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The Injustice Gap Is Widening, And Our Kids Are Feeling It Most

In 50 years since the referendum on Indigenous rights, we have been continuously let down.

24/05/2017 9:54 AM AEST | Updated 24/05/2017 9:54 AM AEST
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"Prime Minister Turnbull needs to see that locking up Indigenous kids and abusing them in detention is a national problem that needs a national solution."

As a young boy, I listened to the talk around our dinner table, sensing the big change in the air. On TV, influential people had publicly championed the Yes vote. It was 50 years ago, when Australians came together and stood up for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the 1967 referendum.

The vote enabled the Federal Government to legislate for and take greater responsibility for protecting the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It also gave it the authority to count us in the census.

I remember Mum and my aunties cooking on our combustion stove, saying that this referendum would be the turning point for our people. They thought they would see structural change for the country.

I was only a primary school kid, and I often copped racism on the school bus. With my child's understanding of the issue, I wondered: will all this change -- will people will be nice to us now?

It is time for Prime Minister Turnbull to fulfil the legacy of the 90 percent of Australians who voted for the Federal Government to take responsibility for justice for Indigenous people, and to fix the damage caused by colonisation.

Until then, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had seen the Federal Government pass the buck to the States and Territories, the States and Territories pass it back to the Federal Government, but none of them ever thought it was important to protect our people's rights.

When over 90 percent of Australians turned out to say there needs to be change, the Federal Government knew it had to listen. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people felt supported by the goodwill of the people, and we were full of hope.

We hoped there would no longer be a piecemeal approach to Indigenous issues. We hoped the protection of our people's rights would no longer depend on what State or Territory someone happened to live in. We hoped the Federal Government would consistently protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights across the country.

Fifty years later, we've been continuously let down. In so many ways, today the injustice gap is widening -- and our kids are feeling it the most.

From Darwin to Sydney and Perth to Townsville, today too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are being detained, rather than getting the support they need. In detention across the country, Governments are hooding and strapping Indigenous kids to chairs, teargassing them, locking them in the dark for 23 hours a day, and brutalising them.

It's child abuse, and Indigenous kids are more likely to be affected across the country because our kids make up less than six percent of young people, but over half of kids in detention.

When my parents -- and many of your parents -- voted in the referendum, this was not the Australia they wanted. Our kids are enduring this today because successive Australian Governments have never taken on the real spirit of the referendum.

It is time for Prime Minister Turnbull to fulfil the legacy of the 90 percent of Australians who voted for the Federal Government to take responsibility for justice for Indigenous people, and to fix the damage caused by colonisation.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities know that our kids shouldn't be behind bars; they should be with their families and communities. We know how to keep kids strong, healthy and give them real opportunities for a brighter future.

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I've spoken with Indigenous leaders in communities from Palm Island to Albany, to Broome, to Darwin to Bourke. Everywhere, I've seen Indigenous-run prevention and diversion programs have great success and see less recidivism. Young people who go through these programs gain respect for their Elders, their communities and themselves.

Aboriginal people have the answers, we want to be part of the solution, and we are calling for the Federal Government to listen.

Prime Minister Turnbull needs to see that locking up Indigenous kids and abusing them in detention is a national problem that needs a national solution. He must commit to a National Action Plan on Youth Justice.

The time for this change is right now. The treatment handed out to Indigenous kids in Don Dale in the Northern Territory shocked our nation. But shock is not enough -- now we have to act. The spotlight on youth justice from the Northern Territory Royal Commission and other inquiries around Australia provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure a national, long term, funded action plan.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations have been demanding this change for decades. Now we need non-Indigenous people to come along with us, as they did in 1967, to let the Federal Government know we won't stand for its failure a minute longer.

Together, we can fulfil the legacy of 50 years ago and secure a better future for Indigenous kids.

Together, we can make history.

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