Fri, Jul 03, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Report urges action on Aborigine issues

LIFECYCLE OF OFFENDING: The report says the Australian government must invest more in treatment centers and addressing why Aborigines turn to drugs and crime

BLOOMBERG

Aborigines are 13 times more likely to be jailed than other Australians and the government must step up efforts to tackle drug and alcohol abuse fueling crime in Aboriginal communities, researchers said yesterday.

Almost a quarter of all prisoners are Aborigines, even though they make up just 2 percent of the population, a report by the Australian National Council on Drugs said.

“The figures are appalling,” Gino Vumbaca, the council’s executive director, said by phone. “Every family in indigenous communities knows somebody who has been to prison or is in prison.”

Aborigines remain the poorest and most disadvantaged group in Australian society, more than 200 years after Europeans settled the nation in 1788. Their life expectancy is 17 years less than other Australians and they are three times more likely to experience coronary problems, the Australian Medical Association said.

Some campaigners say that many Aboriginal settlements in remote communities are more akin to the Third World than a modern industrialized nation.

The report traces a “strong link” between substance abuse and Aborigines breaking the law and says authorities must invest more in treatment centers and addressing why Aborigines turn to drugs and alcohol.

“A major rethink is needed and unless we address these issues, a lifecycle of offending can perpetuate and span across generations,” said Ted Wilkes, chairman of the council’s National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee.

The report recommends authorities set up an education support fund for every young Aborigine to help and promote their participation in school.

A network of community centers with links to education and health services should be set up and more money invested in treatment for substance abuse, it said.

The report estimates it costs the taxpayer A$269 (US$214) a day to keep someone in jail, compared with A$98 a day for treatment in a rehabilitation center.

“Despite the investment by governments to reduce incarceration, indigenous Australians have continued to fill our correction systems at an alarmingly disproportionate rate,” the report said.

More than 50 percent of 10 to 17-year-olds in juvenile detention in 2006 were Aborigines, the council said. In 2007, 24 percent of all adult male prisoners were Aborigines, as were 31 percent of adult female prisoners — the latter a threefold increase since 1991.

Aborigines populated Australia at least 50,000 years before Britain established a penal settlement in 1788. In the colony’s early days, many were driven from their tribal lands and died, either in conflict or from diseases caught from the settlers.

For much of the 20th century, authorities forcibly removed Aborigine children from their families, saying they needed protection from neglect or abuse.

A government-commissioned report published in 1997 found that many of the children, known as the “Stolen Generation,” lost their cultures, languages, heritage and lands.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last year apologized to the “stolen generation” of Aborigines.

Two years ago, then prime minister John Howard announced a A$587 million plan to take control of dozens of Aboriginal communities, after a government-commissioned report said alcohol and drugs were fueling widespread sexual abuse of children.

Under the plan, known as the “intervention,” the government banned alcohol and pornography in dozens of Aboriginal townships in the Northern Territory, boosted police numbers and tied welfare payments to children’s school attendance.

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