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HomeIssue 6Youth detention: The full story not before the election

Youth detention: The full story not before the election

p2345 Abu Grahib MedCOMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
At 8.30pm today it will be two weeks since the ABC’s Four Corners kicked the Northern Territory’s self government in the teeth, with the Prime Minister and our own Chief Minister joining in as accomplices after the fact.
Mr Giles, most likely thinking he was hearing the last nail being hammered into the coffin of his government, straight after the program urged Mr Turnbull to set up a Royal Commission. The Prime Minister did so within 12 hours. Its purpose was made clear in this smug media release last Thursday, attributed to the former Corrections Minister John Elferink.
It said: “There are many misconceptions in the media and the broader community that I will be pleased to address at the appropriate time. The Royal Commission is the proper forum for these topics of considerable public interest to be examined.”
Rubbish. The proper forum would have been one that allows Territorians to make an informed choice before they vote in 19 days’ time, taking into account the crucial issues of policies affecting our young people.
Mr Giles has manoeuvred cynically to deny such a forum to his constituents who are now the target of national and global distain and ridicule: We are “gassing” Aboriginal children – much like the Nazis did the Jews?
A “spit hood” put on a juvenile criminal sentenced to three and a half years and who spits while in contact with guards is reminiscent of what the Americans were doing at Abu Ghraib (pictured at top and below), commentators are claiming. And so on.
When the Territory was known as cowboy country it was half in jest. This lot make us look despicable.
Mr Elferink isn’t retuning calls. His political life will be at an end in less than three weeks. He had announced well before this scandal that he would not re-contest his Assembly seat on August 27.
p2345 Martin, Turnbull, BrandisHis potentially ground breaking achievements in corrections – the Sentenced to a Job program included – should have been as much part of informed and open discussion as any of his failures. Now that buck stops with Mr Giles who is seeking re-election.
PHOTO: Judge Brian Martin, Mr Turnbull and Senator Brandis.
Government sources have now been silenced by Mr Giles until the Royal Commission is good and ready, months from now and safely after the Territory election.
This morning he breached an undertaking to release to the public the Hamburger Report he received yesterday, referring it instead to the Royal Commission. It was written by a former corrections head in Queensland. It will now not be seen by the public until well after the election.
p2345 Abu Grahib 2The hastily set up commission didn’t take long to descend into farce. A Territory judge was appointed commissioner. He is white (and was soon regarded as being to close to the issues). Federal Attorney General George Brandis praised him as an extraordinarily good choice (words to the effect).
Less than one week later the judge was replaced by another commissioner. He is black. Senator Brandis praised his suitability in much the same words he had described the commissioner who turned out not to be suitable.
Then a white woman was appointed as a second commissioner. Do we now have all the race, gender and other boxes nicely ticked? What about the box for the right of Territorians to run their own affairs?
We have some vibrant media, a per-capita number of tertiary educated people second only to Canberra, a resourceful population coping with and enjoying the extremes and challenges of a harsh and beautiful country, and we will be electing a government this month.
Yet our state-like community is now subjected to the knee-jerk reaction by someone 3000 kilometres away, Mr Turnbull. To paraphrase Donald Trump on Vladimir Putin: “If you’re listening” don’t ever let that guy anywhere near the Red Button.
Mr Turnbull has decreed the commission will be limited to examining any “failings in the child protection and youth detention systems” of the NT Government.
The issues are giving new oxygen to the debate about the “disproportional” incarceration of Aboriginal people. There is a belief that locking up blackfellers is a favourite pastime amongst us rednecks in the Territory.
In fact the numbers are vastly out of kilter with white imprisonment rates because so is the offending rate on the one hand, and on the other, the inability of the sclerotic court system to deal swiftly and appropriately with offenders. A great number of people are locked up on remand for periods not remotely reasonable.
And then there is that most tragic reason of all, which won’t pass the lips of politically correct broadcasters, hardly ever make it to the printed or online page: The flagrant neglect by parents of far too many children is at the very core of this avalanche of crime.
There is now a cohort – small but threateningly present – of angry and dangerous young men, and some women, cut adrift from the traditional initiation and moral systems which demanded honour, discipline and sacrifice to the group.
As the grandparents die and the parents drown themselves in alcohol, it’s the young people we must take care of, with skill and love, and immediately.
p2343 Four CornersAs payback has frequently morphed into meaningless brutality, so has the activist propaganda done its work on many of the young, encouraging them to believe the world owes them a living: “Fuck off white trash, you are on Aboriginal land” – that’s the kind of message.
It may well be heard by one of the many white people in this town who dedicate their professional lives to the betterment of Aborigines, and just before they are rolled for their mobile phone and cash.
Regrettably the Royal Commission will have no time for seeking answers to this, and neither did Four Corners.
Many of the issues in its selective reporting had been on the public record for several years. How many problems have already been resolved? Four Corners didn’t tell us but some details have surfaced in these two weeks, including from the Corrections Commissioner and the detainee Dylan Voller.
Four Corners and other ABC programs screened the stripping naked of Voller in a cell by three men. It was profoundly disturbing. The program had an obligation to put that footage clearly into perspective. It did not.
The teenager was considered at risk. The guards were obliged, by regulation, to remove his clothing, which could have been torn and fashioned into a hanging noose. He was given instead a sheet that cannot be torn.
Voller had clearly refused to hand over his clothing. What were the guards to do? It’s not a question Four Corners troubled itself with, and neither did the vast majority of the media dining out on the story.


  1. So what do you do with someone who has said they are going to cause serious self harm and is spitting in the guards faces?
    No one should be spat on in their job. Maybe they could have fitted a mouth mask and not hood .. I don’t know I wasn’t there, it’s easy for everyone to be a back seat driver without being there.
    Also the issue is the treatment of people – ALL people being held there. I find it offensive that all of a sudden it’s becoming about a specific race. It’s about ALL races being mistreated, not one.

  2. The territory government is a gammon cowboy outfit. Thats why we should vote green. Dalton Dupuy is a real cowboy. Ive seen him using a lassoo. And he has the accent.
    But seriously Erwin if you had some understanding of epigenetics and the nuerobiology of trauma you would know that there is some serious work to do healing past trauma in indigenous lives if we are to get the crime and incarceration rate down.
    Prevention is better than a cure and we need to invest in support for children and families and healing before people end up in the justice system.
    The spiralling argument about who is tougher on crime from the major parties just leads to more money spent on jails and little or no impact on the crime rate.

  3. All the Federal and territory ministers have been mercilessly paraded in front of the microphone to read the script “I never knew nothin”.
    Now the Alice free press complains they are also being kept in the dark and that the ABC are presenting old hat as news.
    Information gap, credibility gap or are we lost in pure political excrement?

  4. The editor makes an insightful observation when he says that a Royal Commission (RC) is Canberra-centric, taking the resolution of youth detention and its underlying causes out of the hands of Teŕritorians.
    The major party politicians in Canberra salivate at the prospect of an RC because it does two things:
    [1] it gives them a perfect opportunity to score political points, depending on who the witnesses are who are called to testify; and
    [2] an RC transfers control of the implementation of the RC’s recommendations from state and territory governments in regions where the problems arise to the federal agents on Capital Hill – light years years away from the on-the-ground reality.
    And we all know what happens as a result. The recommendations get bogged down and shelved, according to the whims of the Federal government of the day.
    Make no mistake. Royal Commissions are the political love child of the pollies on Capital Hill. The Federal politicians take control of the RC issues and twist them according to their own political agendas.
    In taking control in this way, the Federal pollies disempower the ordinary people, the people of the NT, regardless of the colour of their skin, regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of the social problems to be resolved in their own back yard.
    What’s the bet that this Canberra-centric RC will be no different?
    My guess is that it will raise more problems than answers and will cause more bitterness and disappointment than ever.

  5. Have I just missed it, or has the Member for Lingiari not made a meaningful public statement on this?
    I agree that Royal Commissions are a bit of a warm bath. Maybe something useful will come out of this one. We can hope.
    And I accept that without narrow(ish) terms of reference, this one could become a never ending story. But has anyone asked, or will someone ask, what our tolerance of mistreatment has done to our sense of responsibility, to our very moral fabric?
    Abu Ghraib of course as it was the first, but Nauru and Manus Island are daily reminders of the politically acceptable face of abuse of others.
    It’s also true, and fair enough, that no one wants to get near someone spitting and scratching and kicking. Instead of physical restraints, what about a tranquilizer dart and then into a padded room where he/she can spit and kick to their heart’s content. The guards will come in the morning to hose it all clean.

  6. The people to fix this is the ABC, they think they are running the country.
    Why have these people not solved the problem and let government authorities do their work?
    And both sides of story should be put forward, not just the ABC’s.

  7. @ John Bell (Posted August 8, 2016 at 11:32 pm): Here’s one for you, John – the recent Four Corners program “Australia’s Shame” has prompted comparisons with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. That Royal Commission was also prompted by a nation-wide campaign following the Four Corners program “Black Death” broadcast on September 23, 1985, which focussed on cases in Western Australian jails.
    It took a while longer for the Federal Government to respond – no kneejerk reaction in those days! – but the RCIABDIC finally got underway in 1987 (one of the commissioners was then CLC director Pat Dodson, incidentally) and lasted for four years.
    This was a nation-wide investigation, not restricted to one state or territory jurisdiction. It’s of interest to note that the NT Minister for Correctional Services who bore the initial responsibility for handling the Territory’s cases chosen for scrutiny in the Royal Commission was none other than Don Dale!
    The RCIABDIC handed its final report down in late April 1991. A few months later the NT Government opened its new facility for youths in custody, the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre, named in honour of the late minister who died the previous year.
    And now we’re about to have a Royal Commission into juvenile detention in the NT …


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