The ABC’s Four Corners program ‘Australia’s Shame’, broadcast on 25 July, shone a spotlight on the appalling treatment of Indigenous youth held in detention at the infamous Don Dale correction facility in the Northern Territory. Images of boys being stripped, beaten, gassed, shackled, hooded and strapped to a chair shocked the nation. Reaction was swift, the next morning the Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull announced a Royal Commission into the juvenile justice system in the Northern Territory.
This needs to stop now
RHANEE TSETSAKOS is an Adnyamathanha woman from the Northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Rhanee is a member of the Uniting Aboriginal & Islander Christian Congress, and wrote this opinion piece for Crosslight the morning after the program aired. Rhanee would like to state that this is her own personal view and not that of the Church, but can imagine that others would be thinking the same.
As I sat back watching ABC program Four Corners last night on ABC iView, I couldn’t help but think ‘What if that was me?’, or ‘What if that was my brother?’. Then I realised, as a Christian and believer of Christ – that is me! That is my brother! How can I sit here and let this happen? How can anyone just sit here and let any of this happen? And What Would Jesus Do?
The kind of ill treatment these young people experienced by grown ass hairy men is just too bad to be justified or tolerated. You wouldn’t wish that kind of treatment upon your own dog, or any animal. So why allowed to happen to a person? A human being? And not just any person or human being; the majority are young Aboriginal people.
Sitting there watching I realised that the mentality of the guards is a mentality that has been bred and woven through this country towards Aboriginal people since the First Fleet. Our people, my people, my ancestors were merely thought of as flora and fauna and did not deserve or earn the right to be treated as a human being according to these newcomers.
How are we supposed to move forward towards Self Determination, Self Respect and Self Empowerment if this is the type of treatment our upcoming generation is experiencing? Where are their voices amongst this and how are they able to tell their stories.
This all could have been avoided but sadly this is now a part of their story, their song-line. How can anybody be proud of that? Watching the guest speakers try their hardest to explain what had happened, and what they had seen, I was disappointed that nobody stood up and simply said ‘This needs to stop, and this needs to stop now! No questions asked’.
Asking for a Royal Commission is going to take even longer when it is a no-brainer. This facility, their staff, that program needs to be non-existent and fast if we want to actually help young people both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal rehabilitate themselves, give them hope for a better future and nurture their spiritual and mental well-being.
This is an injustice to the human rights of a child. If we call ourselves civilised and decent human beings, then we need to act like it and stop allowing people and programs like this to corrupt the systems. We need to stand up for our fellow human beings.
[Breakout] “…the mentality of the guards is a mentality that has been bred and woven through this country towards Aboriginal people since the First Fleet. Our people, my people, my ancestors were merely thought of as flora and fauna and did not deserve or earn the right to be treated as a human being according to these newcomers.”
A joint statement from Uniting Aboriginal Islander and Christian Congress and the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly welcomed the announcement of a royal commission and asked the Prime Minister to expand the terms of reference to examine the issue of Indigenous incarceration nationwide.
“The treatment of these young people in detention is unspeakably appalling and a national disgrace. Such abuse is inexcusable. It must end now,” Mr McMillan said.
“I thank the Prime Minister for his swift response. I also urge him to set terms of reference that will allow a comprehensive examination of juvenile detention, not just limited to the Northern Territory, and including the policies and practices that lead to so many young indigenous people ending up behind bars.
“The tragedy of the incarceration rates and treatment of First Peoples in detention has never been adequately addressed, despite the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and many other inquiries and reports. The culture and the systems of detention in our country are broken and can no longer be ignored.”
Moderator of the Northern Synod Rev Thresi Mauboy also welcomed the Royal Commission announcement.
“The images in the Four Corners report were horrifying. It’s offensive that anyone should be treated this way in detention, let alone our precious young people,” Ms Mauboy said.
“The Northern Territory Government must immediately act to ensure that the shameful treatment of our young people stops. Appropriate care and support must be offered to all young people in juvenile detention.
“The Northern Synod of the Uniting Church will engage with the royal commission in presenting the case for a corrections system based on rehabilitation rather than cruel punishment.”
Chairman of the Northern Regional Council of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Rev Djawanydjawany Gondarra also called for immediate action.
“First Peoples have been telling stories of abuse and mistreatment for many, many years. It’s outrageous that it has taken so long and these shocking images for people to listen,” Mr Gondarra said.
“Now people are awake, we want to see action.”