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'Laughable': Legal services criticise opposition proposal to send children to outback camps in response for youth crime

Dechlan Brennan -

A proposal by the federal opposition to crack down on “out of control” youth crime by banning social media use and sending children to outback camps has been criticised by Indigenous legal groups as “laughable".

It comes in the midst of a renewed media and political focus on youth crime across the country, with NSW leader Chris Minns introducing new bail laws that legal groups have labelled a “betrayal”, and a horrific report in Queensland finding two disabled Indigenous teenagers took their lives in the aftermath of their abuse and significant isolation whilst in detention. 

National’s leader David Littleproud took the suggestion further this week, telling Today a stint working in outback camps and branding cattle would be a novel solution to help tackle “posting and boasting” (where people post video footage of themselves committing crimes on social media).

“We need to go back to … outback camps, 200 or 300 kilometres from towns,” Mr Littleproud told The Brisbane Times.

“You don’t need barbed wire – if they want to run away, they have to dodge the king browns and wild dogs – but every morning they’re up with a purpose.

“They’re taught a trade – making fences, building fences, cleaning out water troughs, branding cattle, learning mechanics – and they come away with a purpose in life.”

Karly Warner has heavily criticised the proposal (Image: supplied) 

 

In response, the chair of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), Karly Warner, was highly critical of the suggestion, labelling it “laughable and last-century thinking".

“It would increase crime and widen the gap. Everyone would lose," Ms Warner said.

“The evidence shows that locking children up only leads to more crime. Children’s prisons are breeding grounds for trauma, anger, and learning more serious criminal behaviours.

“If The Nationals are serious about reducing crime, they should be actively supporting the Closing the Gap process and following the evidence to strengthen their communities.”

However, Opposition leader Peter Dutton supported his colleague, highlighting the NT government's implementation of youth camps for young offenders as a model which could be replicated or expanded on. 

In some circumstances, hard for us in capital cities to conceive of, but there are many and varied dreadful circumstances that kids are brought up in, and for there to be another option available to them, I think it’s an important discussion,” Mr Dutton told reporters in Melbourne. 

“So, I think Governments are right to look at different programmes that have been demonstrated to work. It might keep young offenders out of juvenile detention if that’s not the appropriate outcome for them.”

In the Northern Territory, the Indigenous-run youth work camp at Seven Emu Station in Calvert is for at-risk children. The Territory government is also in the process of opening a new youth centre in Tennant Creek.

The opposition will introduce a private members’ bill next week under which young offenders would face the possibility of up to two years in jail if they posted videos of gang violence on social media platforms. 

On Friday, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive, Nerita Waight criticised Mr Dutton, arguing the bill would take Indigenous children away from their family and communities.

“Our children deserve to be safe and have the support they need to live a good life, connected to culture, community, and Country,” Ms Waight said. 

“Since their toxic and racist campaign against the referendum for a Voice to Parliament, Coalition parties across the country have adopted policies that spread fear and would make communities less safe if they were ever implemented.”

Ms Waight, who is also a member of the First Peoples’ Assembly, has been vocal in her criticism of the Victorian opposition for their attacks on a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

She said the proposed bill by the federal opposition was the antithesis to the values of the Liberal party. 

“The Federal Parliament has no role in implementing the kind of laws that Peter Dutton is proposing,” Ms Waight said.

“A Liberal Party leader that wants a big and controlling government that intervenes where it has no role is a very different leader from the ones who established the party.

“These proposals would undoubtedly impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children far more than non-Indigenous children. I hope that there are still Coalition MPs willing to cross the floor to make a point that this kind of politics is embarrassing and shameful.”

The Government has yet to state if it supports the bill and would be unlikely to progress without bi-partisan support.

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