SUNDAY, 31 JULY 2016

SUNDAY, 31 JULY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into NT juvenile detention.

KELLY: Patrick Dodson, welcome to Insiders.

DODSON: Thank you very much, Fran.

KELLY: By any measure, the Prime Minister's judgement or measure of how we as a nation look after our children, we are failing to look after the children in our care. There's a lot of hope but there's also growing doubts about the capacity of this Royal Commission as it's designed now to fix that. What's your view?

DODSON: I think there is. There's a lot of concern about the lack of consultation, the lack of preparedness to hear the views of the Aboriginal organisations and communities in the Northern Territory, to listen to what they've got to say. There's concern that's mounted over the appointment of the particular relevant Royal Commissioner and obviously there is concerns that Aboriginal co-commissioners should be appointed to try and salvage what the best intentions are of the Government and certainly what the Labor Party's got to support.

KELLY: Do you share any of those concerns? Do you share the concerns, for instance, over the appointment of Brian Martin? He is a former Chief Justice in the Northern Territory. Some feel strongly that that means he was embedded, he there was presiding over the system that put these kids in detention, that allowed them to be treated like that and he's not the right man for the job. What do you think?

DODSON: Well, Fran, all I can say is that justice has to be done and it has to be seen to be done and in this case there are many people who are concerned about the appointment but that's the facts of life, the Prime Minister's picked him. I don't think that's going to change. What we've got to do now is make sure this Royal Commission can in fact respond to the needs of the Indigenous community, the improvement to that awful criminal justice system and the way these detention camps are operated.

KELLY: Just to be clear, do you think it is essential, given that justice needs to be seen to be done and there are these concerns about Brian Martin, it's imperative that an Indigenous co-commissioner, at least one if not two, be appointed?

DODSON: Absolutely. There has to be Aboriginal participation as a commissioner with the terms of reference to deal with many of the other factors that are underlying why these young people come in to custody in the first place. This commissioner will not be able to cover all the matters that are in his terms of reference and unfortunately, if it's just left to one commissioner without any knowledge of the culture and the social norms or the backgrounds of these families, then it's going to be very difficult for him to do justice to them.

KELLY: Many have no trust in the Northern Territory either. Is it appropriate for the Northern Territory to be working in conjunction with the Federal Government on this Royal Commission when the Northern Territory is the Government that has presided over this brutal system?

DODSON: I think the Northern Territory Government should only ever be subpoenaed to present their arguments and their justifications before this Royal Commissioner in order to show it is absolutely independent of the Northern Territory administration.

KELLY: Adam Giles is the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, the first Indigenous Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, did you expect more from Adam Giles?

DODSON: The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory has demonstrated he's incompetent to deal with this matter and I don't think he should be in any way influencing it. He should be subpoenaed to appear before it and justify what his activities have been in relation to all the knowledge that's been readily available.

KELLY: Some have called for the resignation of Adam Giles on the basis not just of what we saw on Four Corners but that his Government just this year legalised the use of those restraint chairs, the use of the spit hoods. What do you think? Should Adam Giles resign?

DODSON: Well, I know the election in the Northern Territory is coming very soon. It's up to the electors of the Northern Territory if they want to reinstate him as the Chief Minister. There is some discussion that he may be replacing the current Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Senate at some point. That would be an absolute travesty of justice.

KELLY: The treatment we saw on Four Corners meted out to the kids, the gassing, isolation, restraint, chairs, spit hoods, they have been the subject of a number of reports to Government. Ministers knew about it, politicians knew about it, bureaucrats knew about it, lawyers knew about it, the media knew about it but there was no sustained outrage. How do you explain that?

DODSON: I think the Australian public becomes a bit callous when they are confronted by the awful negative things that happen in the Indigenous society. I think if we'd have taken notice, seriously, of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody, which proposed that we set up what we call AJACs, Aboriginal Justice Committees that looked at where the criminal justice system was going whether we're reducing custody or improving the way we deal with people in custody, if we'd done that 25 years ago we may be in a different position.

KELLY: I want to come back to the 331 recommendations of the Royal Commission which you were a commissioner on but just the fact that this was all out there, this was all known and it took the pictures on Four Corners to get this response, some have called that cultural complacency but is racism a better word for it? 97 percent of the kids in the juvenile detention centres in the Northern Territory are Indigenous.

DODSON: Racism pertains in these institutional frameworks. We've got to admit that and deal with it. The attitudes and intent of these officers or other officers who have care and custody of Aboriginal people, there's got to be a sense of what's their attitudes, what's their psychological make-up? And it's a bullying activity. It's actually unbecoming of a grown man to punch, hurt, harm and throw kids around in any way, shape or form. If that's racism because the kid happens to have a different colour skin, well, that's racism.

KELLY: Patrick Dodson, the Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, he is out at Garma today and he'll give a speech today where he says the measure of the success of this Royal Commission is where will those boys that we saw on our television sets on Monday night, where will they be in 10 years' time. Is that a worthy benchmark?

DODSON: I think there's been a heck of a lot of damage done to these boys and remember there are another 30 or so kids in detention, some are in the Northern Territory. The damage done to them, we only have to look at the outcomes of grown human beings through the institutional abuse of kids in custody or in the care of religious institutions and the damage that was done to those individuals. It's gonna be very hard for a lot of these young people who are gonna have to face a future without a lot of support and will live with the scars of what's happen to them for - I can't see this being remedied in the short-term.

KELLY: Let's look at some possible solutions because there's only 720 children in detention across the country, it costs $440 million to care for them or lock them up, 39 of them in the Northern Territory at a cost of more than $100,000 per youth, per child. Something's very wrong with that cost-benefit analysis obviously. Can you suggest now more effective ways of dealing with these kids?

DODSON: I think you've got to look at diversionary programs, you've got to look at better background reports to magistrates and courts, you've got to remove mandatory type sentencing arrangements, look towards rehabilitation as treatment as opposed to punitive reaction measures. We've got to look at a more humane approach to this. We certainly should be adopting the protocol on torture so that people who behave in this manner can be brought to account and that kids or young people taken to into custody can be protected by the law and not left to the whims and fancy of people who administer the policies of Governments that particularly want to be vindictive.

KELLY: Should there be charges laid against people who we saw on camera the other night? Should that happen even before the Royal Commission?

DODSON: I think if you've committed an offence the police ought to act immediately and charge people and bring them before the court.

KELLY: The bigger question is, how we prevent these kids getting into the juvenile justice system in the first place, isn't it? It doesn't start with the kids, it starts with the alcohol, starts with the addiction, starts with the family dysfunction. It is a bigger question.

DODSON: Well, absolutely a big question and this Royal Commission isn't going to deal with that unfortunately and that's why you need the support for the Aboriginal commissioners that Bill Shorten has called for on their behalf. You actually need to have an Aboriginal perspective influencing the way this commission is going to be designed and run if you're going to really respond to those underlying issues that are giving rise to the levels of these young people coming into the criminal justice system.

KELLY: You were a commissioner on the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody 25 years ago. That Royal Commission came up with 331 recommendations. Only a few have really been enacted fully. 25 years on, what are the three recommendations you would make now that Government should act on immediately to make a difference?

DODSON: The Royal Commission didn't deal with youth so I would be recommending that we have a far more wide ranging inquiry into the whole question of juvenile justice across Australia. There's already evidence that there's wrong behaviour taking place in other jurisdictions. We ought to be looking clearly at how families are operating, what the circumstances are, where they can be helped, what are the wrap-around services that should be upgraded and improved and we should be looking particularly at how the women are being supported as well because they're growing in number in the incarceration area.

KELLY: It's been a difficult week I think, for anyone who saw that footage on Four Corners on Monday night. How do you feel at the ends of this week? Do you feel hopeful? Do you feel angry? Do you feel beaten?

DODSON: Well, I feel a wee bit disappointed because the Labor Party put forward a very strong platform on youth, a very strong platform on putting people first. Obviously the phrase - the Malcolm Turnbull Government didn't bother to consult with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. I hope this commissioner actually addresses or goes and visits the families of all these kids, understands what the circumstances are, that they're living in, whatever predicaments they have, and why they ended up in the custody arrangements that happened as well as what happens when they get into custody.

KELLY: Senator Dodson, thank you very much for joining us on Insiders.



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