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Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Page: 5008

Senator LINES (Western Australia) (19:20): I want to take the few minutes I have tonight to make some remarks about a report published by Amnesty that focuses on keeping Indigenous kids in the community and out of detention in Western Australia. The report was published in late July and calls for action by Aboriginal people and the wider community. There is a real opportunity—in fact, a need—for the federal government to take leadership on the issue of Aboriginal incarceration, particularly the incarceration of young people in juvenile justice detention centres. There is an urgent need for the federal government to step up to the plate and show that leadership. We also need, right across Australia, a strategic approach to what is happening with Indigenous incarceration and what needs to be done to keep kids in the community, not in detention centres. The Amnesty report demonstrates that, with practical reforms to institutional practice, justice laws, community collaboration and strategic resourcing of diversion from custody and other community-building initiatives, Western Australia—and indeed every state and territory—could really achieve a change in the devastatingly high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths who are in detention.

I will just go over some of the facts. In Western Australia, there is now a crisis. There is no doubt about that. At any one time in Western Australia, one in every 77 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys is in detention. Western Australia consistently detains Aboriginal young people at a vastly higher rate than any other state or territory. The rate of the overrepresentation is rising. Western Australia and the Northern Territory are the state and territory which do not provide national statistics in a way that is meaningful, so the Amnesty report calls specifically on the Western Australian government—and, again, the federal government could take the lead here to insist that this happens—to take immediate steps to improve the collection and dissemination of data that is relevant to the youth justice system.

Last week, when we had our inquiry into Aboriginal incarceration in Western Australia, even the chief justice who gave evidence at that inquiry could not understand why the data could not be collected. We need disaggregated data. We need to look at police cautions and the referrals from the juvenile justice team. We need to look at decisions to arrest and to summons, by type. We need decisions around the grant or refusal of bail, by offence type, because that is another area where Western Australia stands out. Kids are often in remand because the bail options are not there. Most children in remand do not go on to receive a custodial sentence, and yet we have locked them up. The facts are that, once they get before a court, there is often no custodial sentence. But we need to have the absolute stats around that.

We need the total numbers held in detention each year. Western Australia, along with every other state and territory, locks up children as young as 10. That is not what is recommended. The conventions on children say that children should not be in detention before the age of 12. Yet, in Western Australia and every other state and territory, children as young as 10 can be in remand. Given that Western Australia locks up Indigenous kids like no other jurisdiction across the country, there are 10-year-olds in detention in Western Australia. Ten years old—just think about that for a moment. We are putting those kids away. And of course they are taken out of school and they are learning from older kids in detention to keep breaking the law, and they are ending up back there. This is a really, really bad outcome. When I asked the chief justice about stats on that, none were available. This is a great report. I commend it to the Senate, and I will be speaking on it again.