Graeme Powell, ABC News, October 3, 2011
The head of the Aboriginal Legal Service has accused the WA Police Commissioner of inciting racial hatred after he spoke out about the high rate of Aboriginal juveniles involved in home burglaries.
The Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan has released figures showing juvenile crime is spiralling upwards and 50 per cent of burglaries are committed by people 18 or under.
He says what is more alarming is that Aboriginal youths represent 61 per cent of those juveniles.
“Given that Aboriginal people make up about two per cent of our population in Western Australia that is a staggering over-representation in that age group and we have to stop that from occurring,” he said.
The ALS CEO Dennis Eggington has questioned the Commissioner’s timing in releasing the figures.
“The talkback radio at the moment is full of people blaming Aboriginal people for this issue, really blaming Aboriginal families and Aboriginal parents and that’s what he’s created,” he said.
“He’s vilifying us again and whether he meant to do it or not, that’s what’s happening.
“He’s inciting people to racial hatred.”
Mr O’Callaghan described the issue as “the elephant in the room” which no-one wants to talk about publicly and he defended his decision to speak out.
“For a long time we’ve been very reluctant to talk about it openly because we’re always worried about offending somebody,” he said.
The Commissioner says more needs to be done to rehabilitate Aboriginal juveniles in detention.
“Let me give you some recidivism rates–64 per cent of juveniles in custody are Aboriginal and of that 50 per cent of them reoffend very shortly after being released,” he said.
“So it sort of tells that they’re not getting rehabilitation.”
The state’s Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Peter Collier, has described Karl O’Callaghan’s comments as fair and brutally honest.
“Karl O’Callaghan was brutally frank and he didn’t say something that wasn’t correct,” he said.
“There’s a disproportionate number of Aboriginal males that are actually in the juvenile justice system and what we’ve got to do as a government is do something about it.
“Not play the blame game but actually do something about it and that’s what we’re doing.”
Mr Eggington says the figures show tough law and order policies are not working.
He says WA has some of the toughest juvenile laws in the country but the Government needs to invest more in prevention and intervention programs.
“I think there are two things that are really worrying about those statistics,” he said.
“One is most definitely the fact that our tougher laws on young people, our Young Offenders act and the types of cries that we’ve heard lately for tougher anti-social laws and tougher laws on offenders haven’t worked.
“We need an alternative to that, and I think there is an alternative, I think preventative and intervention programmes now have to be a major part of our law and order policies in WA.
“That could include things like therapeutic jurisprudence, problem solving courts, and of course justice reinvestment to help break those cycles.
“If we do that then we have to invest pretty heavily in the bottom end of it and not so much in the imprisonment of these people.”
Mr Collier says the Government is taking action.
“We need to send an unambiguous message to Aboriginal students in our schools and post-school, that they can make a valuable contribution to the community, and also as individuals they can actually open doors that will be lifelong,” he said.
“Employment opportunities are the best way to change the lifestyle of young Aboriginal males and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
The state Opposition Leader Eric Ripper says more investment is needed in services for Aboriginal mothers and young children.
“It’s a long term pay-off, sometimes it takes 10 to 15 years before you see the results of that,” he said.
“We also need to have investment in broken communities, we know the communities which are broken, we know the communities which are producing the crime.
“We need to intervene in those communities with preventative measures.”
Mr Eggington says intervention is needed.
“We do want a safer community and I think we deserve that and the only way we can get that is making sure that we heal these young people, stop them offending and get them back as responsible citizens,” he said.
He says the second thing which is of real concern is that there seems to be a complete failure in Aboriginal communities in the social policies that Government have adopted.
“Our kids are born into a world where they are not to offend but the social circumstance, the causal pathways that lead them into offending are well and truly entrenched,” he said.
“It’s an indictment on this state, and it’s an indictment on all of us in some ways, that we’ve allowed this to happen.
“I’m pleading with the community to say enough’s enough, we want our first nation’s peoples to be a part of this community.
“We don’t want to see what’s happening and Government should get in and do something about it with the help of the community.”