Indigenous advocates slam NT government over new youth detention site
16 August 2019 at 4:54 pm
The Northern Territory government’s decision to build a new youth detention centre beside an adult prison has angered Indigenous groups, who say the move ignores a key royal commission recommendation.
The NT government this week announced the Darwin Youth Justice Centre will be built in Holtze, next to the Darwin Correctional Centre.
The government said the site for the $60 million facility – which will replace the controversial Don Dale Youth Detention Centre – was chosen because it was in a discreet, non-residential location close to emergency services.
But community groups believe the decision contradicts the final report of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT, which said youth facilities “should not be located on, or in close proximity to, adult prison precincts”.
Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT) expressed “anger and disgust” at the decision, arguing it was a further retreat on the NT government’s commitment to following royal commission recommendations.
“It’s becoming clear that the government isn’t interested in genuine reform and certainly isn’t interested in consulting or engaging with us” APO NT spokesperson John Paterson said.
“The message this decision sends to youth detainees is chillingly clear – you can look forward to a future path into the adult prison system.”
Paterson slammed the government for not taking the opportunity to repurpose the Don Dale site for a new centre.
APO NT advocated for Don Dale to be redeveloped and renamed because it was centrally located to public transport.
“The new site, 30 kilometres from Darwin and without accessible public transport, will prevent families from visiting their children – again against the royal commission’s findings,” Paterson said.
The Law Council of Australia also came out against the decision.
Speaking at the National Indigenous Legal Conference (NILC) in Darwin on Wednesday, Law Council president Arthur Moses SC said the decision was a travesty for children in the NT.
“Those involved or entrusted with law reform, policy and decision making in relation to youth justice should not be repeating the mistakes of the past,” Moses said.
“The consistent failure of the NT government to implement the royal commission’s recommendations, despite promising to adopt them all, is an affront to the entire process and an insult to those involved.”
A resolution condemning the NT government’s decision passed with the unanimous support of more than 330 delegates during the conference.
The centre’s Holtze location was chosen after a community backlash forced the government to abandon its preferred site in Pinelands.
Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield said while the government was put in a difficult position, the right decision was made in the end.
“We got extremely strong feedback that our location [at Pinelands] that we had previously proposed was not suitable, that businesses did not want that facility in their proximity,” Wakefield told reporters.
“This government will not apologise for listening to the community – that is our job.”
Wakefield also defended the youth centre’s closeness to the prison, saying it would be at least 300 metres away and not in the “line of sight” of the adult facility.