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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 04 Hansard (Wednesday, 21 April 2021) . . Page.. 1010 ..

this goal. As everyone in this room knows, an aspirational goal without a specific model or time line is really just a bunch of nice-sounding words.

No specific plan seems to be this government’s approach to other important areas of youth justice. As part of estimates hearings I asked about the government’s intention to establish this year a new residential property for young people on youth justice orders. (Extension of time granted.) This facility is to be staffed by youth workers from the detention centre; but the official visitors latest annual reports states that one of the main reasons why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are reluctant to use the existing Narrabundah House is because it is operated by detention centre staff.

I asked how the government would avoid replicating that problem with this new facility. In her written response, the assistant minister merely stated that it is better to place young people with their own families. Well, yes—but what exactly is her plan to make this residential facility a culturally safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who cannot be placed with family? It is anybody’s guess. My solid guess is that there is no plan.

There likewise seems to be no plan regarding how to keep our detention centre adequately staffed. Following extensive lockdowns that resulted in young people being confined to their rooms up to 20 hours per day, the Muir report specifically called for a new workforce strategy that would keep the centre at its correct staffing level.

As part of estimates hearings I asked the assistant minister about this strategy and specifically how long it would take to achieve adequate staffing at the centre if it again goes through a cycle of staffing shortages. The response was that it would take 17 weeks. In other words, there is no workforce strategy outside of waiting for the next crisis to occur and then locking kids in their rooms for 17 weeks. Once again, the Labor-Greens’ plan is to have no plan. Once again, vulnerable children, a disproportionate of them Indigenous Australians, will pay the price.

In Canberra, too often, it is Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders who pay the price for this government’s ongoing failures. As Noel Pearson and others have pointed out, Indigenous Australians are the most incarcerated people on the planet, and here in the nation’s capital we have the highest ratio of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our prison. Our child protection system disproportionately affects First Nation families, and our detention centre has, in the words of the Official Visitor, an unreasonably high ratio of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

So much of this disadvantage is a consequence of not getting things right early enough. We have a government that claims to consult with and listen to the Indigenous community. But it is just words, again. Otherwise we would have a legislated entitlement to family-led decision-making in our child protection system. We would already have an external Merits Review. We would not have a residential home for young people that is culturally unsafe. We would not have the nation’s highest rate of community-based justice orders unsuccessfully completed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. We would have an independent review into systemic racism in our prison and so on.

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