Wednesday, 23 November 2022
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Youth, Senator Watt. In recent weeks there have been numerous violent attacks against young First Nations people in this country. Our communities are scared. Our children are feeling unsafe. There has been little or no response by state, territory and federal governments. Why is addressing racial violence not a priority for this government?
Thank you, Senator Thorpe. I don't think it's fair for Senator Thorpe to suggest that this government doesn't take these issues seriously. I would like to think that every member of this chamber has been appalled by some of the racial violence and the alleged murder, bearing in mind that there's a process yet to be gone through, particularly in relation to the incident in Perth, which was awful. There's no other word for it, and it shouldn't be happening in Australia. It shouldn't have happened in Australia at any period of our history, and it certainly shouldn't be happening now.
But it's not just me who's been saying this on behalf of the government. I well remember the multiple comments that the Prime Minister has made in recent weeks about these acts of racial violence. As I said, I would hope that that is a position that is shared by all members of this chamber. I'm sure, Senator Thorpe, you are aware of the range of actions that this government is taking on matters involving youth justice, which disturbingly in this day and age continues to have a disproportionate involvement of young First Nations people. As a country we haven't done a good enough job of youth justice for young Indigenous people, and they are being incarcerated at a far higher rate than should be acceptable to any of us in this country. But I do believe that this is an issue that the government takes seriously. We had money in the most recent budget to expand the range of services around youth justice, particularly in relation to young First Nations people.
I was coming to that, Senator Thorpe. In addition to the programs that we have in relation to youth justice, I think there have been a number of figures in this government who have been very vocal about racial violence in our country being completely unacceptable, and I'm happy to take advice from the relevant ministers as to what more we might be doing in that regard. (Time expired)
If you claim this is important—and we keep hearing all the words but we see no action—then what is the government doing to ensure that First Nations children in so-called Australia are kept safe from these racially motivated attacks and are able to live out their birthright?
As I was saying towards the end of my last answer, this government is undertaking a range of work in relation to racism and racist violence within our community. For instance, I'm aware that the Human Rights Commission is doing some work in this regard that is being supported by this government, and there is a range of other departments within our government that are doing similar work. I know it's not directly relevant to the point that you're making, but the Department of Home Affairs is doing work in this space in relation to racism, particularly against migrant Australians. Again, I accept that it's a different point, but it's a similar issue about how we are tackling racism within the community. That's something that we intend to do a lot more of because we don't want to see First Nations people exposed to the kind of violence that we have seen of late. All I can do is repeat the fact that I think we all found that disturbing, and we need to do much better as a country.
Given that you won't support raising the age of legal responsibility to 14 and that you've shown that you're more focused on locking up kids than keeping them safe, how are you addressing systemic racism in police forces and government agencies that impacts so heavily on First Nations children?
On the matter that you began with, Senator Thorpe, about the age of criminal responsibility, the Attorney-General, Mr Dreyfus, has made that a standing item for discussion and action at the ministerial council of all attorneys-general around the country. There are some states that are more willing than others to look at this issue and to do something about this issue. I know that the Northern Territory is currently doing something about the issue, but there are other states that aren't moving as quickly. But the fact is that the Attorney-General has got this on the agenda at every meeting of his colleagues, and that demonstrates that that's something that we want to be doing.
We are demonstrating leadership by putting it on the agenda for every ministerial council meeting. That is how Commonwealth governments exercise leadership—by putting it on the agenda to put pressure on the states to start thinking about these issues more. (Time expired)