Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Jacqui Houston
Many would say that this Special Focus Edition on young Indigenous people is long overdue. In fact, the irony of this is that many of the issues which a special edition would have discussed years ago are the same today.
Issues around public space and young people remain a constant in Australia. In 2003, the Indigenous Law Bulletin looked at a curfew introduced to the Northbridge area of Western Australia. In the first three months of this curfew, 285 young Indigenous people were ‘removed’ from the streets of Northbridge in comparison to 39 non-Indigenous youth.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (‘CROC’) has a lot to say on issues relating to Indigenous young people in Australia. But who’s listening? At the height of the campaign to end mandatory sentencing for young people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan requested the United Nations (‘UN’) High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate these laws in regard to CROC and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In a subsequent advice paper, the UN reminded the Australian Government of its international obligations. It was later revealed that after lobbying from Australian Government UN diplomats, key findings were removed from the final advice paper; findings which stated that the laws were in clear breach of CROC, in addition to other human rights instruments.
The following article written by Martin Flynn for the Indigenous Law Bulletin in June 2000 discusses an important milestone in the campaign to end mandatory sentencing. According to National Children’s and Youth Law Centre Director James McDougall:
At a time when Australia could have established itself as a best practice model in the application of the international principles of youth justice, our failure to apply those principles to the policing of young Indigenous offenders has blotted our record.
In mid-November of this year, the Federal Government announced that the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Group is to be abolished. From where will the voice of Indigenous youth come now? The Government says that it encourages young Indigenous people to join the National Youth Roundtable for 2007, but the issues discussed will not be those particular to Indigenous youth. Is the idea that to stifle leadership is to stifle dissent?
The welfare system and its treatment of young Indigenous people remains as another revolving topic of investigation, recommendation and despair. In this edition we reproduce an article discussing a paper which details the history of Aboriginal child welfare services in New South Wales from 1883 to 1985. In another section, this edition looks at current issues in Indigenous child welfare, including the neglect of governments to give serious consideration and resources to care by relatives of an ‘at-risk’ child instead of non-Indigenous foster carers. These calls are made with full acknowledgment that, at times, foster care will be a better option, but ask that policies adhere to legislation which exhorts departments to give adequate consideration to options of care by kin.
Let’s hope we’re not still debating these issues 25 years from now.
Jacqui Houston is an editor of the Indigenous Law Bulletin. She is a former editor of Rights Now, the law and policy journal of the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre.
Articles reproduced following this reflection were:
Aboriginal Law Bulletin, ‘Black Children: White Welfare?’ AboriginalLawB 37; , (1985) 1(14) Aboriginal Law Bulletin 6 (This article can be accessed via <http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AboriginalLB/1985/32.html> )
Martin Flynn, ‘Mandatory Sentencing, International Law and the Howard/Burke Deal’  IndigLawB 38; (2000) 4(30) Indigenous Law Bulletin 7 (This article can be accessed via <http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/ILB/2000/139.html> )
 Terina Koch, ‘Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia’ IndigLawB 54; , (2003) 5(27) Indigenous Law Bulletin 7, 7.
 Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature 20 November 1989, (entered into force 2 September 1990).
 Louis Schetzer, ‘Mandatory Sentencing: A Nation Expresses its Grief and Outrage’, (2000) Rights Now (June) 4, 5.
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, (entered into force 23 March 1976).
 Louis Schetzer, above n 3, 5.
 Email from James McDougall to Jacqui Houston (3 December 2006).
 Hon John Cobb MP, ‘Young Australians to have their Say’, (Press Release, 10 November 2006).
 Hon John Cobb MP, ‘Labor out of Touch on Youth Leadership’, (Press Release, 14 November 2006).