New allegations of child abuse in a Canberra youth detention facility has caused human rights groups to call for the Prime Minister to take action.
Government officials, former staff, and detainees of the Bimberi Youth Detention Centre in the ACT revealed to Fairfax Media an alleged culture of racial vilification, supplying of drugs and violence over the past six years.
“There is a mountain of evidence right around Australia of children being abused and having their human rights violated in youth detention, which must be stopped,” Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Campaigner, Roxanne Moore said.
But Bimberi’s man in charge, Dr Mark Collis, has disputed these claims and defended both his staff and the facility, despite the centre being under review by the Human Rights Commission.
“They are probably working in the best facility in Australia,” he told ABC News.
“But there will always be challenges in that environment and that’s what you’re seeing in some of the incidents today that have been historical.”
Bimberi was under review by the Human Rights Commission before the publication of the Canberra Times special investigation.
This isn’t the first time the 40-bed facility has been subject to scandal - it was also the subject of a damning human rights report in 2011.
Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Incorporated CEO, Cheryl Axelby, has backed Amnesty’s calls, saying the growing list of revelations of abuse of children in detention around the country is a national crisis.
“We can all agree now that this is definitely a national crisis and we are urgently calling for Federal leadership on this matter now,” she told NITV News.
“Early intervention and prevention programs are an issue that we need to continue to talk about. We need to actually ensure that when we put children into detention, that there’s a rehabilitative context and focus rather than a punitive.
“All we’re doing at the end of the day is creating punitive responses, which is not changing and assisting our mob create positive change in their lives.”
ACT Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Rachel Stephen-Smith said the Government is looking into the allegations.
“We do take any allegations of abuse or staff misconduct very seriously,” she said.
“I’m assured by the community services directorate that all of the historical allegations that have been made have been investigated.”
But Ms Moore says an Australia-wide overhaul of the juvenile justice system needs to take place.
“This is bigger than Canberra, this is bigger than Don Dale, this is happening right around Australia,” she said.
“How many more children are going to have to be brutalised in youth detention before the Prime Minister takes up his federal responsibility to overhaul this injustice system?”
Child sex abuse in NSW
Meanwhile, in New South Wales, two female former juvenile justice officers of Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre were charged yesterday with historical child sex offences.
The offences were allegedly committed between 1996 and 2004 on children as young as 10 years old.
“It’s beyond belief that for the third time in just one week we are hearing distressing allegations of children being abused in youth detention, this time sexual abuse,” Ms Moore said.
“How many more children have to suffer before the Government acts to overhaul Australia’s ‘injustice’ system?
“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull must immediately act, in partnership with Indigenous communities and organisation, to develop a national action plan on youth justice to focus on prevention by supporting children, their families and communities.”
NT launches Aboriginal Justice Unit
Today in Darwin, a new unit within the Department of Attorney-General and Justice was launched.
The Aboriginal Justice Unit is part of the Territory’s Aboriginal Justice Agreement and has opened with the intention of creating better outcomes for Aboriginal people in the system.
“Sadly, we all know the figures. We know that Aboriginal Territorians are grossly overrepresented in our prisons, whether that's youth detention facilities or adult prisons, and we need to change that," Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Natasha Fyles said.
“It's unacceptable, we need to stop. We need to do things differently."