NT Youth Detention Royal Commission Will Probe Racism ‘If Raised In Evidence’

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed the Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission into the Child Protection and Youth Detention Systems of the Government of the Northern Territory, and announced the commission will be headed by Brian Martin AO, a former Chief Justice of the NT’s Supreme Court.

Despite calls for a broader inquiry, the Terms of Reference focus specifically on the Northern Territory, naming the NT Government a number of times.

Appearing alongside the PM, Attorney-General George Brandis, said the inquiry’s principle purpose would be to look into the failings in the child protection and youth detention systems of the Government of the Northern Territory.

The inquiry will cover the period of the Youth Justice Act, introduced in 2006, but Martin said it would also be able to consider reports from before that period, including the Little Children Are Sacred report.

Asked why racism had not been referred to in the Terms of Reference given the extraordinary disparity in incarceration rates in the NT, Martin insisted that if people giving evidence believe it had played a role they would be able to raise it during the inquiry.

“Whether racism does or doesn’t play a role will be part of the inquiry. This is about child protection systems, it’s about a culture,” he said.

“Naturally, if people believe racism plays a role, well then it’s going to be the subject of evidence before the commission.”

The Commissioner also confirmed that the inquiry would have the ability to call members of the NT government.

The inquiry will have its first directions hearing on September 6, and is expected to be complete by March 31 next year.

Martin has had previous involvement in a royal commission, serving as Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission into WA Inc. He later went on to serve as the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, before being appointed as a Judge on the South Australian Supreme Court.

Today Martin told reporters he did not believe a conflict of interests would arise as a result of his previous position on the NT Court.

Turnbull and Brandis both defended the the inquiry’s Terms of Reference.

“We believe these Terms of reference are but sufficiently focused but at the same time sufficiently broad,” the Attorney-General said.

The Full Terms of reference ask the Commissioner to inquire into:


 

  • failings in the child protection and youth detention systems of the Government of the Northern Territory during the period since the commencement of the Youth Justice Act of the Northern Territory (the relevant period);
  • (b) the treatment, during the relevant period, of children and young persons detained at youth detention facilities administered by the Government of the Northern Territory (the relevant facilities), including the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin;
  • (c) whether any such treatment during the relevant period may:
    • (i) amount to a breach of a law of the Commonwealth; or
    • (ii) amount to a breach of a law in force in the Northern Territory; or
    • (iii) amount to a breach of a duty of care, or any other legal duty, owed by the Government of the Northern Territory to a person detained at any of the relevant facilities; or Page 2
    • (iv) be inconsistent with, or contrary to, a human right or freedom that:
      • (A) is embodied in a law of the Commonwealth or of the Northern Territory; and
      • (B) is recognised or declared by an international instrument; or
    • (v) amount to a breach of a rule, policy, procedure, standard or management practice that applied to any or all of the relevant facilities;
  • (d) both:
    • (i) what oversight mechanisms and safeguards (if any) were in place during the relevant period at the relevant facilities to ensure that the treatment of children and young persons detained is appropriate; and
    • (ii) whether those oversight mechanisms and safeguards have failed, or are failing, to prevent inappropriate treatment, and if so, why;
  • (e) whether, during the relevant period, there were deficiencies in the organisational culture, structure or management in, or in relation to, any or all of the relevant facilities;
  • (f) whether, during the relevant period, more should have been done by the Government of the Northern Territory to take appropriate measures to prevent the recurrence of inappropriate treatment of children and young persons detained at the relevant facilities and, in particular, to act on the recommendations of past reports and reviews, including:
    • (i) the Review of the Northern Territory Youth Detention System Report, of January 2015; and
    • (ii) the Report of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner of the Northern Territory about services at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, of August 2015; Page 3
  • (g) what measures should be adopted by the Government of the Northern Territory, or enacted by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory, to prevent inappropriate treatment of children and young persons detained at the relevant facilities, including:
    • (i) law reform; and
    • (ii) reform of administrative practices; and
    • (iii) reform of oversight measures and safeguards; and
    • (iv) reform of management practices, education, training and suitability of officers; and
    • (v) any other relevant matters;
  • (h) what improvements could be made to the child protection system of the Northern Territory, including the identification of early intervention options and pathways for children at risk of engaging in anti-social behaviour;
  • (i) the access, during the relevant period, by children and young persons detained at the relevant facilities, to appropriate medical care, including psychiatric care;
  • (j) any matter

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Max Chalmers

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

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