A Royal Commission about Aboriginal children must include Aboriginal children as active participants, not just as witnesses, writes Holly Doel-Mackaway.
The Federal Attorney-General, George Brandis has announced that the Federal Cabinet will meet today to decide on the Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission into the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.
Rapid action to address the gross violations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s human rights in juvenile detention is appropriate. However, thoughtful consideration about who should be involved in this process is vital to the success of the Royal Commission. So too is learning lessons from the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody that occurred 25 years ago, where still many of the recommendations have not yet been implemented.
A Royal Commission about Aboriginal children must include Aboriginal children as active participants, not just as witnesses. The 2016 Redfern Statement by a conglomerate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak representative organisations issues “an urgent call for a more just approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs” and expresses “deep concern that in 2016 First Peoples continue to experience unacceptable disadvantage”.
Importantly, the Redfern Statement identifies “that Federal Government policies continue to be made for and to, rather than with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
The Federal Government has an opportunity to right these wrongs by ensuring this Royal Commission is led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and most importantly that it includes Aboriginal children and young people in accordance with Australia’s international legal responsibilities.
Under article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child the Federal Government is legally required to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in the development of laws and policies likely to affect them.
Australia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and article 12 requires Australia to “assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
Juvenile detention is clearly a serious “matter affecting” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.
The 2016 Australian Child Rights Progress Report provides compelling evidence that juvenile justice is now, more than ever, a “matter affecting” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.
This report found that “the level of over-representation of Indigenous people aged 10–17 years in detention increased from 19 times the rate of non-Indigenous young people in 2011 to 26 times in 2015.”
The Four Corners program did something remarkable — it shone a national floodlight on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s human rights in detention, and people took notice, demanding change. An international social media storm erupted demonstrating people’s visceral reactions to the crimes against children that viewers witnessed and the deplorable treatment of children broadcast on their screens.
A Royal Commission into the Don Dale Centre is not enough, and many children’s rights advocates agree that the Royal Commission should extend to a national inquiry into juvenile detention.
The last thing Australia needs is another Royal Commission, the recommendations of which, lay in abeyance for 25 years like many of the recommendations arising from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
This Royal Commission must be led by Aboriginal people and actively involve Aboriginal children and young people as agents of change in accordance with Australia’s international law duty under article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
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