POLITICS

The Political Response To The NT Abuse Scandal Lacks Accountability

And we have questions.

04/08/2016 12:06 PM AEST | Updated August 4, 2016 15:58

The Northern Territory Government's botched handling and tepid political response to the abuse of teenage boys in detention has raised questions about who knew what, and when, and their suitability to continue governing what has become Australia's most scrutinised parliament.

Over the past two weeks, Adam Giles' Government has half-stepped and questionably denied the extent of their knowledge of the degrading treatment of juvenile detainees at the Don Dale facility, revealed in confronting footage aired by ABC's Four Corners.

The ramifications for the juvenile justice scandal has extended beyond Darwin to Canberra, where a mishandled Royal Commission and the role of Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion have drawn considerable criticism.

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Scullion told journalists he was only vaguely aware of reports into Don Dale last week, before admitting his department received a briefing in October last year

Scullion on Thursday rejected calls to resign over his response to the scandal. Reconciliation Australia co-chair Tom Calma on Wednesday called on Scullion -- who first said the stories of Indigenous boys being abused at the now infamous facility didn't pique his interest -- to consider resigning, backing earlier calls from The Northern Territory Land Council.

On Wednesday night Scullion admitted he asked his department for an official brief on abuse claims in the Northern Territory in October last year, despite earlier claiming he had not been told about it.

The day after the scandal broke, he told reporters he knew only of media reports into the heavy handed tactics at the centre.

"Yes, this is my patch, and the last time, just for clarity, I can recall back in October vaguely last year, there was some commentary in the media about this, but it was all about 'this has all been taken care of', 'there is another investigation and we are adopting recommendations' and that sort of thing," he said at the time.

Citing his response to the Don Dale scandal and his performance in his three years in the Indigenous affairs portfolio, Calma, a former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner accused Scullion of failing to consult with key Indigenous representative groups.

"Any minister who is not willing to engage with the community they represent and want to listen to them and work cooperatively with them, shouldn't be a minister," Professor Calma said.

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'This Stinks' -- Four Corner's reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna calls out Scullion's initial response to the scandal.

While Scullion's political fate is undecided, it's hard to see him lasting long.

On Wednesday night Scullion, in what critics say is an attempt to save his own hide within the Indigenous community, broke with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to say Parliament should consider a treaty with Indigenous Australians if it is recommended by the recognition referendum council.

It is a move likely to anger the right of the Liberal party and pique the ire of his two most prominent backers over the past week -- the PM and Attorney-General George Brandis.

ADAM GILES AND HIS GOVERNMENT

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NT Chief Minister Adam Giles has been heavily criticised for his response to the scandal

Chief Minister of the Northern Territory since 2013, was in power during the 2014 tear-gassing of teenagers at Don Dale, an event that at the time was described as a "riot" by officials despite just one teenager escaping his cell.

Last year an NT children's commissioner report, tabled in the NT parliament in September, cited the footage of the tear gassing incident and found found corrections staff had failed to use adequate de-escalation techniques and used restraints and spit hoods during the incident.

After the nation was left shocked by the brutal imagery revealed by Four Corners, Giles clumsily attempt to obfuscate the responsibility of his government.

The Chief Minister at one point raised the suggestion the Four Corners program was part of a Labor plot.

Giles, whose government had received reports into the treatment of juvenile detainees over the past three years, seemingly ignored their findings until he was left "shocked" by the Four Corners footage.

His claim that he was unaware of the footage "beggars belief," according to the producer of the program.

Giles, along with 12 other Country Liberal Party colleagues, voted in May this year to introduce the restraint chair that a hooded 17-year-old Dylan Voller was tied to for close to two hours.

When the NT government first faced criticism over the chairs in April -- when the ABC first began to publish stories about Voller -- Giles reportedly said he would investigate.

Three months later and it became sharply apparent he didn't investigate that hard.

JOHN ELFERINK

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Sacked Corrections minister John Elferink remains Attorney General and Minister for Children in the NT

John Elferink, who until last week was the NT's Corrections Minister before being stripped of the portfolio by his boss, fled to South Australia after the Four Corners story broke after reportedly receiving death threats.

It emerged after the footage of the abuse was aired Elferink's department was counter suing two boys who had lodged complaints about their treatment. The counter suit was quickly dropped as public anger mounted.

He has so far declined to answer questions in detail, telling journalists earlier this week he will address "misconceptions" about youth justice in the NT, and that the Royal Commission would be the appropriate venue to answer them.

Elferink, who sometimes signs off on documents as "Elf", announced long before the scandal broke he would be stepping down at the August 27 Northern Territory election. The Royal Commission is expected to begin hearings in October.

Stripped of his Corrections Portfolio, Elferink remains the minister for Children and Families and Attorney General in the territory.

MALCOLM TURNBULL AND GEORGE BRANDIS

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Brian Ross Martin as Royal Commissioner of the Royal Commission into child protection and youth detention systems of the Northern Territory. Martin stood aside days later.

The Prime Minister has been commended for promptly launching the Royal Commission, even if the government's first choice of commissioner, former NT Supreme Court Chief Brian Ross Martin, felt the need to step down.

The Federal Government, in the rapid lead-up to launching the commission, was accused of not properly consulting the NT's indigenous communities.

Martin's decision to go came after he acknowledged he no longer had the support of the Indigenous community.

But both the PM and Brandis have given their full throated backing to both Giles and Scullion, despite mounting evidence of their professional incompetence.

Despite the nation's shock, the long-term response to the abuses in juvenile justice is more than likely to just fade away.

"One of the things that always upset me about moments like this, when the public becomes very acutely aware of facility abuses, is that these moments appear idiosyncratic to members of the public," Vincent Schiraldi told journalists this week.

Schiraldi, who leads the Criminal Justice Policy and Management program at the Harvard Kennedy School, said he was angered by the Don Dale footage.

"It appears as though they're a one off, and the temptation is to close this facility, or fire the superintendent or hold this governor accountable.

"Really these kind of abuses should be seen as endemic. The pattern tends to be a cycle of scandal, followed by calls for reform, followed by temporary and surface level reforms, the public's attention moves on to different subjects, there's gradual empathy and once again scandal."

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