in the week leading up to Australia Day the Productivity Commission issued three separate reports in its “2021 Report on Government Services” series that highlight just how dramatically we in Canberra continue to fail the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
The latest reports are based on data from 2019-20, and relate respectively, to child care and protection, youth detention and corrections generally. I urge anyone in Canberra interested in how we rate as a fair, just and progressive community, particularly in relation to our support of Aboriginal peoples, to read these reports.
Space prevents me going into detail, but the headline findings in each of the reports are as follows:
Care and Protection: The rate of Aboriginal children in Canberra in out-of-home care is 14 times higher than non-indigenous children.
Youth Detention: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Canberra are locked up at 18 times the rate of non-indigenous children. This is the highest rate of incarceration of Aboriginal children in Canberra in the last five years.
As pointed out by ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell and Winnunga Nimmityjah CEO Julie Tongs on the day of release of this report, the ACT Government has, despite these appalling outcomes for Aboriginal children living in Canberra, continued to sit on the report of the “Our Booris, Our Way” review. The first of the recommendations from the review were received by the minister more than three years ago. The vast majority of the recommendations have not been implemented and frankly there can only be one explanation for that.
Imprisonment: The crude imprisonment rate per 100,000 adults for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the ACT is 1988, which is 19.4 times higher than the non-indigenous rate. This is the highest ratio in Australia. The age standardised ratio is 15.0, which is also the highest ratio in Australia. The rate of increase in the number of Aboriginal people imprisoned in Canberra is five times higher than the Australian average.
We Canberrans are clearly in a class of our own when it comes to locking up Aboriginal children, men and women.
In August, the ACT government committed, following representations from Julie Tongs, to a review of the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the ACT justice system with the initial work on the inquiry to commence before the October election. Ms Tongs has advised that seven months later she is not aware of any action that has been taken in furtherance of that commitment.
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