by Adam Carlton
The unfortunate reality is that the mistreatment of Australia’s First Nations continues is case after case. One would be too many. That a parade incidents keep on occurring, is a national disgrace.
The original inhabitants of this land continue to suffer, from the injustices of the past, dispossession and loss of place. It is any wonder that they experience much lower living standards, lack opportunities a better future, suffer significant health problems and mostly die far sooner than the rest of the population?
Successive governments have responded with either demeaning paternalism or used the big stick. By doing this, they have helped to set the scene for racial intolerance.
It brings us to the case of the boy locked in a police cell, under conditions that would be considered a denial of basic human rights, just about anywhere else. but not here in Australia. A green light has been given, to treat First Australians as something less than human.
This boy was forcefully held down and had his clothes stripped off him.
The case was aired by the ABC’s Four Corners last month.
According to this report, the intellectually impaired boy was kept completely naked and in isolation for 4 days, inside Brisbane’s adult maximum security police watch house.
He had refused to put on a provided suicide watch smock. In his frame of mind, with a disability and fear of shame coming his way by wearing something that looks like a dress, he did not want to put on the smock.
In cases like this, remarkably, the police don’t have a clear duty of care for those under their control.
There should at least be some formal guidelines as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour of the police, towards those in their custody. This doesn’t exist in Australia and nor does it exist in Queensland.
A number of experts are saying that to treat young people this way is a breech of international law, which Australia is supposed to be committed to.
Nothing would have likely happened, were it not for an officer of the Queensland Department of child Safety raising “high concerns” about the treatment.
“We’re absolutely outraged that a child with a disability, a child with suicidal ideation, has been left naked in a cell for three days,” said Frances Quan Farrant, from People With Disability Australia.
“This is an abhorrent, and it’s a gross violation of this child.”
It turns out that this is far from the only case. Holding First Nation and other Children in adult detention centres is commonplace.
Especially disturbing is that the state government is not responding by acting to prevent these incidents in the future, and that the opposition chooses to be silent. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has merely told parliament that the matter will be “fully investigated.” There is an obvious failure in the system and all it requires is a political will for change.
Blaming the Premier is not the answer. Mistreatment, particularly when it concerns First Australians is rooted in history, and tradition and tinkering around the edges is not going to make a difference. In addition to having proper facilities available and speeding up the legal process, sufficient resources for effective programs within communities, plus a major realignment of the place of the First Nations in Australian society are necessary.
Making it worse these days, is that the siphoning of resources from public purposes has means fewer places in juvenile detention centres, causing a spill out into the adult prison system. Add to this, that a rise in poverty due to the state of the economy, means that bigger numbers are being charged for committing offenses.
This suggests a need for resources to be put to ensuring sufficient and adequate places for the young, and it means, combating the circumstances that see a disproportionate number of First Nations children in custody.
Most important of all in the long run, enough must be done to take on the causes of poverty and rising inequality. This is having a major impact on First Nations communities, and now, the impact expanding into the wider Australian society. This is a problem crying out for real solutions.
Inside a maximum security police watch house where children are locked up
Video form ABC News (Australia)