Malcolm Turnbull rejects calls for royal commission into juvenile justice system to go national

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull Photo: Nic Walker
Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull Photo: Nic Walker

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is resisting pressure to expand the royal commission into the juvenile justice system beyond the Northern Territory, arguing it needs to remain focused to achieve success and suggesting other jurisdictions can hold their own inquiries.

As the government's thinking on the royal commission's terms of reference evolves and awaits finalisation at Thursday's cabinet meeting, Indigenous leaders, the Human Rights Commission and figures from other states have said the scope should be broadened.

"Royal commissions are successful and effective when they have a focused terms of reference and can do the job quickly and report and then action can be taken," the Prime Minister told ABC radio.

"So this royal commission, which will be done in collaboration with the Northern Territory government, will be focused on the youth detention centres and youth detention practices of the Northern Territory that were the subject of the Four Corners program."

Mr Turnbull initially announced the royal commission would be into Darwin's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre on Tuesday morning following the airing of the ABC's investigation, but there soon emerged widespread and bipartisan agreement from the community that any inquiry should examine systemic issues in youth detention across the territory.

After appearing to narrow the inquiry on Tuesday afternoon, Attorney-General George Brandis later said the "principal focus" would be the centre but that the terms of reference would be "broad enough to examine abuses and practises across the juvenile detention system".

The royal commission is being jointly conducted with the NT government and Chief Minister Adam Giles has said he had the scope expanded to include the child protection system as well.

A coalition of Indigenous land councils and medical and legal organisations has called for the Territory government to be kept at arm's length from the inquiry "because it is part of the problem under investigation".

"We do not make this call lightly but any government that enacts policies designed to harm children and enables a culture of brutalisation and cover-ups, surrenders its right to govern," the Central Land Council, Northern Land Council, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and others wrote.

Mr Turnbull wants a directions hearing in August, evidence to be heard from September to November and a report to be delivered early next year.

He said he had received assurances from Mr Giles that children in the justice system were now safe and no longer being subjected to the disturbing treatment featured on Four Corners. 

"We need to get this matter investigated quickly. If you spread it out to be an all Australia inquiry, it would go on for years and you won't get the answers you need in respect of the Northern Territory," he said.

Responding to claims from youth workers in Townsville detention centres that they have been sacked for speaking out about issues there, the Prime Minister said the state government could hold its own inquiry if it wished.

The Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has called for a two-phase royal commission in which the immediate issues in the NT are addressed, followed by a national investigation that also focuses on Indigenous youth.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) expressed hope it would be Australia-wide.

Acting opposition leader Tanya Plibersek expressed openness to this and said "it's very important that this inquiry goes beyond the Don Dale facility, that it looks at the whole of the juvenile justice system ... in the Northern Territory and, indeed, if there is a case for others states to be involved, we're very open to looking at other states and territories".

This story Malcolm Turnbull rejects calls for royal commission into juvenile justice system to go national first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.