In sharp contradiction to the Australia of the ‘Crocodile Dundee’ films where all races get along together, personal differences are sorted out in a manly fist fight followed by all having a few jars at the local boozer in some ‘one horse town’, real-life Australia is for the most part a modern imperialist state where nearly 98% of the population are not classified as indigenous (aboriginal) people and a large part of whom view those indigenous people as some mixture of stupid, criminal, obscene drunks who are completely unreliable as workers.
You don’t have to travel too far back in history to find the roots of the anti-aborigine feelings and practices which range from the ‘mildly’ intolerant racism through to the extreme racial hatred of white supremacy that is there in many (though by no means all) of those considered to be of European extraction.
Just like the USA, Canada, New Zealand, most of Africa and much of South and central America where European colonists landed and claimed ‘ownership’, the indigenous population were considered a slave workforce at best or an inconvenient infestation to be cleared away. In either case the same methods of dehumanisation were used by the colonists in popular descriptions of indigenous peoples and their traits, lazy, untrustworthy, sexually deviant, etc. – anything that made them less human and ultimately responsible themselves for any indignity, obscenity or even massacre that the new European rulers brought down on them.
That these racial stereotypes remain in the psyche of many Australian ‘whites’ is only too evident when we look at any sector of Australian life, whether that be work, home or land ownership, social interaction etc, but the recent action of a United Nations investigative delegation looking at not just racism against the Aborigine people but also their organised and methodical torture in prisons and youth detention centres, who have left their investigation after being denied access to the accused establishments by state governments after the Australian national government had agreed to the investigation, leads us to look very closely at the Australian criminal justice system as experienced by Aborigine youth.
In 2016 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) ‘Four Corners’ programme screened footage of the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin, Northern Territory which showed prison officials ‘abusing’ detained Aborigine teenage boys from 2010 to 2015. The term ‘abusing’ does not do justice to the practices that were recorded and shown on Australian TV: the boys were shown being knocked to the floor and verbally abused, or forcibly stripped and then left naked and alone in locked rooms. Some were kept locked in their cells for almost 24 hours a day with no running water, little natural light, and were denied access to school and educational material. Guards were recorded laughing while children choke on teargas after the guards pumped it into a confined isolation unit where five boys were locked in their cells with limited ventilation and no exit! While in another clip a visibly distressed boy was roughly stripped by three men, tied to a mechanical restraint chair and hooded before being left alone in a scene reminiscent of practices at the US Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib torture centres.
Unbelievably, it took nearly two years before a big enough outcry was made about this to force the government to even acknowledge any problem. Yet in 2012 the UN body, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) had said that Australia’s juvenile justice system required substantial reform before it would meet international standards, noting, for example, that children in Australia are held criminally responsible from the age of 10, two years younger than the CRC’s internationally acceptable minimum.
The UN Convention on Torture acknowledges that discrimination paves the way for torture and ill-treatment. Ignoring, if not encouraging, racism against indigenous people and the huge inequalities in health, education and housing, successive Australian governments have played a major part in creating the torture culture that indigenous children ‘in the legal system’ face.
Australia signed the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) in 2017 and as a signatory opened itself up to the possibility of inspection of its youth detention centres and the legal processing that puts so many Aborigine children in them.
Between 2001 and 2008, the indigenous adult imprisonment rate in Australia rose 37 percent (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008). Over the same period the non-indigenous imprisonment rate rose only eight percent.
Young indigenous people, who are a small fraction of the youth population of Australia, comprise three quarters of mandatory sentencing cases.
Indigenous peoples in Australia are among the most highly incarcerated peoples in the world. Despite indigenous Australians representing only approximately 2.4% of the Australian population, they make up at least 24% of the prison population!
The incarceration rate for all indigenous Australians is 10 – 12 times higher than for non-indigenous Australians, and indigenous women were imprisoned at around 19–20 times the rate of non-indigenous women. Indigenous children between the age of 10 and 14 are still believed to be around 30 times more likely to end up in some form of detention than non-indigenous children of the same age.
This then is the background to that UN investigation, and it has to be said that only three other countries – Rwanda, Azerbaijan and Ukraine – have had anti-torture inspectors.
A former prison inspector, Steven Caruana, who has played a big role in exposing the prison inmate racial breakdown and helping behind the scenes to get the UN inspection said: “There can really be noexcuse as to why the delegation was hindered, Australia has had almost five years to prepare for this visit. Australia will now have to answer for this embarrassing debacle in front of the United Nations Committee against Torture.”
The Australian government is blaming state governments for blocking the inspections claiming that Australia’s refusal to welcome the inspectors boiled down to a funding dispute between the federal and state governments.
Australia now has until January 2023 to meet its UN obligations.
We will not hold our breath waiting for any big changes in Australian policy towards indigenous people. Imperialism needs a divided working class at home and both race and religion are ideal for making scapegoats to create that necessary divide.