The Ngaga-dji Report, titled with the Woiwurung word ‘Ngaga-dji’, meaning ‘hear me/hear us’, was released by the Koorie Youth Council in August 2018. It offers sustained insights into the challenges faced by young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who come into contact with the criminal justice system in Victoria. These insights, drawn from children’s perspectives, are crucial for researchers, advocates, policymakers and practitioners from across a range of institutions to consider when working with young people.
History pushes us around. It bullies. It tells us, again and again, that ‘not everyone’s destiny matters’. But identity is rooted in history, and so history cannot be escaped. Aboriginal Victorians continue to speak back: oral histories, art practices, storytelling, biography and autobiography announce ‘we have survived’.
The stories shared in the Ngaga-dji Report portray a youth justice system that is overly punitive and entrenches cycles of disadvantage for Aboriginal young people. They make clear that this system is broken and contributes not only to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system, but also to the ongoing disempowerment of Aboriginal young people, their families and communities.
These reflections on the Ngaga-dji Report come at a time when the decision to build a new youth justice centre in Cherry Creek, west of Melbourne, has been scaled down but remains an inappropriate model for responding to the needs of Aboriginal children, many of whom are often caught on the residential care-youth detention-adult prison pathway.
The stories shared in the Ngaga-dji Report detail serious breaches of First Nations young people’s human rights and a failure of the Victorian Government and affiliated agencies to uphold them. The stories reveal chronic structural discrimination and ongoing systemic failures to respect, protect and fulfil young First Nations people’s rights in child protection, juvenile justice and out-of-home care settings.
The national Closing the Gap policy contains targets to address what is described as Indigenous disadvantage. In relation to education these targets include intentions to improve English literacy and numeracy outcomes, school attendance, early childhood education participation and Year-12 completion rates. However, in the last ten years progress on these targets has been minimal and policy to address Indigenous education appears to be at a standstill.