Roseanne Fulton

Roseanne, born with foetal alcohol related brain damage, is a twenty four year old Indigenous woman from the tri-state region of Central Australia. Her early childhood was a cycle of rescue from life-threatening neglect, being nursed back to health then returned to the same impoverished circumstances. At age 19, living alone and unsupported in Alice Springs, which she identifies as her home, she became a client of NT Health’s Disability Services.

Her need for full time behavioural and disability support placing her beyond the available services, Roseanne survived living in the riverbeds and hills around Alice Springs. Her impaired cognitive functioning and lack of short-term memory left her vulnerable to years of sexual abuse in the town camps where a culture of drinking predominated. On occasions she would go missing later turning up in remote communities – it was commonly believed that during these incidents Roseanne was being shared by the men of the camps. In one instance an attempt was made to cut her Achilles tendon to keep her available. She now exhibits a range of behaviours associated with surviving her lived experience.

In 2012, following a critical incident when she suffered serious burns while alone on a hillside sniffing petrol, NT Health facilitated a number of respite placements on a remote Western Australian outstation where a family member was currently resident. On the last occasion, she was enticed away by young men to be prostituted in the larger centres. During this time Roseanne unlawfully used and damaged a motor vehicle, consistent with behaviours which had previously brought her into contact with the criminal justice system.

Roseanne was subsequently found unfit to be tried due to her mental impairment, and placed on a custodial order and under the jurisdiction of Western Australian Mentally Impaired Accused Review Board (MIARB). For the past 18 months, in the absence of any alternative, she has been kept under prison-based supervision in the Eastern Goldfield’s Correctional Centre, Kalgoorlie.

In February 2009, Roseanne was designated by NT Health as a high needs client of the NT, but in the absence of any meaningful action for her support, her life changed very little – a hazardous existence of neglect and unrelenting sexual abuse. Guardian advocacy resulted in an option being put forward for access to the new Secure care Facility when it would be built (the facility did not come on line until 2013) .This repeated claim was endorsed at executive level within Health and by the Minister. She was formally assessed as eligible for a placement, and this intent was conveyed to the WA MIAR Board and other authorities, who indicated their support and co-operation.

While Mr McKinlay did not regard the facility placement as ideal in Roseanne’s case, he recognised it as the only option within the Central Australian Region able to offer structured behavioural and disability support and the prospect for her eventual transition to less restrictive care. It would offer the MIAR Board a viable alternative to her current prison-based support. Once it became certain an NT placement was satisfactory, MIARB could act to revoke the WA Custodial Order.

In late December 2013, the facility became fully operational. However, despite Roseanne having waited 4 years, including the last 18 months in prison for an assured placement, the Health Chief Executive stated she will not be provided a placement or any other support as she was no longer a resident of the Northern territory. This written advice was sent to Mr McKinlay, the MIARBoard, and Senator Sue Boyce (who has been following this case). Few reasons other than client incompatibility and her gender were provided to the guardian as reasons for this decision.

Mr McKinlay now advises that Roseanne faces indefinite imprisonment, with little prospect of any alternative to prison in the foreseeable future. He states that Roseanne, whose story is filled with neglect and disinterest represents a serious case of systemic failure and leaves the NT department vulnerable to claims of systemic abuse. It seems unimagineable that in 2014 an Indigenous woman with a cognitive impairment could have this as a life experience in modern Australia. What seems even harder to believe is that knowing all the facts the very systems which are designed to ensure that people in Australia don’t have these experiences, still have nothing to offer Roseanne.

The Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign is writing to you on behalf of Roseanne with the permission of her guardian, asking that you raise the matter with the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Health Minister and Attorney General. The ADJC is campaigning to ensure that people with disabilities have their access to justice rights as Australian citizens respected and are not detained on the basis of their disability, particularly indefinitely.

The ADJC acknowledge that the detention of people with a cognitive impairment under mental impairment legislation is a state and territory issue. However, the ADJC is concerned that many of the access to justice themes raised by Roseanne’s situation, particularly indefinite detention, are national issues solely affecting people with a cognitive impairment and disproportionately impacting upon Indigenous Australians.

This has been acknowledged by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which has asked Australia to “end the unwarranted use of prisons for the management of un-convicted persons with disabilities, with a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons with disabilities, by establishing legislative, administrative and support frameworks that comply with the Convention” These practices were also the subject of the recent AHRC report, “Equal Justice for All.”

I urge you to contact the NT Chief Minister (Chief.Minister@nt.gov.au) NT Attorney General (minister.elferink@nt.gov.au) and the NT Health Minister (minister.lambley@nt.gov.au) to advocate for a return to safe and secure supported accommodation in Alice Springs for Roseanne Fulton