South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson has come under fire from Indigenous leaders over his October 11 statement that a "hard core group of repeat offenders" were "pure evil" and could not be rehabilitated.
Leaders of what the mainstream media have repeatedly described as an "Aboriginal gang" faced court this week. Some are charged with up to 33 offences in relation to a crime spree across Adelaide over the past three weeks.
Atkinson told media on October 12: "This is not about a lack of taxpayers' money going into rehabilitation, it's about pure evil."
Atkinson also targeted the Aboriginality of those charged. "The gang of 49 is not an exclusively Aboriginal entity but it is an overwhelming Aboriginal entity and there's no wriggling out of that", he said.
"The best thing you can do for some of these young Aboriginal boys is to put them into detention and give their life some structure", he said.
Premier Mike Rann defended Atkinson from accusations of racism.
Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement head Neil Gillespie denounced the remarks as "inflammatory".
He told Radio Adelaide: "Surely there are appropriate programs, appropriate professional people that can assist the alleged offenders to rehabilitate."
Former ATSIC chairperson Lowitja O'Donohue echoed Gillespie's remarks, saying that people in her community need help, and that the attorney general's comments were "unhelpful". "I'm not happy that an attorney-general should be speaking like that and obviously they need help", she said, reported the October 12 ABC Online.
The South Australian ALP government has tabled legislation to detain all youth offenders for the full length of their sentencing, unless it can be proven that they have earned the right to be released early.
Not to be outdone, Liberal Party shadow attorney general Vicki Chapman told Radio Adelaide on October 15: "They really are difficult children and they've got all sorts of hideous backgrounds and they are nasty little pieces of work."