By Rob Taylor
Friday, June 1, 2007
CANBERRA (Reuters) – Aborigines are 13 times more likely than other Australians to go to prison, with poverty, unemployment and poor education behind a sharp jump in the number of indigenous jailings, a report said on Friday.
The rate of Aboriginal jailings rose 32 percent in the six years to 2006, while black youths were 23 times more likely to be detained after a brush with police and the courts, a government study of Aboriginal disadvantage said.
“Indigenous people are highly over-represented in the criminal justice system, as both young people and adults,” said the report, the third in a series.
Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the country’s 20 million population. They are consistently the nation’s most disadvantaged group, with far higher rates of unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.
The report said wages for Aborigines had risen over the last decade and unemployment had halved. But median household incomes for Aborigines were still around half the level of other Australians and their life expectancy lagged by 17 years.
“If we are going to close the gap in life expectancy we will have to address the overcrowded housing and of course give young people the opportunity to get a job,” opposition lawmaker Jenny Macklin told local radio.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said the report showed some encouraging signs and blamed an indigenous-run state agency — axed by the government two years ago — for many of the failings, as well Aborigines themselves.
“Let’s be honest with ourselves and say a lot of this comes down to personal responsibility and people being responsible for their drug and alcohol behavior, the abuse they inflict on others,” Brough told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Prime Minister John Howard’s conservative government has often clashed with Aboriginal leaders, favoring practical measures such as better access to health and education.
Howard has repeatedly refused to apologize for past racial injustices suffered by the Aborigines.
Indigenous doctor Marlene Kong this week said Aboriginal Australians lived in “fourth-world” conditions and called for international aid agencies to step in, warning decades of government help had failed to overcome problems.
“It’s been a critical situation for 30 years, and something needs to be done,” the former Doctors Without Borders medic told New Scientist magazine.
“Infant and maternal mortality, two of the most important indicators of a population’s health, are at least three times higher than for non-indigenous people, and getting worse.”