Relatives of Jake Roper, the young Aboriginal boy who was tear gassed at Don Dale juvenile detention centre, have confronted the minister for Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion, demanding he step down from the portfolio after he claimed to be unaware of what was happening to detainees at the facility.
"We asked him about what happened in Don Dale and whether he was aware of it or not and of course he denied it all," Roper's relative, Conrad Rory, told BuzzFeed News.
Rory is also concerned about his younger brother who is a detainee in the new Don Dale centre.
"Saying that he didn’t know is not good enough especially being the Indigenous affairs minister. He should have known what was happening to indigenous kids in prison. He should have been sacked from the position a long time ago," Rory said.
The group confronted Scullion as he visited the remote community of Borroloola in the Northern Territory earlier today. Several young men held signs that read "justice not jail" and "justice for Jake Roper".
The community group told Scullion his inaction over the treatment of Roper and several other young Aboriginal detainees in the NT justice system, which was revealed on the ABC's Four Corners program last week, was a failure in his duty of care as minister.
"Everyone was so devastated and shocked seeing that footage, my heart sank so low that I almost had a heart attack. It was just so bad and wrong what they are doing to little kids," Rory said.
The footage showed a 14-year-old Roper trying to break out of his cell after being kept in there with no natural light, air conditioning or running water for up to 23 hours a day. He was then tear gassed for up to eight minutes while the guards made fun of him.
"We are all relations of Jake, we are standing here on his behalf and saying what happened to him was wrong," Rory said he told Scullion.
"It’s so wrong, why would kids be treated worse than adults, being struck with chairs, tear gassed and abused, the guards should have been in jails themselves."
Despite being aware of the incidents in Don Dale detention centre last year, Scullion said he had not seen footage prior to it being aired on the ABC because it "hadn’t piqued [his] interest.”
“I made an assumption – you’ve got to be careful about assumptions – I assumed that the Northern Territory government were taking care of this matter and that I didn’t take any further action in that," Scullion said last week.
"Today, we had our say and that was really good, but we need more people standing up, not just Borroolola, but everyone around Australia saying enough is enough, that’s not the way to be treating our little kids and the minister needs to go," Rory said.
"He should be sacked. The community want him gone."
A royal commission has been established to examine the NT juvenile detention system. It is expected to start in September and deliver its findings early next year.
Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.
Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.
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