• Keenan Mundine remembers his past at The Block in Redfern. (NITV)Source: NITV
Drawing on his own experiences of jail, Keenan Mundine is determined to help Indigenous kids stay out of the criminal justice system.
Liz Deep-Jones

9 Aug 2018 - 4:58 PM  UPDATED 10 Aug 2018 - 10:24 AM

The sun is beaming in Redfern, in contrast to Keenan Mundine's dark past at The Block.

The Biripi and Waka Waka man grew up here, losing both his parents when he was eight.

"By the time I left school and left the house I was staying in... in the space of about six months I was on the streets," he tells The Point.

"I think I got charged in Central for breaking into a car for a laptop and that was it."

As Keenan shares his painful past his eyes water and he needs to take a minute.

"No one had a conversation with me about my mother or father," he says.

"I know nothing about my mother and father."

Keenan battled to break the cycle of a life of crime. He drifted in and out of prison from when he was 14 for close to 10 years.

"I accepted as an Aboriginal man with a poor education, poor community, no family that I have no future and I kept ending up back in prison."

But the charismatic 31-year-old has turned his life around. Married, with two kids, Keenan has become a role model and an aspiring Aboriginal leader.

He says with great gusto that he's determined to change the lives of other young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people struggling to stay out of the criminal justice system.

"That's what drives me everyday to get up. One of my biggest inspirations and I wish he could have mentored me is Nelson Mandela. If he could go through what he went through and make the significant changes for his people and his community, why can't we?"

Keenan recently highlighted the plight of Indigenous incarcerated youth at the United Nations, calling on Australia to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

He is also campaigning for the federal government to implement recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission's Pathways to Justice report.

The report, tabled in parliament in March, contains 35 recommendations to address community safety and imprisonment rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"The government really needs to put this matter at the forefront. I don't like to talk about stats and data and money because these are people we're talking about, taken from their community," he says.

"They're people that are neglected, that are outcast, their vision and outlook is very negative. Nobody cares about them and nobody supports or understands them."

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The report has also been considered groundbreaking by prominent professionals across the nation aimed reducing incarceration rates of First Nations people.

Among the leaders supporting this report is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO.

"I urge all governments to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their organisations in realising the report’s recommendations, particularly in developing justice targets, within the federal government’s Closing the Gap Refresh process."

Senior laywer from the Human Rights Law Centre, Shahleena Musk, a Larrakia woman is also calling for urgent action.

"It's increasingly disappointing to see the lack of movement and urgency of the government here where they have been provided solutions to address what is a crisis so for me," she says.

"It's hard to fathom that there's been no formal response from the Commonwealth or state or territory governments."

She also highlights the essential work Keenan does in Aboriginal consultancy and working closely with youth on the streets.

"I think governments need to learn from people like Keenan in the system who have this lived experience, and to work with Aboriginal people in particular and Aboriginal organisations to basically realise those solutions."

"So Keenan's story is a story of hope but it's not one many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will realise unless these recommendations are properly implemented."

A spokesperson for the Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion told The Point the government "is considering the ALRC report and will respond in due course".

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