Spotlight: youth justice on COAG agenda

Following strong activism led by our Tasmanian action groups, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces that youth detention will be discussed at the next COAG (Council of Australian Governments) meeting. Find out what it took.

Tassie’s determined activists

Sylvie Merope, co-convenor of the Southern Tasmanian action group, wouldn’t have believed that this would happen if you told her a few months ago while she was ringing the Premier’s office again and again to try to bring the plight of Indigenous kids to his notice.

Sylvie, the Southern Action group, the Dennison Action group and many other Tassie activists have been holding stalls, film nights and public discussions about Community is Everything. They knew that Tasmania could help progress the campaign. Tassie has a lower number of Indigenous kids in prison than most other states, with its low population. Tasmania also has a terrible history of colonisation, and a lot of healing to do.

So Tasmania’s activists were determined to get the Premier’s attention.

The groups started by writing to and calling the Premiers office requesting a meeting, but continued to get the cold shoulder. So on the anniversary of 25 years since the Royal Commission into black deaths in custody, Sylvie wrote to the press. It was great use of a big public moment, and Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury ran an editorial featuring her letter which called on Tasmania to take the lead.

In the next week, she got a call from the Premier’s office offering them an appointment.

Meeting prep

The group swung into action. The group researched the Community is Everything reports, and honed down their ‘asks’ to three things:

  1. Justice Targets
  2. Justice Reinvestment
  3. Minimum Age of Criminal responsibility raised to 12.

Two activists Claire and Annie met with the Tasmanian Attorney General and Speaker of the House to raise the issue, making sure the Premier would have heard about it through his Cabinet.

The big day was about to arrive. The group planned for activists from two action groups and the Branch Committee to attend the meeting with the Premier, and together mapped out what they’d discuss and who would say what. They decided to share stories of how they were educating and mobilising their communities at events, and to give the Premier the national report with the evidence to support their call to action.

Working with the Community is Everything campaign team, the group decided to focus on asking the Premier to take a leading role at COAG. If the COAG meeting of heads of the States and Territories were to adopt our asks, we’d see change all across the nation.

Meeting with Premier Will Hodgman. © Private
Meeting with Premier Will Hodgman. © Private

The Premier agreed and committed to write to COAG about the three major campaign asks. A few months later, prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that youth detention will be discussed at the next COAG meeting:

“What I intend to do is at the next COAG meeting, is make sure that these issues of youth detention [and] child protection are on the agenda for COAG because it is obviously an issue that applies in every jurisdiction.”

Attorney General George Brandis also acknowledged the problem: “To be frank, you will not find an Indigenous leader in this country who hasn’t had some sharp and strong things to say about the way in which the system treats Indigenous youth. In fact, if you found somebody, an Indigenous leader, who hadn’t expressed concern about this over the years, then they wouldn’t be worth their salt as a leader. ”

That’s the power of communities organising activities together, speaking to their representatives and standing with a national and international movement of people who stand up for human rights. Go to Community is Everything resources for action to campaign in your community.