Ethan Floyd 10 May 2022

Clayton Barr - Private Member's Statement

“Ethan Floyd was part of the Y NSW Youth in Parliament program from earlier this year. Congratulations to Ethan for his advocacy and hard work as part of the program.”

Speech made as part of Clayton’s Private Members Statements 10 May 2022

Mr CLAYTON BARR (Cessnock) (18:46): We are sometimes accused of not bringing any young voices to the House. Tonight I bring to the House the voice of Ethan Floyd, who represented Cessnock in the Y NSW Youth Parliament program earlier this year. I will read directly from his speech. Ethan spoke about the importance of addressing the issue of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being disproportionately represented in our offender population. He said:

In April of 1770 Captain James Cook landed in Kamay Bay and, armed with the Doctrine of Discovery, planted the Union Jack in sovereign Dharawal land. Over the coming years, more than 162,000 convicts were shipped to this country. Australia was founded by the British with one clear purpose—to create a prison colony.

And, believe it or not, we have continued to be one ever since. We are fewer than 3 per cent of the Australian population and yet we are 25 per cent, a quarter, of those Australians locked up in our prisons, and for juveniles it is worse, it is 50 percent. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare acknowledges that, in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are disproportionately represented in the New South Wales youth justice system.

A lack of cultural connection and engagement has been identified as a principal cause of youth offending and reoffending among the young Indigenous population. Our bill contains provisions for a cultural immersion and discovery framework, which aims to boost Indigenous young people’s knowledge and understanding of their own heritage and history. The provisions outlined in this bill must be passed by conscience vote this afternoon in order to lift young Indigenous people out of this cycle and to change these statistics.

My younger brother is 12 years old, he is just about to commence high school, and yet statistically he is more likely to be locked up than he is to graduate. If that figure alone does not make you sick to your stomach, here is something that might. Every morning, an average of 12,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children across Australia wake up behind the bars of juvenile prisons. Young people live out their childhood in juvenile detention centres, hundreds of kilometres away from their families. Mothers, fathers, aunties and uncles watch on as the deaths of their babies play out in courtrooms. To criminologists these are statistics. To us they are mothers, fathers, uncles, aunties, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. These numbers have names and faces.

Make no mistake, we are prisoners on our own land. Any sign of legitimate progress for our people is punctuated by relentless and stone-walled resistance by the State. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 made some progress, but every subsequent government has neglected to act on the recommendations given.

Through the comprehensive framework outlined in our bill, we hope to learn from and overcome this recurring lesson in Australian political history. Every time we are lured into the light we are mugged by the darkness of this country’s history, and that makes us afraid. It is the same fear that I have seen in my mother, that she inherited from her father, and he from both of his parents. When I was younger it used to make me feel sick, physically ill in the pit of my stomach. It was a fear of what could touch us—the sense of powerlessness, of being at the mercy of the intrusion of the police or the welfare officers who enforced laws that enshrined our exclusion and condemned us to jails. It was a heavy hand that made people tremble. I still see it in my mother. I see it as she tenses up just at the sight of a police car. She has done nothing wrong. But when she is pulled over for something as routine as a random breath test her heart beats faster and she fumbles her keys.

We fear the State, and we have every reason to: the State was designed to scare us.

And so, this is what our bill is about. At its simplest and most base level, the piece of legislation which our committee has spent this past year developing will ensure that not another young Indigenous person in this State or in this country will feel that same fear that I, and hundreds of thousands of people like me, have carried with us our entire lives.

The objectives of this bill align in parallel with the targets outlined in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, 2019, and the subsequent Closing the Gap strategy. Principal among these shared goals is the outcome of “improving mainstream institutions”.

In regard to the Closing the Gap strategy, the targets which this bill aims to address most directly focus on the education of children, cultural and linguistic understanding, and overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system. On a broader scale, targets which focus on jobs and cultural identity, will also be addressed in this bill. The honourable members present today will hear from members of my committee about why exactly this bill is so significant.

You will hear the Hon. Claire Oberdorfer, the Hon. Hunter Blunden, the Hon. Josie Sims, and the Hon. Charlotte Hooper advocate fiercely for this bill, and explain not only the significant reach and effect this legislation will have, but the powerful and impactful message it will send to other States within Australia, and countries around the world; that this story needs to be told, and that it’s time to put our State’s and our nation’s juvenile justice system on trial.

Summarily, the objectives of this bill are concerned with: the mandation of cultural education in juvenile detention centres, thus encouraging an increase in cultural connection and understanding; the correction of inherent intergenerational disadvantages; the reversal of the disengagement with culture experienced by Indigenous young peoples in detention; and meeting the specific targets contained within the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and the subsequent Closing the Gap strategy.

Congratulations, Ethan Floyd.