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HomeIssue 6Brian Martin steps down from Royal Commission

Brian Martin steps down from Royal Commission

p2344 Brian Martin 1
UPDATE, 1 August, 2.30pm: Donna Ah Chee, speaking on behalf of the Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the NT, says that is “pleasing” that an Aboriginal person has been appointed as co-commissioner.
Mr Gooda, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, is known to Aboriginal people in the NT. However, it is is “disappointing” that this role has not been filled by an Aboriginal person from the Territory, who could provide a “contextual viewpoint and contribution” to the co-commssioner (former Justice White from Queensland).
This said, Ms Ah Chee thinks it is time now to move on, let the Royal Commission happen, and hope that it can deliver some “good outcomes for our young people”.
UPDATE, 1 August, 1.20pm: National media are reporting that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and retired Queensland judge Margaret White will jointly head the Royal Commission.
UPDATE, 1 August, 1.10 pm: Mr Martin, former Chief Justice of the Norther Territory, made his announcement at a press conference today in Parliament House, Canberra.  In a written statement he said:
“It is essential that those persons and organisations directly affected by the inquiry, and the broader community, have full confidence in the independence and competence of the Commissioner and, ultimately, in the findings of the Commissioner …
“It has become apparent that, rightly or wrongly, in this role I would not have the full confidence of sections of the Indigenous community which has a vital interest in the inquiry. As a consequence, the effectiveness of the Commission is likely to be compromised from the outset.
“I am not prepared to provide in the face of that risk.”
He also said his resignation did not imply doubt of his own capacity to be independent and competent, nor did it imply any criticism of the Government, the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General.
Mr Martin’s replacement is expected to be announced today.
Northern Territory Aboriginal peak organisations have welcomed the announcement that Commissioner Brian Martin is stepping down from his role on the Royal Commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory.
They are asking for the appointment of someone with no professional relationships to the Territory, such a s a retired former High Court judge, and two Indigenous co-commissioners, a male and female.
“This is an opportunity for a fresh start on the process of forming this Commission,” spokesperson John Paterson said.
“We would like to thank the Commissioner for his courageous and difficult decision.
“We appreciate these past few days must have been a stressful time for him and his family and we commend his action in the face of the controversy that has surrounded the issue.
“We welcome his acknowledgement that his decision has been made foremost in the best interests of our children who are the subject of this inquiry.
“We wish to make it clear that his stepping down in no way reflects on his standing or capacity and we acknowledge his distinguished legal career.
“We again call on the Prime Minister and the Attorney General to consult with us on any further appointments to the Royal Commission,” spokesperson Donna Ah Chee said.
“The Commission should only be headed by somebody who is truly independent with no prior professional relationships in the NT.
“We are asking for a former High Court judge or someone of similar standing to be appointed.
“The Government must consult with us if this process is to be regarded as credible and if we are to have confidence in this Royal Commission and its deliberations.
“It is also essential that we have strong Aboriginal Co-Commissioners – Aboriginal people with standing and knowledge of the Aboriginal community in the NT – to ensure that it a culturally safe and inclusive process. We are calling for two Aboriginal Co-Commissioners, a male and female.
“This is an important opportunity to get this right and work with us rather than to us,” Mr Paterson concluded.
Source: APO NT media release.


  1. I welcome this decision by Brian Martin as I also welcome the appointment of Nick Gooda and Margret White to head the Commission.
    Wide community acceptance and trust in the commissioners is of the utmost importance if we are to bring about the level of change necessary to move youth justice into the 21st century.
    Let’s hope the commission can now get to work, hopefully dedicating more of its energy on where we go from here than on hunting down scapegoats for where we’ve been.
    I believe much of the horror of what we witnessed was due to Corrections staff being forced to work in outdated facilities that were designed sometime during the dark ages – to punish.
    Living and working in such facilities could not help but breed or reinforce a culture of punishment over and above rehabilitation.
    In order to signal the level of change necessary to bring Corrections into the 21st century I hope as its first act the commission orders the closure of these facilities, and as its final act in a nation-wide signal of change the commission orders their demolition!
    Never again should we find such a place in the processors of youth justice, because justice for youth and community is rehabilitation!

  2. @ Brown: No, Steve, the scapegoats need to be hunted down in the Country Liberal Party and the Labor Party (previous ministers for corrections and children’s services) and dealt with according to law, so this never happens again.
    If this commission doesn’t get them, then let’s hope like hell 1 Territory gets elected, because the Independant Commission Against Corruption we introduce, complete with whistle blower legislation, will. That is an iron clad gaurantee.

  3. Sure Braedon, I’m quite certain that plenty like yourself and the Braedon Early Party, will spend their time squabbling in the darkness pointing finger’s.
    What I hope to see from the commission is a clear vision for the future in the form of a very deliberate step away from past practice into a rehabilitation based corrections system.
    I’ll leave the dinosaur naval gazing stuff to those who are much better at it.

  4. When the controversy, political point scoring and emotion subsides for a moment over the appointment of the Royal Commissioners, the next critical issue to be decided is the terms of reference.
    By the time the controversy, political point scoring and emotion sudsides for a moment over the setting of the terms of reference, the next important issue will be the calling of witnesses. Then, by the time the controversy, political point scoring and emotion subsides for a moment over the calling of witnesses, the next issue will no doubt will be the question of the timeframe of the inquiry and which media outlets get the TV rights.
    The incredible cost, the incredible lengtb of the inquiry, the incredible media-generated divisions of public opinion over the Commission’s recommendations and their implementation will then be endlessly debated on all sides.
    Then of course there is the ALA’s contention that the Australian legal system is racist against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
    Does anyone ever get the feeling that Royal Commissions can be hijacked for political purposes and that there may be a better way?
    Perhaps the concept of the Royal Commission has passed its used-by date and is a dinosaur that is seriously limited in its ability to properly resolve the big social issues placed before it in today’s quick-fix world?
    Yes? No?

  5. Steve. No-one was forced to work anywhere. It was a choice. And they chose to treat people in the terrible way they did.
    And your mates in the CLP let it happen or authorised it or supported it or turned a blind eye to the reports of it happening.
    Don’t you think they should take responsibility? Or is that your position going into election: “Put me in charge I’ll do what I like and won’t be held accountable?”

  6. @ John Bell (Posted August 2, 2016 at 7:19 pm): John Bell is correct; as is Noel Pearson on last night’s 7.30 interview on ABC-TV.
    The elephant in the room is that juvenile justice issues in the NT are symptomatic of a far larger malaise which cannot (or will not) be addressed within the scope of this current Royal Commission inquiry.
    Youth crime and anti-social behaviour have been with us for decades, at least as long ago as when I was a child in the early 1970s. In those days children who fell afoul of the law (and there were plenty of them) didn’t go to a juvenile detention centre, they went to jail!
    We regularly hear of cases of rock-throwing at vehicles in town; when I was schoolboy living south of Alice Springs, there were occasions when kids threw rocks in broad daylight at the school bus, sometimes causing damage – and on one memorable occasion these same kids threw their excrement onto the windows and side of the bus. The stench was phenomenal, I’ve never forgotten it. That was over four decades ago.
    Was it always like this? We keep hearing and reading from certain organisations and individuals who hark back to the days of Commonwealth control and policies based on racial discrimination, and these claims are invariably accepted as being accurate representations of that past. They’re wrong.
    There are plenty of examples to show that many of these “facts” of today are misrepresentations of that time and seriously skew the accuracy of our understanding of recent history.
    I’m one of a cohort of about 2000 infants born at the Alice Springs Hospital in the early 1960s when the charge sister of the maternity ward was a local Aboriginal woman, Rona Glynn.
    She was one of the most highly regarded individuals in Central Australia in her day. A decade before I was born she was a qualified teacher at the Hartley Street School, she actually began work at age 16. That was in the bad old days of Commonwealth control, yes?
    When the Little Flower Mission established Santa Teresa in 1953, it was the Aboriginal people who built houses made from stone cut from the hills.
    I believe those buildings are still there, perhaps they should be heritage-listed. A decade later the same thing occurred at Hermannsburg, the work conducted by Aboriginal people without European supervision.
    Public open days were hosted at Hermannsburg to proudly show off the achievements of the residents. Similarly in other new remote communities across inland Australia it was the Aboriginal people who did the construction work. Today we spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for tradespeople to travel to Aboriginal communities to build their houses for them, or repair older houses that have been trashed.
    The same applies for primary industry. Most of us are familiar with the notion of how important Aboriginal people were with the establishment of the pastoral industry; for example, when my father began work as a teenage jackeroo on Elkedra Station in 1953, the majority of both residents and workers on the station were local Aboriginal people. They were very happy and content.
    Aboriginal people were also significant participants in other farming activities. In the 1960s Aboriginal workers from several remote communities travelled interstate to work on farms around Australia, and their work was highly regarded.
    Santa Teresa developed a thriving horticulture venture that by the 1970s was the dominant producer in Central Australia, even exporting produce overseas. Today this venture has long fallen into ruin, while next door on Undoolya Station the Centre’s biggest horticulture enterprise relies on a labour force that travels here from interstate or overseas. Made progress, have we?
    As tourism developed in the Centre from the early 1950s onwards, local Aboriginal people were just as happy to climb to the top of Ayers Rock as anybody else. I know of photos of Aboriginal people happily posing on top of Uluru but we don’t get to see them.
    It’s not worth the controversy or risk of damage to personal relationships, given the prevailing modern mythology that Uluru is a sacred site that shouldn’t be climbed. Such is the nature that our society has become.
    We hear endlessly of the poor standards of education for Aboriginal children of our times. In 1967 Harold Ulamari, a 15 year old student from Newcastle Waters Station, made history (or so it was thought) by becoming the first “full-blood” Aboriginal student in the NT to win a high school English prize.
    He was a boarding student studying at Darwin High School who was reported as “conscientious about his homework and never had to be driven”. He wasn’t the only one there. Bad old days, yes?
    How about health? Look at any photos of Aboriginal people taken up to the end of the 1960s and I challenge you to find one who was overweight. Rare as hen’s teeth.
    The Alice Springs Hospital was redeveloped in the early 1970s, simultaneously when a demographic and planning study for the future development of Alice Springs was undertaken by the Whitlam Government. That document, ironically released in December 1975 (when the Fraser Coalition Government won a landslide election victory), projected Alice Springs’ population to grow to a MINIMUM of 38,000 (and possibly as many as 60,000) residents by the year 2000!
    That’s what was in mind when the Alice Springs Hospital was being redeveloped. Well, to this day we haven’t got anywhere close to that population but the hospital, the town’s largest single employer, is continuously being upgraded over at least the last two decades (including right now) to the tune of many tens of millions of dollars, to mainly cater for Aboriginal patients who comprise a minority (albeit significant) of the Centre’s population.
    I could go on with many more examples. The point is that we’re not being told the truth about our past, and that cripples any effort we make now to try to rectify the horrendous problems we now face.
    It’s actually the case that the problems we have now were being warned about as long ago as the early 1950s. I’ve had no difficulty finding this material, indeed I constantly stumble across it from my general reading.
    How is it that those in the rarefied atmosphere of academia and well-qualified professions are so abysmally ignorant of the recent past or so willing to publicise such grievously misleading interpretations of that time? What is their real motivation for doing so?
    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – there is a need for a far stronger and wide-ranging inquiry into the governance and administration of the Northern Territory since at least the beginning of self-government, something akin to the Fitzgerald Inquiry of Queensland in 1987 (how ironic to note that we’ve just passed the anniversary date of Sir Joh Bjelke-Pedersen becoming the Premier of Queensland in 1968).
    I’ll finish with one more example. In March 1949 the Deputy Leader of the British Conservative Party, Anthony Eden, visited Alice Springs for an overnight stay.
    Amongst all the activities of his visit, Eden visited the students at the Hartley Street School where “he didn’t appear to be aware of the ‘colour bar’ that some of the Southern newspapers have been raising so spontaneously of late. He was noticed shaking hands with white and coloured children with equal pleasantry as he mingled with the scholars just before leaving for the airport on Wednesday morning”.
    One of those scholars was singled out for special mention and a photo published in the Centralian Advocate, shaking hands with Anthony Eden. Her name was Mildred McGinness, “dux of her year in the Intermediate section” – and she was one of the “coloured children”.
    In that same year another Englishman, a dying author, had his final novel released to wide acclaim. He was George Orwell, and his novel entered into the lexicon of the English language – Nineteen Eighty-Four, a story about a regime ruled by Big Brother that alters history to suit its agenda of the day.
    This is Winston Smith – 6079 Smith W. – signing off to retrieve more scraps of recent history before their elimination in the Memory Hole at the Ministry of Truth.


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