The image of a hooded young boy strapped to a chair has burned its way into Australia’s national conscience following last week’s Four Corners exposé into the Northern Territory’s youth justice system.
The powerful video footage united us in our shared sense of outrage over the extraordinary actions taken against some of the most vulnerable members of our community – young Indigenous kids.
The sad fact is that many of the claims Four Corners aired are not new. Journalists and advocates have warned for some time that all is not well in the Northern Territory’s youth detention environments, but it took video footage of children forcibly being undressed and tear gassed to galvanise the public and politicians alike into action.
I’ve been reflecting on what this tragic saga means for community organisations that work with vulnerable individuals. Like those children in the Northern Territory, the people SSI supports often need someone to step up to the plate and speak out for them.
Organisations like SSI have a duty to advocate for those who are in need, even if it comes at a cost. We are accountable to our funders but so too are we accountable to our community, and at the end of the day, that is also important.
What we witnessed on Four Corners is a reminder that the best interests of the most vulnerable are not always addressed in big systems; they get lost, pushed to the side and, as a result, people’s civil and human rights may be at risk of being jeopardised.
As a country, we need to start asking ourselves, how can we let these things happen on our watch? Can we live with the consequences if we fail to shine a light on injustices; if we fail to speak up?
Travesties like the Stolen Generation and the Forgotten Australians show us that history will not look kindly on those who respond to injustice with inaction. Speaking up for vulnerable members of our community does not just help us to retain our humanity – it’s the cornerstone of a civil society.
For community organisations working at the coalface, the Four Corners exposé was a reminder of our purpose and the reason we exist. The most fundamental principle we have is to speak out for those who can’t speak for themselves.