Aboriginal groups condemn new youth detention centre location, call for federal intervention


August 15, 2019 07:35:28

Aboriginal groups in the Northern Territory have expressed “anger and disgust” at the decision to build a new youth detention centre beside Darwin’s adult jail, saying the Northern Territory Government should be embarrassed.

Key points:

  • Indigenous groups have widely condemned the NT Government’s decision to build a youth detention facility in the same precinct as an adult jail
  • Delegates at an Aboriginal health and legal conference have called for Federal Government intervention
  • Aboriginal youth justice advocates say Government claims the decision was based on “community wishes” is false

The NT Government announced this week that the Don Dale replacement would be located beside the Holtze prison, despite the youth detention royal commission saying the facility should not be rebuilt in close proximity to an adult jail.

The news came as hundreds of delegates gathered in Darwin for an Aboriginal health and legal conference, including barrister Tony McAvoy SC, who was counsel assisting on the youth detention royal commission.

“To say that people were distressed and astounded by that is putting it mildly,” he said.

Delegates to the conference passed a unanimous motion condemning the decision and calling for action from the Federal Government.

The decision was met with “anger and disgust” by the Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory (APONT) group, representing health services and land councils.

Spokesperson John Paterson said it was “a further retreat” from the Northern Territory Government from the recommendations of the royal commission.

“The message this decision sends to youth detainees is chillingly clear: you can look forward to a future path into the adult prison system,” he said.

“It’s becoming clear that the Government isn’t interested in genuine reform and certainly isn’t interested in consulting or engaging with us.”

Law Council of Australia president Arthur Moses told the conference he was “dismayed” by the decision, describing it as “a travesty for our children in the Northern Territory”.

“Those involved or entrusted with law reform, policy and decision making in relation to youth justice should not be repeating the mistakes of the past,” he said.

Mr McAvoy said there was concern and distress among those who had worked on the royal commission that the recommendations would not be met.

“It ought to be an embarrassment to the Government that they haven’t fulfilled their obligations, as they said they would,” he said.

‘It’s not the site, it’s the services’: Government

The Government has defended its decision by saying the Holtze location was the best option left after it abandoned two other sites in the face of community and business pushback.

Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield has said the $60-million ‘cottage-style’ facility would be purpose-built with rehabilitative and therapeutic design principles.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Selena Uibo did not say whether she had concerns about the location.

“Minister Dale Wakefield expressed it best — it’s not necessarily about the site, it’s about the delivery of services,” she said.

“We know that our youth justice system was broken, there’s been huge measures and steps put in place to make sure we have the right support for young people and their families, making sure they have the right wrap-around services and alternatives to detention.

“Where that is not possible, [we’re] making sure that the consequences for young people are followed through is a big thing for safe communities.”

The Government and Opposition both argue that the decision is supported by the community’s wishes.

Lawyer and Larrakia man Eddie Cubillo said that claim was wrong.

“The reality is the Australian community outcried that something needed to be done [about mistreatment in youth detention],” he said.

“Everybody knows what they’re talking about. It’s the suburbs — we’ve got 30 per cent of the population that’s being ignored.”

APONT spokesperson John Paterson said the peak body had advocated for the current site to be retained and redeveloped, and urged the Government to “pause and reconsider”.

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