Aboriginal Health Council state branch CEO Shane Mohor has joined a growing chorus of social service and health bodies that have criticised the Controlled Substance (Youth Treatment Orders) Amendment Bill currently before state parliament.
The bill, introduced by the Marshall Government in November, would give the Youth Court the power to determine whether a young person was drug or alcohol-dependent and unlikely to seek voluntary treatment. The court would then have the option of making a treatment order requesting the young person attend a treatment service.
If that person failed to follow court instructions, the Youth Court would have the power to detain them for up to 12 months for mandatory treatment.
Mohor, a Stolen Generation survivor, said there was a “very, very, real risk of Stolen Generation happening all over again” if the bill was passed.
He said it would lead to a greater proportion of Aboriginal children being represented in the state’s criminal justice system, due to systemic drug and alcohol problems facing Aboriginal communities.
According to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, in 2015-16, 58 per cent of the population of South Australian 10-17 year olds in youth detention were Aboriginal.
South Australia reported significantly higher rates of Aboriginal children in detention than the Australian average.
“When you incarcerate people you’re actually taking them away from their family and their guardians, and the whole kinship structure is redesigned again based on a white mainstream model,” Mohor said.
“This will be yet again dispossession of language, culture (and) family for Aboriginal children.
“Stolen Gen was all about people thinking black people don’t know how to look after their children so let’s take them away.
“This is history repeating itself.”
Mohor said the bill did not take into consideration the state’s “over-worked” and “under-resourced” drug and alcohol treatment centres.
He urged the Government to instead consider consulting with health and social service bodies to develop a “culturally-appropriate, comprehensive model of care that addresses the underlying causes of child and youth substance misuse”.
“It is well-known that substance misuse is complex and is associated with a broader range of issues, such as mental health, the social determinants of health, and disability,” he said.
“Treatment must have a culturally-appropriate, comprehensive approach that involves young people, their families and relevant and appropriate experts.”
Mohor’s call was backed by SA’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People April Lawrie, who described the bill as an “outward criminalising of vulnerable young people”.
“I have worked in the justice system with the attorney-general and I can say this bill is fraught with problems,” she said.
“It does lend itself to bringing more Aboriginal young people into the youth justice system and the criminal justice system.
“We should be looking to the advice and the leadership from the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector to find a way in which to support young people with a substance abuse issue.
“They’ve got the relationship with the communities and are well equipped to deal with this but they need to be adequately resourced to do so.”
Lawrie, who was appointed the state’s inaugural Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner in October last year, said she would meet with Health Minister Stephen Wade in coming weeks to discuss her concerns about the bill.
It is still unclear where children would be detained under the legislation, with Wade currently in the process of drafting the model of care.
Wade’s office said in February that an “interagency working group” was being formed to develop the draft model of care, which it said would address stakeholder concerns.
A spokesperson told InDaily yesterday the Government was still in the process of forming the group and there was “no update” on the draft model of care.
The State Government made some amendments to its original bill following consultation with service providers. Those amendments included ensuring treatment and detention orders were a measure of last resort and that a detention order be made for the shortest period appropriate.
Wade told InDaily last month the bill did not establish any new criminal sanctions or impose additional penalties on children and young people who are subject to detention.
“It provides the Court with added scope to order medical assessment and appropriate therapeutic treatment where specialist clinicians judge this is required,” he said.
“The government is committed to protecting young people from the scourge of drugs – it’s what drug dependent children need and what parents of drug dependent children have been asking for.”
A coalition of social service advocates, including the Guardian for Children and Young People, the South Australian Council of Social Service, the SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services, the Australian Medical Association, the Youth Affairs Council of SA and the Law Society of South Australia led a push late last year to establish a select committee to inquire into the bill, but that was defeated in parliament by one vote.
A group of human rights lawyers at Monash University have also criticised the Bill, saying in a submission to the state government that it risked breaching international human rights standards, including by arbitrary deprivation of liberty, deficiencies in due process and failure to take account of a child’s best interests.
Shadow Health Minister Chris Picton said Labor supported the bill, but it would seek to add amendments to address advocates’ concerns.
The bill is not expected to be discussed this parliamentary sitting week.
Data from the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows illicit drug use among 14 to 19-year-old Australians declined considerably between 2001 and 2016.
It shows use of cannabis among young people halved, use of ecstasy and cocaine declined by one-third and the use of meth/amphetamines fell from 6.2 to 0.8 per cent.
If you or someone you know needs help with alcohol or other drugs go to knowyouroptions.sa.gov.au.
You can also contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1300 13 13 40.
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