Law enforcement authorities in Western Australian have said a new mobile interpreting app will help improve relations with Indigenous communities, especially in areas where English is not commonly spoken.
The technology translates a few common police directions into local languages and has been devised with an Aboriginal interpreting service.
The so-called Yarning app allows Western Australian police officers to select from eight Aboriginal languages and play key messages relating to rights in custody and the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous leaders believe it will save lives by preventing the wrongful imprisonment of people who don’t understand the legal process.
The technology will be available in communities where English is often the third or fourth most commonly used language.
Chris Dawson is the Western Australia police commissioner. He says the app will build trust with indigenous communities.
“What better way to communicate that in language in the sense that we can now offer additional information to overcome confusion or to overcome fear, doubt, whatever it might be. This app is a world first,” he said.
Critics, though, say the app is too basic and ignores deeper problems of racism within Australia’s justice system.
Aboriginal Australians are some of the most incarcerated people on Earth, according to a report commissioned by the government in Canberra in 2019.
Relations with the police have often been fraught. Western Australia has the country’s highest rate of indigenous youth detention. A criminology study by the University of Technology, Sydney, said that since 1991, the number of Indigenous inmates in Australia has more than doubled from 14% to 29% of the total prison population.
More than 780 indigenous languages are identified by First Languages Australia, an organization dedicated to saving linguistic heritage.
It says about 20 languages are used every day by fluent speakers.
Australia’s original inhabitants make up about 3.3% of the Australian population, according to a 2016 Australian Census, but suffer high rates of poverty, ill-health and unemployment.