Friday, 14 March 2014

Indefinite detainees must be released

Leaders of the Uniting Church across Australia have called for immediate action from state, territory and federal governments, after revelations that at least 30 Aboriginal Australians are being held in indefinite detention without trial or conviction.

"The predicament of Rosie Anne Fulton and others is nothing short of a national tragedy," said Uniting Church in Australia President, Rev. Prof. Andrew Dutney in response to revelations on the ABC's Lateline.

"A person who is unfit to stand trial belongs in care, not in a prison. This is an outrageous failure of our duty of care as a nation that we have allowed these most vulnerable people to languish in prisons without charge or conviction.

"We know that Aboriginal people are incarcerated as a result of over-policing, prejudice in the legal system and disadvantage as a result of culturally inappropriate practices. The changes in laws relating to minor offences under the Intervention and Stronger Futures legislation have also directly contributed to an increase in incarceration rates. These issues must be addressed if we are to reduce the rate of indigenous incarceration," said Rev. Prof. Dutney.

The Chairperson of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Rev. Rronang Garrawurra appealed for Ms Fulton to be returned to her country in the Northern Territory.

"The government, the health departments - all the Second Peoples need to listen to First Peoples," said Mr Garrawurra, speaking through an interpreter in his native Yolngu language.

"This girl needs to be with her family and relatives in her country. Only there can healing begin with her relatives and community around her."

Associate General Secretary of the UCA Synod of Western Australia, Rosemary Hudson-Miller, said "It is estimated that up to 62% of prisoners in WA suffer from a mental illness. Given the gross over-representation of Aboriginal people in our legal system, this is a horrifying statistic."

Ms Fulton remains in a Kalgoorlie prison 18 months after being arrested for driving offences. The magistrate in her case declared her unfit to plead because of intellectual impairment, and no other options for secure care are available in the area.

The Moderator of the Uniting Church's Northern Synod Pastor Stuart McMillan based in Darwin has urged authorities to act quickly to break the impasse. "The fact that an intellectually impaired person can be left to rot in prison for this long in this day and age is deeply shameful," said Mr McMillan.

"The NT and WA Governments should be talking to each other and finding an immediate solution. The Federal Government also needs to start work as a matter of urgency to provide more secure care facilities for people in this situation."

The Uniting Church begins a "Week of Prayer and Fasting" for justice for First Peoples on Monday 17 March.

On Tuesday 18 March hundreds of church members – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – will gather on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra in a public prayer vigil to lament injustices like this that are still perpetrated against Aboriginal and Islander people.