The last six months are proof enough: it’s not just Don Dale

As the Royal Commission holds hearings across the Northern Territory, Indigenous Rights Campaigner Julian Cleary reflects on the reports of other children, all over Australia, who are being abused in the youth justice system.

I can’t forget the footage of two small boys cowering in their cells as guards pump teargas – a chemical weapon banned in warfare – into their tiny concrete box. They thought they were going to die in that cell.

Dylan Voller strapped to a chair in Don Dale Detention Centre
© ABC 4 Corners

The Guantanamo-like images of Dylan Voller shackled to a chair in a spit hood had people around the world asking, how could this happen in Australia?

But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations, and other human rights advocates like Amnesty, are pointing to the evidence that, actually, this is far bigger than Don Dale.

Last month, the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s youth detention centres began in Darwin, but abuse and neglect has been exposed in every state and territory in the last six months:

  • June: In South Australia, media reports emerge that children at Cavan Youth Detention Centre are self-harming and being locked down for extended periods because there are not enough staff. The prison authorities hold a crisis meeting.
  • July: In Victoria, media reports emerge that a child spent 10 days in solitary confinement – banned under international law for children. The Victorian Children’s Commissioner announces an inquiry into “isolation, separation and lockdowns” in Melbourne and Malmsbury.
  • July: In Tasmania, police investigate an alleged assault against a child in Ashley Youth Detention Centre. The government responds by giving the Ombudsman greater inspection powers.
  • August: In Queensland, footage emerges of a 17-year-old boy in an adult prison being manhandled by seven prison guards. He is shackled, cuffed and forced into a mask. The Courier Mail make the story front page news. This and many other horrific cases over a number of years come to light. The Queensland Government launches an independent inquiry
  • August: In the Australian Capital Territory, police investigate an ‘incident’ at Bimberi Youth Detention Centre. The Department won’t reveal the nature of it. The ACT Human Rights Commissioner launches yet another inquiry.
  • September: In Western Australia reports emerge about disturbances and property damage at Banksia Hill Youth Detention Centre. The Inspector of Custodial Services launches an inquiry.
  • October: The Northern Territory Children’s Commission releases yet another report about a teenaged boy in NT youth detention being left naked for almost 11 hours.
  • October: The Sydney Morning Herald runs a front page story about children at Cobham Youth Detention Centre in Sydney being “locked alone in jail cells for 23 hours a day and [spending] their one hour of ‘recreation’ wearing handcuffs”.

Safeguards needed

It’s clear that the Federal Government must act immediately to end the abuse and torture of children in all our youth prisons.

There is a path to protect children throughout Australia from future harm in detention whether they be in Sydney, Adelaide, Townsville or Alice Springs. Our national government has the power to give independent inspectors access to all places of detention through the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

Join the 40,000 people who are calling on the Prime Minister and Attorney-General to immediately ratify the Optional Protocol and protect children from harm, abuse and torture.