Malcolm Turnbull Announces Royal Commission After Don Dale Exposé


Earlier in the morning the NT’s Chief Minister stood by his government’s “tough approach” to crime. Max Chalmers reports.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced there will be a Royal Commission into the Northern Territory’s juvenile detention centres, after the ABC’s Four Corners aired shocking images of the treatment of boys held in Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre.

Speaking on ABC radio this morning, Turnbull indicated the inquiry would focus on the Centre and raise issues relating to juvenile detention in the NT, though declined to outline specific Terms of Reference.

“We will be establishing a royal commission into these events, into this centre,” the Prime Minister said. “We intend to do so jointly with the NT government.”

“We will get to the bottom of what happened here. We want to know how this came about, we want to know what lessons can be learnt form it, we want to know why there were inquiries into this centre which did not turn the evidence and the information that we saw on Four Corners last night. This is a shocking state of affairs.”

The Four Corners episode obtained images from within the Centre showing children being violently restrained for hours at a time, forcefully stripped naked by officers, and tear gassed. In one scene, officers laugh as a child cries out in pain after the gas is deployed.

The pictures have provoked comparisons to Abu Ghraib, with many viewers saying they were left in tears or could not bring themselves to watch the full episode.

A screencap from the July 25 Four Corners program.
A screencap from the July 25 Four Corners program.

Turnbull declined to give a specific timeline but said this would occur quickly and would probe Don Dale’s culture, and why it was allowed to remain “unrevealed for so long”.

In fact, many of the incidents depicted by Four Corners last night have been reported on in the past. The Northern Territory’s Commissioner for Corrections even ‘slammed’ a report reflecting on many of the events depicted in last night’s episode after its release in 2015. That report was repeatedly highlighted by human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch.

Turnbull said he had consulted with NT Chief Minister Adam Giles, as well as Attorney-General George Brandis, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, and Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, and that a Commissioner would soon be selected.

But in a statement released earlier this morning, Giles reiterated his support for correctional facilities staff and said his government “does not resile from its tough approach to those who don’t want to respect others [sic]people’s property or safety”.

He said he would seek advice on establishing a royal commission and said he was “shocked and disgusted” by the events depicted in the program.


The NT Country Liberal Party government is facing an election on August 27.

Despite anger in the wake of the Four Corners episode, NT locals had previously called for children who escaped from the centre to be “shot” for target practice, and fried on electric fences, after police took to ‘naming and shaming’ juvenile offenders.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.