Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Northern Territory youth detention, appointing former NT chief justice Brian Ross Martin as royal commissioner.
The principle term of the commission, which was sparked by footage of brutal abuse at the NT’s Don Dale detention centre, will be to examine failings of child protection and youth detention systems administered by the NT government since 2006.
‘As a nation we have a fundamental responsibility to protect our children,’ Mr Turnbull said.
‘Any case of mistreatment or abuse of our children diminishes all of us; every child in our justice system must be treated with humanity and respect at all times,’ he said.
Outlining the ten terms of reference, Attorney-General George Brandis said he wanted to ensure the scope of the commission was ‘sufficiently focused’, as well as ‘wide and comprehensive’ enough to look beyond the Don Dale centre and beyond the NT youth detention system itself.
‘These terms of reference…seek to, therefore, make the scope of the royal commission comprehensive enough to get to the bottom of the problems without being so vague and amorphous that it would go on forever and not come up with particular and specific solutions to real problems.’
It will also look at the treatment of children in all youth centres run by that government, including Don Dale, and consider if there were any breaches of Commonwealth or territory law or human rights obligations.
Mr Brandis announced the commissioner would also investigate whether safeguards were in place and whether there were problems within the organisational culture of the centres.
Mr Martin will also look at whether two reports about the abuse at Don Dale in January and August 2015 were sufficiently considered and whether more should have been done by the NT government.
Royal Commissioner Brian Martin AO QC has served as a former NT Chief Justice, a Justice of the SA Supreme Court, a Justice of the WA Supreme Court, and as a Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mr Turnbull describes Mr Martin as ‘a man of immense legal expertise, immense experience, a distinguished judge, who has also a very keen understanding of the special challenges and circumstances in the Northern Territory’.
‘Mr Martin is extremely well-qualified for this task,’ he said.
Mr Turnbull also said Mr Martin has a ‘deep familiarity with issues arising from the engagement of Indigenous people with criminal justice’.
‘It’s also important to recognise, in the Territory, a significant number of these young people (in detention) are Aboriginal and Indigenous people,’ Mr Turnbull said.
‘Indigenous Australians make up 45 per cent of the 10-17-year-old population of the Northern Territory, but 95 per cent of that age cohort are in detention.’
Mr Turnbull confirmed the terms of reference were developed in joint consultation with NT chief minister Adam Giles.
Mr Giles told Sky News earlier that one of the most important outcomes of the commission needs to be ‘that we continue to provide the right levels of protection for children in detention centres and that we continue to improve our processes’.
‘The commission should have access to all available materials – CCTV footage from inside detention facilities whether it was the old one or the current one that’s being used – to identify if there has been any illegal acts committed in the past,’ Mr Giles said.
Mr Turnbull wants a report for government by early next year.