MUA calls for national approach to address systemic violence in juvenile detention centres

The Maritime Union of Australia has vowed to keep up pressure for national changes in the juvenile justice system following a damning expose on the ABC’s 4 Corners program on Monday night.

The program, which has received extensive coverage in both domestic and international media, showed young people being tear-gassed, stripped naked and strapped to mechanical chairs wearing so-called spit hoods for hours at a time while held in the Northern Territory’s juvenile justice system.

The brutality and humiliation shown in the footage has drawn comparisons to the treatment of inmates at the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility.

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The terms of reference for a royal commission are set to be announced today by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin has written to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Assistant Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Pat Dodson to outline the union’s concerns. 

“I am writing to urge you … and the entire ALP Caucus to continue to prosecute a strong stand on the revelations exposed in the ABCs 4 Corners Program on Monday 25 July 2016 regarding systemic and institutionalized human rights abuses in the NT correctional system and the disproportionate impact this has had on Indigenous youth and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Mr Crumlin says in his letter.

“Nothing less than a wide-ranging Inquiry that is unconstrained by the potential fallout at political and bureaucratic level must be a Labor priority in our view.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Committee of the MUA has requested that the union recommend to you that you call on the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments to use the opportunity of these shocking revelations to accept that the time has come to address racism and outdated closed-minded attitudes.” 

Mr Crumlin said the investigation needs to cover child protection, detention, health and welfare to seriously examine and find new ways to address the root causes of high levels of incarceration, poor health and education outcomes, particularly in Indigenous communities.

 “These are core Labor issues and the Labor movement must be taking a leadership role to support our Indigenous brothers and sisters and indeed all youth suffering disadvantage,” Mr Crumlin said.

The union’s ATSI Committee also urges the inquiry to see whether authorities have breached any UN Conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

MUA ATSI Statement

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Committee of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is appalled at the revelations in the ABC 4 Corners exposure of systemic and institutionalised human rights abuses of children in the NT correctional system and the disproportionate impact this has had on Indigenous youth and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We, the ATSI members of the MUA are in no doubt that the depth and brutality of the systemic abuse and lack of action by public officials, and indeed Ministers of Government, notwithstanding the evidence of this abuse having been brought to their attention, has occurred and continued due to underlying racist tendencies embedded in the NT child protection, correctional and political system.

The MUA ATSI condemns the severe mal-treatment of children by institutions trusted with the proper and respectful care of children in the NT.

ATSI calls on the NT Government to immediately shut down the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin and any other similar facilities, and work with Indigenous and other community leaders to place children who are currently in detention or awaiting legal process into appropriate and high quality care with a focus on rehabilitation and return to community. 

ATSI calls on the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments to use the opportunity of these shocking revelations to accept that the time has come to address racism and outdated closed minded attitudes in the institutors responsible for Indigenous support, be they child protection, detention, health or welfare focussed, and to seriously examine and find new ways to address the root causes of high levels of incarceration, poor health and education outcomes and other symptoms of disadvantage and neglect.  ATSI calls on this to be a national approach.

The MUA ATSI Committee also calls on the Commonwealth and NT Governments that are drafting the terms of reference for the Royal Commission to include as one term of reference, whether Ministers and senior officials responsible for overseeing the administrations which allowed these atrocities to occur, have breached any UN Conventions, to ensure the Royal Commissioner can examine that issue and make appropriate recommendations for action against such people if Conventions have been breached.  The Conventions we want included in the terms of reference are the:

  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

ATSI also supports the call of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda for the NT Government to be replaced by an Administrator until the NT elections, given the clear incapacity of the NT Government to perform its functions to a standard acceptable in 21st century Australia.

The MUA ATSI Committee commits to supporting the broader community around the nation in protesting against any reaction from the NT and Commonwealth Governments that falls short of our expectations for decisive and sustained action as outlined in this statement.