With the national focus right now on constitutional recognition of First Nations peoples and the long-awaited Voice to the Parliament, it is shocking that federal and state governments still imagine the answers to problems in Indigenous communities will be solved by more policing, tougher penalties, incarceration, including of children, and restrictions on alcohol.
Since colonisation, “interventions” to curb Aboriginal ‘crime’ and alcohol have been deployed to control and harm First Nations communities and people. Nowhere is this more true than in the Northern Territory.
When these moral panics reach the national media and political stage, the response has typically been top-down policies by federal and territory governments to disempower First Nations people and deny equal rightsProfessor Thalia Anthony and Vanessa Napaltjari Davis, The Conversation 25.1.2023
This article chronicles the numerous Federal Government interventions, showing none has worked. A must read.
Nonetheless, the Prime Minister joined the fray in a ‘crisis visit’ to Alice Springs this week as the local (non-Indigenous) mayor called for Defence Force or the Federal Police intervention to deal with an urgent ‘crime wave’.
So here we go again! More Aboriginal people in detention, mostly for minor crimes, and more top-down punitive, simplistic and paternalistic responses to what largely appears to be a media beat-up and certainly won’t solve anything.
Meanwhile, the 7 key recommendations of the Royal Commission into Youth Detention and Child Protection in the Northern Territory 1917, continue to be ignored. These are the ones calling for more humane responses, more support for First Nations families and organisations, empowerment and understanding. See the Overview.
Will the Voice to Parliament make a difference? Not if governments keep ignoring the evidence.
Extract from the Commission Overview:
The Commissioners think that the way government has been dealing with children in welfare and detention has not worked and the Northern Territory needs to do things very differently.
To address the failed child protection, youth justice and detention systems, the Commission recommended a large number of reforms including:
- Closing the current Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and High Security Unit.
- Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 and only allowing children under 14 years to be detained for serious crimes.
- Developing a 10 year Generational Strategy for Families and Children to address child protection and prevention of harm to children.
- Establishing a network of Family Support Centres to provide place-based services to families across the Northern Territory.
- A paradigm shift in youth justice to increase diversion and therapeutic approaches.
- Developing a new model of bail and secure detention accommodation.
- Increasing engagement with and involvement of Aboriginal Organisations in child protection, youth justice and detention
The changes the Commission has suggested will only happen if governments listen to Aboriginal people’s ideas and include Aboriginal people in the decisions at every step of the way..