Royal Commission into the detention of children in the Northern Territory
The appointment of commissioners and the drafting of the terms of reference has now been finalised for the Royal Commission into the Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Following the withdrawal of Hon. Brian Ross Martin (AO), the Commission is to be now headed by Hon. Margaret White (AO) and Mick Gooda. Margaret White is a former Justice of Appeals of the Queensland Court of Appeal. Her Honour was the first female to be appointed to the Queensland Supreme Court in 1992. Mick Gooda is the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. He is a member of the Gangulu people in Central Australia, and former officer of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.
The Commission, which is to commence directions hearings in September will focus primarily on youth detention in the NT since the implementation of the Youth Justice Act in 2005. It will consider not only the operation of the Don Dale youth detention facility, which was the subject of a recent Four Corner’s report, but also other detention facilities across the Territory. The terms of reference, which outline the scope of the Commission’s inquiry, consists of 13 issues. They include, inter alia, whether the treatment of children in detention centres amount to a breach of the law, whether there were any deficiencies in the organisational culture and management of facilities, and recommendations for preventing inappropriate treatment of youth detainees in the future. It is hoped that a final report regarding the Commission’s findings will be released in early 2017.
In anticipation of the Commission, the Police Youth Detention Task Force has been assembled to conduct investigations into allegations of youth detention abuse. The Taskforce has called for any person with information regarding allegations of abuse in the past 10 years to be in contact with them.
According to the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), 97% of children in NT juvenile detention centres are Indigenous, which is six times the national average. The NT has the highest proportion per 100,000 youth in detention, with over 60% of youth detainees in the care of the NT Department of Children and Family Services. There are at least three youth detention facilities in the NT: Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre, Alice Springs Youth Holding Centre (ASJHC), and Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, Darwin.
Self Rumbewas, Solicitor