ABC’s 4 Corners program brought national attention to the incarceration and institutionalisation of our young people.
The abuse, neglect and torture exposed on 4 Corners is alarming and our thoughts are with the children and their families.
Aboriginal people know about long term institutionalisation, we know about despair and we know about justice, or the lack of it.
We have heard about the things that go on. We know things go on, but to see the images, to see the footage – to bear witness – all the while knowing nothing was done – maybe nothing will be done to truly change the system, is heartbreaking and painful and we get angry.
So many Australians are shocked, and rightly so. But this is not new to many of our people, and while there is genuine comfort that people are now listening, the questions about why it took so long for governments and the wider public to listen remain. I hope that change does come. I ask the wider public to remember their horror and shock and make an effort to listen more and assume less.
We don’t just need change. We need reform. Bigger than reform we need action beyond the scope that this Royal Commission could ever offer. No matter what, no matter who, no matter why – to lock up and brutalise young people doesn’t heal; it harms. It doesn’t leave room for rehabilitation, it pushes children onto a path and keeps pushing them down that path.
Because of the bravery of these young people allowing their stories to be told, allowing their trauma to be made public, Australia and the world is watching. Because of the work of excellent journalists and advocates who are in it for the long-haul, some justice might start to creep in.
Sadly, this is not isolated. Nationally, Indigenous Australians are being incarcerated at increasing rates and we know that there is a high prevalence of disability, cognitive and psychosocial disability among the prison population. In effect disability is criminalised and those who are vulnerable and in need of support are placed in situations where long-term abuse and discrimination is a real risk.
We welcome the Royal Commission announced by Prime Minister Turnbull and we believe the indefinite detention of Aboriginal people with disability (often without conviction) must be investigated, and the prevalence of all disability including cognitive and psychosocial disability within the Aboriginal prison population must be investigated.