Children suffer as PM Turnbull delays youth justice change

Alongside the Indigenous-led Change The Record coalition, Amnesty International has released a National Plan of Action calling for an overhaul of Australia’s youth justice system.

Released 10 days after the Federal Government pledged national commitment on youth justice, Free to be kids: National Plan calls on Prime Minister Turnbull to end the abuse and overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australian prisons.

Commitment to youth justice

Launched in response to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory report released on 17 November, the plan includes strategies to:

  • support children and families to stay together
  • raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14
  • set national justice targets
  • invest in Indigenous-led prevention and support programs.

“The most shocking thing about the Royal Commission findings are that the abuses are happening in every state and territory,” said Claire Mallinson, National Director, Amnesty International Australia.

“Every day the Prime Minister delays taking action, children are self-harming, or being held in solitary confinement. They are being denied basic needs, being restrained or handled inappropriately, being verbally or physically abused in Australian child prisons.”

“What’s more, Indigenous children are 25 times more likely to be locked up than non-Indigenous children.”


Barely a week after the Royal Commission report, the Northern Territory Government has announced it will send the Territory Response Group, from the counter-terrorism taskforce, into Darwin and Alice Springs. The police will be equipped with military-grade assault weapons to patrol children at night over December.

“The decision flies in the face of the Northern Territory Royal Commission report, which recommended a shift away from tough, brutal responses to a focus on prevention, diversion and supporting families. It shows, yet again, that we need Federal leadership to set a standard across the states and territories,” said Claire Mallinson.

Our recent ReachTEL poll found two out of three Australians believe the Turnbull Government should lead national action to end the injustice of too many Indigenous kids in prison.

“We welcome the Turnbull Government’s acknowledgement that the Royal Commission findings have national implications, and the Government’s commitment to lead national change of the youth justice system,” said Claire Mallinson.

A number of recommendations in the Royal Commission report would make a significant difference if implemented nationally. These include those about diversion; supporting families; raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility; bail support services and accommodation; and ending abusive practices in prison, like banning spithoods, restraint chairs and teargas.

Government commits to change

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said the Government would develop a Royal Commission response, “not only here in the Northern Territory, but across every jurisdiction in Australia. Every other jurisdiction will be looking to the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth for leadership about change throughout our jurisdictions and I know that [Chief Minister Michael Gunner] and I are committed to working together to provide that leadership.”

“With today’s plan, Prime Minister Turnbull can turn those words into solid policies,” said Claire Mallinson.

“He must commit to work in partnership with Indigenous communities to nationally reform the youth injustice system. This is the only way to achieve real progress, not only for kids suffering in prison now, but for the next generation of Indigenous children.”