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Experts slam WA Premier Mark McGowan over ‘terrorism’ link to Banksia Hill detainees

Advocates have long protested against the treatment of youths at the Banksia Hill detention centre.

Advocates have long protested against the treatment of youths at the Banksia Hill detention centre. Photo: AAP

Following another riot at the notorious Banksia Hill Youth Detention Centre, the union that represents prison guards has added its voice to those calling for a change in the way youth justice is approached in Western Australia.

Aboriginal, legal and health experts and the CPSU/CSA all say the problems at Banksia Hill have been well documented and represent a failure of government policy and investment.

The latest major disturbance started after a number of detainees escaped their cells on Tuesday night and gained access to the grounds of the centre before climbing onto the roof.

The riot was brought to a close after armed officers were sent in.

Premier Mark McGowan said the behaviour of the youths was a “form of terrorism” and activists should not make excuses for them.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar said the premier’s response wasn’t good enough.

“Here was an opportunity for us to acknowledge the depth of the issues and the problems that are leading to why these children are in Banksia Hill in the first place and why they’re on the roofs,” Ms Oscar told AAP.

“I don’t support jailing children.

“They are children who have experienced so much early life trauma because of policies, because of the absolute neglect by systems that are supposedly there for the benefit of our peoples, our families, our communities and our children.”

The youth detention system in WA has been in the spotlight for months after multiple riots.

The union that represents corrective services workers is concerned the system is at breaking point and unsafe.

Commonwealth PSU/CSA branch secretary Rikki Hendon said Banksia Hill needed more staff, better training and to provide a therapeutic model of care for children in detention.

Ms Hendon called on Mr McGowan to invest in a separate remand centre, so detainees could be better managed.

“I think it’s unhelpful to lay blame on the young people at the centre because it doesn’t change anything,” she said.

“It doesn’t change the fact that we’re seeing regular disruptions at the centre, dangerous incidents, that are putting both the young people and the workers at risk.”

In WA, Indigenous children aged 10 to 17 were 58 times as likely as their non-Indigenous peers to be in detention on an average night in the June 2022 quarter.

In July 2017 the Inspector of Custodial Services released a damning report into Banksia Hill that documented the use of spit hoods, solitary confinement, alleged sexual assault, and soaring rates of self-harm and attempted suicide.

There is a class action involving more than 500 children and young adults who have been detained at Banksia Hill, alleging mistreatment akin to torture, including long spells of solitary confinement.

Noongar academic and human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade has long advocated for children in detention.

“It’s horrific to see the images of police, military-like, on the roof with weapons drawn and Aboriginal children lying face down probably in fear of their lives,” she said.

“What kind of state are we are living in?

“We’ve long had a problem with racism and racist violence to Aboriginal people and particularly youth have been criminalised through laws such as three strikes or mandatory detention laws, which have been condemned by the UN but this is really becoming very extreme.”

Amnesty International’s Indigenous rights Adviser Rodney Dillon condemned the use of extreme force against children and called for long-term solutions to address key drivers of violence in children.

“It is unconscionable that Premier Mark McGowan would describe property damage by traumatised, antagonised children as a ‘form of terrorism’ while his department sends in special forces to point guns at children,” he said.

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

-AAP

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