At the end of 2016, the state government revealed plans to rebrand the Grevillea Unit in the maximum security Barwon adult prison as a youth justice centre. This anniversary was chosen by the Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne (ISJA) to present a petition with almost 1,200 signatures to Jenny Mikakos, Minister for Families, Children and Youth Affairs, in the Victorian state government.
The petition, delivered on 22 November, was part of ISJA’s Stop Failing our Kids campaign. The focus of this ongoing campaign is the colossal failure of the juvenile justice system and the disproportionate number of Indigenous children caught up its web. The government’s obsession with law and order and its failure to address the underpinning issues prompted ISJA to launch the campaign in May.
Since then, ISJA activists have taken the campaign with its positive demands to shopping centres and railway stations across Melbourne, speaking with members of the public and gathering support. Signatures collected from both street campaigning and online were presented at the Minister’s office in Reservoir. However, Ms Mikakos, who also failed to accept an invitation to attend the campaign launch, was unable to accept ISJA’s petition as she was busy in Parliament debating the voluntary assisted dying bill. The petition was presented by ISJA member, David Harris, to one of her electorate officers.
Before the handover, a vibrant speakout took place outside the Minister’s office. Speeches came from a range of activists. Susannah Augustine, who is the mother of Indigenous teenagers, spoke powerfully. Viv Malo spoke from the heart. Representing 3CR, Viv broadcast the event live on Fire First, a program hosted by Robbie Thorpe. Viv, a Gooniyandi woman is also the host and producer of 3CR’s Indigenous current affairs, Black Block, a show that rejects capitalism.
Speakers voiced their concerns about the huge increase in police numbers and powers and that the government countenanced incarcerating children in adult prisons. Opposition was also raised about state government plans to spend millions on a high-security youth prison. This was contrasted to the insipid efforts to reduce the numbers of Indigenous children who are struggling between foster care and juvenile detention. The issues are urgent, with the number of Aboriginal children in child protection continuing to increase year by year. (See Preventing child removals is imperative for justice for Indigenous youth.) As Alison Thorne, who spoke on behalf of ISJA, pointed out, “It is not an exaggeration to characterise the effect of this failure by the state as a new stolen generation – many of these children will be denied access to their culture and community which is essential to their strength and pride.”
Katia Lallo, a collective member for the Abolitionist and Transformative Justice Centre, elaborated on why the new youth jail at Cherry Creek should be scrapped. “This prison is being built for children who are yet to finish primary school, and are yet to see the inside of a courtroom. Instead of supporting our young children to thrive by investing in education, housing and healthcare, Victoria is building a warehouse to hide away, institutionalise and punish the next generation of adolescents.”
Despite the overbearing heat of the day, passers-by stopped and listened, with some enthusiastic about supporting ISJA’s work. This petition was a vital building block in the Stop Failing Our Kids campaign. It had great success in raising the issues and mobilising public support. This campaign, which will run until the next Victorian state election in November 2018, will continue to mobilise community support for positive measures to counter the law-and-order agenda so often dished up during election season.
Get involved in ISJA’s future work. Campaign meetings are held on the first Thursday of every month at the Solidarity Salon, 580 Sydney Road, in Brunswick.
Isabella is involved with the Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne and represents Radical Women.