POLITICS

The NT Youth Detention Revelations Have Been Known For A Year

The Four Corners report finally forced some government action.

26/07/2016 10:29 AM AEST | Updated 26/07/2016 11:49 AM AEST
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ABC Four Corners
A boy is held against a wall at the Don Dale centre.

After the ABC's Four Corners program aired startling and shocking footage of the treatment of children inside a Northern Territory detention centre, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull almost immediately announced a Royal Commission to investigate treatment of children and the conduct of centre staff. That's good news.

But, as many have pointed out on Tuesday, the revelations are not new. They have been known for almost a year, and it took the horrifying television footage to prompt action from our political leaders.

Vision of children as young as 10 being tear gassed, shackled, stripped and -- in the words of the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner at the time -- "tortured" inside the Don Dale centre in Darwin was aired by Four Corners. The actions of guards and centre staff were instantly condemned by commentators including Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs, who appeared on the ABC's Q&A program after Four Corners aired.

However, despite welcoming the push for a Royal Commission into the centre, many were upset that it took so long for such action to come. The Four Corners program comes almost a year after the Northern Territory Children's Commission published a report on its website detailing most of the incidents shown and described on Monday night. The The 'Don Dale Youth Detention Centre Report to Minister' -- which outlines the use of tear gas on children, the use of hoods and handcuffs, and that children were placed in unhygienic solitary confinement for long periods of time -- was released in September 2015.

The report was front page news in indigenous publication Koori Mail upon its release.

The report's release was also covered extensively in mainstream national media including the ABC, The Guardian and The Daily Mail -- here, here, here, here, here, here and here -- and by human rights organisations such as Amnesty.

Priscilla Collins, of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, said her agency had been trying to raise awareness of the issues at Don Dale for some time. She told Sky News that her organisation had been pushing for action "for a number of years" and that there had been a "number of investigation reports presented to the government and nothing has been acted upon".

The NT's opposition leader Michael Gunner claimed "we have all failed our children" and said "we have to act now".

In a joint statement, four federal Labor politicians -- acting leader of the opposition Tanya Plibersek, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus, shadow assistant minister for indigenous affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Patrick Dodson and shadow assistant minister for Northern Australia Warren Snowdon -- supported a Royal Commission and called on the NT government to immediately address the issues.

"It is now evident that the abuse of young prisoners at the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre in Darwin in 2014 was not an isolated incident, but that systemic problems are spread far more widely throughout the Territory's prison system. A far-ranging inquiry is clearly now necessary," the Labor statement said.

"We stand ready to work with the Government on the Terms of Reference of the Commission, which should not be limited to the incidents at Don Dale but should include systemic issues in the juvenile justice system."

"As a matter of urgency, the Northern Territory Government must provide assurances that serious action has been taken to ensure the practices documented by Four Corners are no longer occurring anywhere in the Territory, and that the children shown in last night's episode are no longer in danger."

The Greens have called for the Royal Commission to be expanded to all Australian states and territories, and also claimed that the Northern Territory government had failed to act.

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