Westrail targets Aboriginal passengers

August 6, 1997

By Sean Martin-Iverson

PERTH — Westrail plans spend $3 million on a campaign against a small group of Aboriginal youths accused of terrorising people on Perth trains. It will increase the number of special train constables from 87 to 107 and the number of stations under video surveillance from 10 to 14.

Westrail commissioner, Ross Drabble, says these measures will prevent disruptions and violence on the trains, which he blames on a gang of 40 or so young Aborigines. He argues that "the Railway Act gives me the right to quarantine people". Opposition leader Geoff Gallop has called for a three-month blitz on "train thuggery" by "teenage louts".

Aboriginal rights activist Clarrie Isaacs, previously a consultant to Westrail, expressed concern about the lack of training for train guards and their confrontational mentality. There are very few Aboriginal train guards and any group of young Aborigines that board a train are already likely to be met by guards.

Westrail and the state government are focusing on high profile control rather than constructive action. "Most of the difficulties are caused by the government's neglect of youth, the failure to do anything constructive about youth unemployment. The inadequacy of the public transport system adds to the problem", Isaacs said. "When individuals are singled out for harassment on the basis of the colour of their skin, what is this but racism?".

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