Turnbull's Northern Territory whitewash

18 August 2016 3:07 pm

Australia has a deep tradition of racism towards its First People and the Turnbull government’s calling of the Royal Commission into the abuse of youths in the Northern Territory corrections system following explosive revelations aired on the ABC's Four Corners program on Monday night only confirms that.

What would a Royal Commission achieve per se? It’s been 25 years since since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody tabled its report, and as reported here,we’ve actually gone backwards. The commission called for a holistic and systemic approach. What we got instead was ad-hoc and provisional piecemeal changes. Unsurprisingly, they’ve had negligible overall effect on reducing deaths in custody.

So what can we expect from this one?

For a start, indigenous leaders are angry that they weren’t consulted.

Three of the Territory’s most powerful Aboriginal organisations released a joint statement describing the Royal Commission as “compromised from the start”, and “utterly rejecting” the appointment of former NT Supreme Court chief justice Brian Martin.

It is worth pointing out that Martin was part of the Northern Territory judiciary that caused the problem in the first place. Which raises questions why the Turnbull government selected him.

"Prime Minister Turnbull has comprehensively failed us,” said AMSANT Chief Executive John Paterson on behalf of the organisations. "Yet again the Commonwealth Government has refused to consult with Aboriginal people, in spite of Mr Turnbull’s commitment, now hollow, to 'do things with Aboriginal people, not to us’. We are hurt and furious because, yet again, we have been ignored - this time on the most important matter of the safety of our children.”

The atrocities in the Northern Territory are about racism. These offences would not have occurred to white kids

The United Nations has stepped in calling on Australia to compensate victims of abuse in youth detention and extend the royal commission into juvenile justice nationwide.

All this raises a key question: How can Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull express shock and horror and call a Royal Commission at the same time that his immigration minister Peter Dutton is condemning asylum seekers to the same fate? Because what’s being handed out to asylum seekers is no less racist.

If we are talking about detention centre abuse, we need a royal commission into all detention centres across Australia. And that includes asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus.