Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021


Northern Territory: Juvenile Crime; Consideration

5:20 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion in relation to document No. 17, a letter received from the Northern Territory Attorney-General.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I'm frustrated, sad and angry and absolutely over the oppressive regimes in this country acting against this country's First Peoples. The Labor Territory government's oppressive and, I would say, racist, knee-jerk actions will see more of our kids and babies sucked into the colonial criminal system. Let's be honest here: what the Attorney-General of the Northern Territory is talking about in this letter is not community safety; it's building an even bigger school-to-prison pipeline.

The Territory government has backed off its commitment to implement the Northern Territory royal commission's recommendations. In fact, the co-commissioner, Mick Gooda, says the government learnt nothing. What's the point of having a royal commission? We've seen that with deaths in custody. Now we see it with black kids in custody. Sorry, but if that ain't racist, then what is?

This knee-jerk reaction will expand youth remand centres and give police unprecedented powers. It will restrict bail and diversion options for young people. And this is in direct contradiction to the Northern Territory royal commission recommendations. In fact, this is really the 21st-century sophistication of genocide in this country. That's what it is. It's today's genocide. They couldn't wipe us out, so lock us up. What kind of government wants to be honoured for increasing their population of kids behind bars? Who's proud of that? Which minister or MP can stand up and say: 'Yep, I locked up another black kid'? It's disgusting. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

We know who will be most affected by these changes: black kids. We know that these systems are full of our kids. And a lot of those kids have got disabilities. They shouldn't even be in there in the first place. There was an open letter sent to the Northern Territory government, just last week, by a group of experts from organisations working in child and adolescent health. I do hope the Attorney-General—given he probably didn't read the royal commission recommendations—listens to these experts. Hopefully, they're white—and, you know, white is right in this place! They pointed out that young people in the criminal legal system have complex needs. There are a huge number of kids in the system with FASD, for example. These kids should not be locked up; they need diversionary programs and support services, and those need to be self-determined by their local communities. We know that the NT prison system doesn't have the supports or services these young people need when they have complex health needs and disabilities. Even Medicare doesn't cover these kids in this system, so how can they get help? How can they get support? They're not criminals; these kids are not criminals. Having a bite of a stolen chocolate bar is not a reason to lock a kid up.

How many times do governments need to hear that punitive responses do not change the behaviour pattern? These responses don't rehabilitate people and don't keep communities safe. The Attorney-General and the Labor chief minister aren't serious about doing the things that work because they're more interested in racing the Country Libs to the bottom. A government that wanted to prevent youth offending becoming devastating tragedies would keep kids out of the endless cycle of criminalisation in the first place. Throwing kids in watch houses will not do this. The Territory should be making sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service have the resources they need to keep our kids out of the criminal legal system. They should be providing stable, culturally appropriate housing, mental health and family support services. A government with a spine would be raising the age of legal responsibility to at least 14 and implementing strong, culturally safe diversionary programs. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.


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