Press Conference with Attorney General & Hon Brian Martin AO QC Canberra

Transcript
28 Jul 2016
Canberra
Prime Minister, Attorney-General
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon. As a nation, we have a fundamental responsibility to protect our children. Any case of mistreatment or abuse of our children diminishes all of us. Every child in our justice system must be treated with humanity and respect at all times.

At the start of this week, Australians were shocked and appalled by the images of mistreatment of children at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory. There can be no greater responsibility bestowed on an adult, a parent, a government institution, than the protection of a child in their care. On Tuesday, I announced that the Government would move to hold a Royal Commission into the treatment of children and young persons detained in the Northern Territory youth detention system and in particular, the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Today, in cooperation with the Northern Territory Government, the Attorney-General has recommended to the Governor-General terms of reference and an eminent person for appointment as Royal Commissioner. I can announce that just a short time ago, the Governor-General issued Letters Patent to establish a Royal Commission into the child protection and youth detention systems of the Northern Territory, and to appoint Mr Brian Ross Martin, AO, who is here on my right, as the Royal Commissioner.

Mr Martin is eminently qualified to undertake this important role and will bring to the Royal Commission a wealth of legal experience. He has a deep understanding of the legal and justice systems of the Northern Territory and a deep familiarity with issues arising from the engagement of Indigenous people with criminal justice, with the criminal justice and penal systems. The Royal Commission will conduct a thorough and thoroughly independent inquiry into the specific systemic problems identified within the Northern Territory, how those problems arose, the failure to identify and correct them and appropriate reforms. The Royal Commission will identify the causes and the failures in the Northern Territory and provide lessons applicable, or lessons from which, I should say, other correctional institutions and child-protection institutions in Australia, can learn from to ensure that they're not repeated elsewhere.

It's important to note that the matters of concern at the Don Dale Centre are in relation to the treatment of all youth in detention centres. It's also important to recognise in the Territory, a significant number of these young people are Aboriginal and Indigenous people. Indigenous Australians make up 45 per cent of the 10-17-year-old population of the Northern Territory, but 95 per cent of that age cohort in detention. Mr Martin comes with immense experience, as I said and the Attorney-General will speak about that in a moment. But he has been a former Chief Justice of the Northern Territory, a Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia, he served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, he served as the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Commonwealth. We welcome the broad support for the Royal Commission, numerous individuals and organisations, Indigenous leaders have who've moved very quickly to offer the Government a range of thoughtful and constructive suggestions for the development of the terms of reference, all of which we have taken into account.

So I'll now ask the Attorney-General to set out more detail on the scope of the inquiry and to say some more about Mr Martin's background and qualifications for this vitally important role.

Attorney?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Thank you very much indeed, Prime Minister. The Government, as you know, has acted very swiftly to address the issues that were revealed by the Four Corners program on Monday evening. We wanted to ensure that the terms of reference were sufficiently focused so that the particular issue identified by the Four Corners program was able to be addressed and solutions to the problems identified by that program, were able to be developed.

On the other hand, we wanted to make sure that the Royal Commissioner have sufficiently wide and comprehensive powers to look beyond that particular youth detention centre and indeed, beyond the youth detention system of the Northern Territory itself.

These terms of reference, which were annexed to the press release and which were developed in consultation with the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Adam Giles, seek to, therefore, make the scope of the Royal Commission comprehensive enough to get to the bottom of the problems without being so vague and amorphous that it would go on forever and not come up with particular and specific solutions to real problems.

The terms of reference are in 10 paragraphs. The principal term of reference, paragraph one, asks the Royal Commissioner to examine the failings in the child protection and youth detention systems administered by the Government of the Northern Territory. The scope of the inquiry will commence with the period during which the Northern Territory's Youth Justice Act has been in operation. That Act has been in operation since 2006. The Royal Commissioner is asked to examine the treatment of children and young persons detained at all youth detention facilities administered by the Northern Territory Government, including but of course not limited, as the Prime Minister has said, to the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, to consider whether any such treatment might have been a breach of any Commonwealth or Northern Territory law, a breach of the Northern Territory's duty of care or other relevant duties, a breach of human rights obligations adopted by Australia or the Northern Territory, or a breach of any relevant policy, rule, procedure, standard or management practice applicable to those facilities.

We've asked the Royal Commissioner to examine what if any oversight mechanisms and safeguards were in place and, if so, why they failed. We've asked him to inquire into whether there are or were, any deficiencies of the organisational culture, structure and management in the Northern Territory's youth detention facilities and whether more should have been done by the Northern Territory Government to take appropriate measures to prevent the reoccurrence of appropriate treatment and in particular, why the two reports of January 2015 and of August 2015 - the latter of which looked specifically at the Don Dale Centre - were not given effect to sufficiently, or at all.

We ask the Royal Commissioner to make recommendations about what measures should be adopted by the Northern Territory Government to prevent the inappropriate treatment children and young persons in the child protection and juvenile detention system in future and what improvements can be made to that system, including the identification of early intervention options and pathways for children at risk of anti-social behaviour.

Finally, we ask the Royal Commissioner to consider the access by children and young persons detained in the juvenile detention network in the Northern Territory to appropriate medical care including psychiatric care. There is a general terms of reference that gives the Royal Commissioner the capacity to examine any other matter relevant to the terms of reference.

As I said in my introductory remarks we believe that these terms of reference are both sufficiently focused but at the same time sufficiently broad that we'll get tangible outcomes from this inquiry which will see a measurable improvement in the delivery of these services by the Government of the Northern Territory.

I want to thank two people in particular. I want to thank Mr Adam Giles, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, who has been, as I'm sure the Prime Minister would agree, extremely cooperative with the Commonwealth. Even though this is a Royal Commission or an inquiry into the operation of agencies and departments of his Government and of previous Northern Territory governments, he could not have been readier to cooperate with the Commonwealth's initiative, than he was.

I also want to thank the Royal Commissioner, Justice Brian Martin. To have a former Chief Justice of the Northern Territory, a former Commonwealth DPP, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia and Acting Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, willing at very short notice, to step into this role, has made the early arrangement of this Royal Commission possible. I want to thank Justice Martin very much for being so willing to serve and can I invite him to say a few words and he has indicated that he would be prepared to take your questions.

Justice Martin?

HON BRIAN MARTIN AO QC:

Thank you, Prime Minister and Mr Attorney. Well it has happened very quickly. I feel privileged to have been asked to undertake this important task. There is a lot of work ahead of us.

I am going to try to hold a directions hearing to get the thing rolling on the 6th of September 2016, with a view to commencing hearings perhaps in early October. But you will appreciate that there's much to be done in the meantime. As has been mentioned, a number of people and organisations have already indicate their willingness to assist and put their desire to put information before this Commission. So we look forward to hearing from anyone who believes that they have useful information that can assist us.

As I said, it is a large task but it is a vital task. We look forward to it and there will be a website and a number available immediately, through which inquiries can be made. Now, I am perfectly happy to answer questions.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister I might ask you a question first and Commissioner please feel free to add something.  Given nine out of 10 children in the Northern Territory’s in the detention system are Indigenous and I haven't heard the word 'racism' once in the terms of reference, are you all satisfied racism doesn't play a role here?

HON BRIAN MARTIN AO QC:

Look, I think it is appropriate for me to answer that question.

Whether racism does or doesn't play a role, it will be part of the inquiry. This is about the child protection systems, it is about the culture. You’ll notice that the terms of reference include questions about the culture within the system. Naturally, if people believe that racism plays a role, then that is going to be the subject of evidence before the Royal Commission. So it will be not appropriate at this time to make any predictions about what does or doesn't play a role within the system in the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST:

Will there be scope for the Royal Commission to call either members of the Northern Territory Government or, indeed, members of the Federal Government to appear before it?

HON BRIAN MARTIN AO QC:

There's certainly that scope.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Turnbull, as we know, most of this material, although not the footage, was known last year and there were the two reports that the Attorney-General referred to. Indigenous Affairs has now been under the Prime Minister's Department for three years. Have you made any inquiries as to whether any of the bureaucrats in the Prime Minister's department read and absorbed these reports, especially the August 2015 one?

PRIME MINISTER:

All of these matters will be considered by the Royal Commission. I will certainly examine the extent to which officers in the federal Department of Indigenous Affairs were aware of these matters.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the terms of reference talk about measures to be adopted by the Northern Territory. Why doesn't it talk about measures that the Federal Government can also adopt?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the youth detention and child protection services in the Northern Territory are administered by the Northern Territory Government.

JOURNALIST:

Aren't there broader issues involved in this that the Federal Government could intervene in?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is an inquiry into the child protection in youth detentions of the Northern Territory. Again, I have said this before in the course of the media discussions earlier today; a Royal Commission is most effective when it has clear terms of reference that enable the Royal Commissioner, in this case Mr Martin, to get on with the job and focus on the critical questions and issues at hand. There are a lot of other associated issues which will be debated, discussed, a huge number of issues that I have talked about, as indeed George has, with Indigenous leaders just over the last few days. A lot of related issues as well. But in terms of this fact-finding exercise, what we have is some parameters and I would have to say, I think the Attorney has found a good medium between terms of reference that are highly focused and limited, but have enough breadth to enable the Royal Commissioner to look into associated areas, without being so amorphous that the inquiry would be endless.

JOURNALIST:

Just to clarify, just to clarify, will the Commission have the ability to look into other reports, other recommendations at the time, back to 2005, including the Little Children Are Sacred Report and  [inaudible]?

HON BRIAN MARTIN AO QC:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Commissioner, do you have a timeframe in mind, I know the Prime Minister had said perhaps reporting as early as next year, is that enough time for you, or would that be too rushed?

HON BRIAN MARTIN AO QC:

We'll find out, won't we? The letters patent say the 31st March. That is tight when one looks at the breadth of the terms of reference but given some hard work, hopefully we'll meet it. I'm sure if I need extra time, I'm sure it will be given to me.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister can I ask what did Cabinet decide about Kevin Rudd?

PRIME MINISTER:

Can we just deal with, finish our questions.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister do you think it could be appropriate that we see compensation to the victims of this abuse?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to give an opinion on that.

JOURNALIST:

As an Australian and as a father, you watched this and you were shocked. Do you think there should be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look there are avenues for seeking compensation that exist within the law as it stands and these are matters that the Commissioner, as he was just pointing out, he is directed to make any recommendations arising out of the inquiry as he considers appropriate. So he is in a position to make recommendations of that kind.

I’m not going to give - you're asking me in effect, to pre-empt the conclusions of the Royal Commission before it has actually started even having a directions hearing, let alone hearing evidence.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, does the Chief Minister agree with the terms of reference? Have you discussed them with them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes we have. I think George can confirm that?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Yes the Prime Minister and I have had a number of discussions with the Chief Minister. I have discussed, I think I can say that we finalised these terms of reference with him over last night. There have been earlier discussions as well.

These terms of reference are the joint work of the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory. As the Prime Minister indicated, we expect that a Commission in terms of the letters patent will be issued by the Northern Territory Government under the Northern Territory Inquiries Act.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what's your message of reassurance to the Indigenous community in the Northern Territory? There has been a lot of commentary in the last few days, people urging the Government, the Federal Government not to involve the Northern Territory Government in the administration or setting up the terms of reference. Instead, you've congratulated Adam Giles on his performance in that process, or the Attorney has. So what's your message of assurance to them that this inquiry isn't compromised from the beginning?

PRIME MINISTER:

This Commissioner is completely independent, completely independent of any government and is directed - indeed bound - to conduct a thorough investigation within, obviously, the framework of the terms of reference.

Mr Martin served as the Chief Justice of the Northern Territory with great distinction and developed and demonstrated a very keen understanding of Indigenous culture, indeed the interaction between the Indigenous culture and our legal system.

I don't know if you want to say some more about that?

HON BRIAN MARTIN AO QC:

No, I don't think so, I think the Prime Minister has said it. My job is to look at the evidence and assess it impartially and objectively.

JOURNALIST:

I was really asking a question about what the message to those people was, they feel incredibly let down by public officials.

PRIME MINISTER:

The message is that as soon as these matters, as soon as we became aware of them, as soon as I became aware of them, I took steps to establish a Royal Commission. Within hours in fact. We have now, a few days later, we have the terms of reference agreed, the letters patent issued, the Royal Commissioner appointed, a man of immense legal expertise, immense experience, a distinguished judge, who has also a very keen understanding of the special challenges and circumstances in the Northern Territory.

So Mr Martin is extremely well-qualified for this task.

JOURNALIST:

Given you have spent so much time in the Northern Territory in this justice space, are you concerned there may be any perception of conflict of interest?

HON BRIAN MARTIN AO QC:

I don't think so. I can't see how that would arise. There's never been any suggestion that this sort of treatment was brought to my attention or the attention of other Supreme Court judges. I don't see that at all. I see the advantages of a knowledge of the Territory.

To answer the question earlier, those who are disillusioned, I encourage to come forward. There's their way in, to make their views and their concerns known, so that they can be properly assessed and addressed.

JOURNALIST:

In addition, so no concerns that you might have been involved in a judicial sense with any of these young people either?

HON BRIAN MARTIN AO QC:

Oh look, I couldn't guarantee that I haven't sentenced a young person. You'll appreciate the vast majority of sentencing is done in the Children's Court or the Youth Court. I can't say that I won't necessarily have sentenced someone for an offence. But never in my experience, when an offender has come - a child offender - has come before the court, has anyone stood up and said: "That child offender has been mistreated in a significant way within the system."

There are always, from time to time, complaints that someone might be victimised because of the nature of the offence they've committed. So those sort of things are said but never has anyone come forward and said: "Look, while in custody, this child was tear-gassed, or this child was hooded, or there was some mistreatment of the child”.

So the mere fact that I might have sentenced someone, I don't see as a problem at all.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Turnbull, your decision on Kevin Rudd?

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much. Yes, thank you, we've considered this issue and I owe Mr Rudd a telephone call before I say anything more about it publicly.

Thank you very much.