Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples represent just 2.8% of Australia’s 24 million-strong population.
And yet, every single child held in detention in the Northern Territory is Indigenous.
The Northern Territories Department of Children and Families disclosed the troubling statistic whilst being probed during the Estimates Committee, a parliamentary body intended to examine how the proportion of Indigenous children in detention has changed after the royal commission.
The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was established in 2016 to enforce a comprehensive and speedy inquiry into the treatment of children detained in facilities administered by the Northern Territory Government. The Commission was established after the ABC program Four Corners released footage from detention facilities in the Northern Territory that showcased shocking mistreatment of detainees.
“There are 17 young people in the Don Dale Youth detention centre and 21 in Alice Springs,” Jeanette Kerr, the Assistant Commissioner for the Northern Territory Government told the committee. “In terms of Indigenous children, they are all Indigenous.”
Throughout Australia, Indigenous children are 24 times as likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous kids.
The principal legal officer from the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, David Woodroffe, believes a complete reform of the justice system is needed.
“We know that the numbers of children who come into detention from communities are very small, in some cases only one or two children. That’s not a crime wave, that’s individually troubled young people,” he stated.
“And how you deal with your troubled young neighbour is the community works together to help them, whether that’s going to an outstation, or working with an uncle or aunty, working on a cattle station, working with fisheries or rangers, finding pathways to training. They’re the real remedies.”
In a similar statement read to the committee, the member for Nhulunbuy, Yingiya Mark Guyula, stated that Indigenous leaders should determine punishment for Indigenous children who do not meet community expectations in terms of behaviour.
In that NT estimates hearing, member for Nhulunbuy, Yingiya Mark Guyula asked department officials about getting Indigenous elders more involved with disciplining young people, to which NT’s families minister, Dale Wakefield responded: pic.twitter.com/PRBvqaUOJU— ABC The Drum (@ABCthedrum) June 26, 2018
Every single child held in NT prisons is Aboriginal. Australian apartheid in action pic.twitter.com/4fQtBAuzPa— Padraic Gibson (@paddygibson) June 25, 2018
“In my electorate of Nhulunbuy, we want to see our elders in control of raypirri – or discipline – for our young people. We want troubled young people out on homelands with oversight from elders, and access to education from our people and through the school system,” he stated.
“The problem is, this requires a genuine partnership between government and Yolngu leaders, with funding to assist our young people.”
Territory Families minister Dale Wakefield told the committee that community-led treatment would be difficult to regulate and implement due to the scope and diversity of Indigenous leadership.
Dear AUS PM @TurnbullMalcolm,— Peter Murphy (@PeterWMurphy1) June 26, 2018
100% of young people currently in youth detention in the Northern Territory are Indigenous. Surely that calls for another Royal Commission into the Trade Unions! #priorities#justice#auspolpic.twitter.com/xwfjkLbCGY
“I think it is probably going to look different from place to place. Whilst the member for Nhulunbuy has a very strong vision for what happens on Yolngu land, I think that will look very different on Warlpiri land.
“It is an area that we are going to need to continue to develop."
A royal commission report was handed down in November 2017, detailing "shocking and systematic failures" over countless years in the Northern Territories youth detention system.
The report contained over 200 recommendations, including a call to shut down the Don Dale Detention Centre.
The Northern Territory Government states they have taken recommendations from the royal commission seriously. The government claims they have allocated $9.9 million over four years to divert young people from crime. An additional $22.9 million has been announced to go toward improving youth detention operations.