The Central Land Council executive committee met with Police Commissioner Mr Michael Murphy and Arrernte police officer Brad Wallace in Alice Springs on Wednesday 19 June to discuss community concerns about racist behaviour in the NT police force.

The executive members were hoping for a public apology from Commissioner Murphy after he admitted in early June that he had been ‘too busy’ to order an investigation into racist behaviour among elite police officers.

This inaction is particularly egregious, considering there has also been no response to APO NT’s request for an apology from Police Minister Brent Potter for denying the existence of racism in the NT police force, a denial that blatantly disregards the lived experiences of Aboriginal people.

Deputy chair Warren Williams expressed deep disappointment, “While Commissioner Murphy expressed concern and understood our urgent call for an investigation into racism in the NT police force, the refusal to make a public apology shows the entrenched disregard for Aboriginal people.”

Furthermore, the rejection of an independent review called for by APO NT is another devastating blow to Aboriginal people throughout the Northern Territory. This refusal highlights the systemic resistance to accountability within the police force.

Commissioner Murphy acknowledged that there are problems and things have to change, including what measures police will take to achieve this change.

Mr Williams noted, “The CLC is pleased that Leanne Liddle has been brought in to help fix problems in the force, and she has said that she will be at the end of the phone to hear from us when police behave badly, don’t respect local knowledge, or treat Aboriginal people differently when they are called to an incident. We will take her up on that offer.”

Aboriginal representation in the police force is only 12 percent. If Commissioner Murphy’s goal is to reach 30 percent, not just through Aboriginal Community Police and Aboriginal Liaison Officers but all ranks, including senior leadership, this will need sustained and concerted effort far beyond token gestures.

Certificate pathways for Night Patrol workers to become Aboriginal Liaison Officers or Aboriginal Community Police Officers are welcome but need resourcing and implementation.

It was encouraging to hear about establishing a new police station and women’s shelter in Alpurrurulam and supporting local communities’ involvement in recruiting new police officers.

Mr Williams said, “So many communities still have empty police stations and no police. We are forced to call triple zero to get help when serious incidents happen, and we don’t know how the police will behave towards us when they get here.”

“These actions are needed, but the issues of racism go very deep. We understand Commissioner Murphy wants our trust and to work together. We need to see big and lasting changes in the NT police force before we give him that trust. Once we see his plan for fixing the police and he starts acting on that plan, we can begin to rebuild trust.”

Executive member Valerie Martin said, “Our people are still hurting. The Walker death was a tragedy, and the coronial inquest made that pain worse. There are families in Yuendumu that need more support and are still traumatised. We can see there is goodwill, but we will wait and see. The proof will be in the outcomes.”

The time for vague promises and delayed actions is over. The NT police force must take immediate, transparent steps to eradicate racism and rebuild the shattered trust with Aboriginal people.

Ninety years after Pitjantjatjara man Yukun was killed by police and his remains sent to museums in Adelaide, he is finally laid to rest.

On the day Yukun was returned to Uluru, his descendants leapt into the deep, narrow grave to help ease him to rest as their elders looked on, weeping.

The ceremony, at the base of the rock on an unusually cold and rainy morning, helped ease the pain of almost 90 years of unfinished business that began with a Northern Territory police shooting in 1934.

View the full feature article online here.

Family arrive at the ceremony.
Family arrive. The ceremony will help answer questions and resolve decades of doubt.

The chair of the Central Land Council warmly welcomes the Northern Territory Government’s efforts to shut the revolving prison door on Aboriginal children and adults.
“Lifting the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years of age means that the cruel practice of jailing 10-year-old children ceases,” CLC chair Robert Hoosan said.

“It’s a long-overdue and welcome step on the way to raising the age to 14 years, in line with more enlightened and civilised societies.”
“I hope the next NT budget will back this important reform with the resources for prevention, therapy and diversion needed to make it a success.”

The legislation introduced today delivers on a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT.
“We should all be proud to become the first jurisdiction in Australia to not just pay lip service to, but actually legislate, raising the age of criminal responsibility,” said Mr Hoosan.
The CLC also applauds the repeal of mandatory sentencing for some offences.
“Our members have opposed this unfair, wasteful and ineffective legislation for a quarter of a century,” he said.

“A smart justice system takes individual circumstances into account and offers alternatives to jail to offenders who can be rehabilitated.
“This reform will make the Territory a fairer and safer place if it is backed by effective and well-funded behavioural change programs.”
Among the legal changes introduced into in the NT Legislative Assembly are anti-vilification measures and a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation.
“These anti-discrimination reforms will avert harm from all Territorians and benefit Aboriginal people in particular,” said Mr Hoosan.
“I commend Attorney-General Chansey Paech for listening to our members and pushing these reforms through against strong opposition.”

13 October 2022

Aboriginal Peak Organisations (APO NT) has welcomed the Australian Capital Territory’s recent decision to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 years to 14 years.

This decision is consistent with the recommendations made by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory in 2017 and acknowledges concerns raised by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that the minimum age for criminal responsibility in Australia is too young. Australia has failed to uphold this standard across all states and territories, including the Northern Territory.

“We are concerned about the discriminatory application of the current age of criminal responsibility and the disproportionate impact that this has on our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people, their families and our broader community,” said APO NT spokesperson John Paterson.

Based on data from 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are 24 times more likely to end up in detention than their non-Aboriginal peers. In the Northern Territory, it is estimated that 96% of the youth detention population are Aboriginal and that more than 70% of young people in youth detention are on remand.

“The evidence shows that early involvement in the criminal justice system creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage and reoffending. We believe the youth justice system needs further reform. Treating children so punitively is a fundamentally flawed approach. We should be providing appropriate support to children and their families, not locking them up.”

APO NT was disappointed at the recent decision of the Council of Attorneys-General to delay a decision to raise the age of criminal responsibility, despite the clear recommendations of professional legal and health experts and public advocates.

“There is an opportunity here for our new Government in the Northern Territory to really make a difference and follow the lead of the Australian Capital Territory to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Such a decision will change children’s life outcomes in the future.”

“APO NT calls on the newly elected NT Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years as a first 100 days commitment, and match the principled stand taken by the Australian Capital Territory.

“We also call on the government to work with Aboriginal people and communities to implement sound policies and effective programs to ensure young children and their families have an opportunity to deal with any underlying social issues.

“A greater investment and commitment in our young people today will enrich their lives and create a better future for them and the whole community”, John Paterson concluded.

For media comment:

Brionee Noonan, APO NT Coordinator – ph. (08) 8944 66 72 & 0488 066 680

A coalition of 13 Aboriginal organisations of the Northern Territory* want the national cabinet to immediately guarantee the supply of affordable food and other basics in locked-down remote communities.
Two weeks ago, the commonwealth and NT governments met with major supermarkets, suppliers and three major remote retailers, yet remote community owned stores are still waiting to hear about any government interventions that might flow from that meeting that will take the pressure off.

“We are getting daily reports of remote stores struggling to supply basic goods,” said John Paterson, the CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT.

“Some stores are running out of fresh food three days after their weekly delivery. Under COVID-19 travel restrictions small, community owned stores must suddenly meet 100% of people’s needs across a much greater range of products. Some stores have had to triple their usual orders.

“In recent weeks, the big supermarkets have responded to panic buying down south by sweeping up the bulk of goods from manufacturers and producers. Independent suppliers are struggling to get what they need for remote stores,” said John Paterson.

“We want an agreed proportion of these essential goods set aside for the independent suppliers. This can’t be solved through donated goods. It needs a systemic response from government.

“Prices in remote community owned stores are also a big issue. This is borne out in every market basket survey. High freight costs and limited purchasing power mean prices can average 60% higher than at major supermarkets.

The coalition of health services, land councils and other Aboriginal organisations is calling for a 20 per cent point-of-sale subsidy of essential food, cleaning and hygiene products, as well as winter bedding and clothing in remote community stores.

“A direct consumer subsidy of selected items is the best way to guarantee that residents who are no longer able to shop around can afford the basics,” said Mr Paterson.

Community stores say invoicing the federal government for 20 per cent of their sales once a fortnight would place the least administrative burden on them.

“Already, remote community residents are taking backroads into regional centres to access essential and affordable supplies they can’t get at home. Towns are where they are most likely to contract coronavirus.”

“We understand fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are not in short supply in the southern states and distributers are actively planning to address current shortages in remote stores in central Australia. It is critically important that we understand how this will work, the CEO of the Central Land Council, Joe Martin-Jard, said.

“However, we believe subsidies on essential goods at point of sale coupled with a supply guarantee will make a huge difference.”
“We urge the national cabinet to take action, before it is too late, because time is all remote Aboriginal communities have on their side in their fight against the virus. We are all affected by this crisis, some more than others when it comes to accessing affordable food,” Central Australian Aboriginal Congress CEO Donna Ah Chee said.

“We want preventative action. This is all about making sure remote Aboriginal people can depend 100% on their one community store as they are not in a position to shop around. We have no more time to waste.”

The Central Land Council has asked the Prime Minister to suspend work-for-the-dole (also known as CDP) activities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to remote Northern Territory communities before it is too late.

“We want CDP participants to be able to take care of their families and be free to contribute their own solutions to minimising the impacts of the pandemic,” CLC chief executive Joe Martin-Jard said.

“With government plans for the COVID-19 response in remote communities only just taking shape our constituents need to be able to participate fully in the planning required to overcome what will be huge logistical and practical challenges.”

He said communities and individuals needed maximum flexibility in deciding how to respond to a very dynamic and disruptive situation.

“Some are retreating to even more remote outstations and homelands to isolate the elderly and the chronically ill and need to be able to stock up on food and medical supplies without worrying about penalties and loss of income.”

Exemptions on a case-by-case basis will not work.

Health services will be stretched to the limit and should not be burdened with having to issue medical certificates for individual CDP participants.

“The sensible and responsible thing to do is to cancel all participation requirements for the duration of the pandemic and allow our people to put their health and safety first,” said Mr Martin-Jard.

The CLC has also suspended all travel by exploration companies and cancelled tourist permits to protect vulnerable community residents from the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are contacting exploration companies and tour groups to tell them that their entry permits have been revoked as a public health measure,” he said.

“We are asking everyone to put the needs of the most vulnerable first by staying away from remote communities and have instructed our town-based staff to do the same.”

“Almost 20 tourist groups with valid transit permits for Aboriginal land are being contacted and offered a refund of permit fees,” he said.

“We are also notifying seven exploration companies that we are cancelling the entry permits of their staff and contractors until further notice.”

The CLC’s Aboriginal Associations Management Centre also cancelled all Aboriginal corporation meetings scheduled between now and mid-April in order to encourage members to stay in their home communities.

The Central Land Council says the family of Kumanjayi Walker deserves an inquiry without delay that is independent of the Northern Territory police, fully transparent and thorough.

Passing on his condolences to the family during a rally outside the police headquarters in Alice Springs today, CLC CEO Joe Martin-Jard said the family needs to learn the truth as soon as possible.

“We want full transparency, we want to see the body camera evidence, we want it out in the open,” Mr Martin-Jard said.

“I call on the coroner to have this inquiry at Yuendumu and give families the chance to talk to him,” he said.

Mr Martin-Jard and CLC deputy chair Barbara Shaw commended the community’s elders who called for calm and want this inquiry to get to the truth quickly.

“The elders kept the community together, respectfully and peacefully,” Ms Shaw said.

“They have called for an inquest and for it to happen at Yuendumu so people feel safe to share their own stories in their community. That’s what they have requested, that’s what they need support for and that’s what we stand by.”

Ms Shaw, a youth worker, said the shooting came less than two weeks after a constructive discussion between the CLC delegates and a high ranking police officer at Yulara Pulka outstation.

Ms Shaw said the death of a teenager in custody and the stories she hears nightly from young people in her care have shaken her confidence in the ability of the police to repair their relationship with remote communities any time soon.

“I’m a person who’s supposed to be building the relationship between the police and our people but now I feel very disappointed.”

“We’re all going to have to take the long road because if this can happen to a 19-year old this can happen to a little 13 year old who’s walking the streets at night.”

Ms Shaw called on communities and Aboriginal organisations to work together in support of the coronial inquest.

“This coroner’s report has to look at the police and all the health and social issues that have contributed to the death,” she said.

MEDIA CONTACT: Elke Wiesmann | 0417 877 579|

Families affected by the Coniston Massacre from around Australia have tonight gathered at a meeting of the Central Land Council outside Yuendumu, getting ready to remember the innocent men, women and children killed during a series of massacres in 1928.

Early tomorrow morning they will travel to the remote outstation of Yurrkuru (Brooks Soak), approximately three hours north west of Alice Springs, to commemorate with songs, dances, speeches and prayers the 90th anniversary of the killings.

Yurrkuru is the site of the murder of the dingo trapper Fred Brooks which triggered the revenge parties led by Police Constable George Murray between August and October 1928 that have become known as the Coniston Massacre.

The families of an estimated 100 murder victims are planning to speak at the event, alongside members of Constable Murray’s family and political leaders such as Senator Patrick Dodson and NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner.

“We expect up to 400 people to join us for a chance to share the truth about our colonial past with the families of the victims and the murderers,” said Central Land Council chair Francis Kelly.

“We want everyone to know that these massacres didn’t happen during some distant past but 10 years after the end of the First World War,” Mr Kelly said.

“We remember those who lost their lives in that war every year, in every town around Australia. We have a special public holiday for it and lots of memorials everywhere,” he said.

“What about our fallen loved ones?”

Their families unveiled a plaque at Yurrkuru in 2003 and plan to call for annual events commemorating the massacres and for interpretive signs at the many massacre locations.

They also want all school children to be taught about the frontier wars.

Mr Kelly, one of the creators of the documentary Coniston which will be shown at the CLC meeting tonight, said he is particularly pleased to welcome students from surrounding Aboriginal communities to the commemoration.

“Until all Australians know about the crimes committed against our families we can’t move forward as one mob, one country,” he said.

“Other countries with murderous pasts have managed to come together by speaking the truth. If they can do it, why can’t we?”

Truth telling, along with agreement making and an Aboriginal voice to parliament, is a theme of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

See on the Human Rights Law Centre website

Discriminatory remote work scheme improved but onerous work hours and harsh penalties will drive poverty

The need for fair pay for work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities has finally been acknowledged by the Federal Government but Budget measures outlined for its remote work for the dole scheme fall well-short of realising this in practice.

The Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT (APO NT) and the Human Rights Law Centre cautiously welcomed some changes to the Community Development Program (CDP), but expressed deep concern about the Government’s piecemeal approach and its decision to continue with onerous obligations while introducing a harsher penalty system in remote communities.

John Paterson, spokesperson for APO NT, said that for three years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations have been dealing with the devastation wrought by the Government’s program.

“The hard work of APO NT and other Aboriginal organisations and CDP providers has started to pay-off, with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs recognising that paid work with proper entitlements is the key to lifting families out of poverty, stimulating social enterprise and creating meaningful employment opportunities,” said Mr Paterson.

Mr Paterson welcomed the announcement of 6000 subsidised jobs with proper work entitlements and improvements to the way that people’s work capacity is assessed but said the Government should be adopting the Aboriginal-led model already developed by APO NT.

“We are pleased that there will be subsidies for 6000 jobs and an improved assessment process to ensure vulnerable people are not forced to participate beyond their capabilities.

However, the Government has engaged in a cherry-picking exercise rather than wholeheartedly adopting the positive Aboriginal community-driven model developed by APO NT, which will limit the benefits possible on the ground,” said Mr Paterson.

The Budget measures include a reduction in work requirements from 25 to 20 hours, but people in remote communities, 83 per cent of whom are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, will still have to work around 270 hours more each year than people in urban areas.

Adrianne Walters, senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that it was mindboggling that after three years, a racist and inflexible work hours requirement will continue to be imposed on remote communities, albeit in slightly modified form.

“Equal pay for equal work is a core tenet of Australian society. The Federal Government must eliminate the blatantly discriminatory requirement which sees people in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities forced to work more hours for the same basic Centrelink payment as people in cities,” said Ms Walters.

Both organisations have also warned that the new compliance measures announced in the Budget will undermine the potential for positive outcomes.

“The inclusion of more onerous compliance measures is likely to drive up poverty and disengagement. The Government’s own data indicates that people subject to the remote CDP scheme are already at least 20 times more likely to be financially penalised,” said Mr Paterson.

“Unfair financial penalties have already seen parents struggling to put food on the table for their kids. The Government appears satisfied to dump a new harsh one-size-fits-all penalty system on remote communities, but still discriminate against them in terms of work hours,” said Ms Walters.

Further information

The Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT has worked with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to develop an alternative model for fair work and strong resilient communities. The model focuses on waged work, fair participation obligations, access to support services and Aboriginal-led institutional arrangements.

Key aspects of the alternative model that are missing from Minister Scullion’s CDPreforms include:

Flexibility and community governance structures so that jobs and community projects meet the needs of communities and remote employers.

An approach to participation obligations that allows local organisations to tailor arrangements to their own communities, with a focus on support and incentives, rather than heavy-handed compliance and financial penalties.

Work activity obligations that are no greater than those that apply to people in the urban Jobactive program.

1500 paid jobs with training for people under 25, giving disengaged young people a reason to re-engage and a pathway to future employment.

An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led agency to manage the scheme instead of the current non-Indigenous led Canberra-based model.

A reduction in pointless and excessive administration requirements, which is a hallmark of the current program and consumes valuable funding.

For interviews or further information please call: Michelle Bennett, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519

The Central Land Council is backing the residents of Tennant Creek and the Director-General of Licensing on the extension of the emergency alcohol restrictions in the town.

“We support the decision of the Director-General, Cindy Bravos, to keep the current grog restrictions in place and urge that they remain in place until more permanent restrictions have been implemented,” said Central Land Council director David Ross.

“Calls for hard decisions to curb the level of alcohol consumption in Tennant Creek go back decades and it should not take a media storm for government to act.”

Back in February 2009, NT Chief Justice Trevor Riley made sentencing remarks that sound depressingly familiar today:

“The courts regularly hear evidence of alcohol being consumed in Tennant Creek in quantities beyond comprehension. It seems that the excessive consumption of alcohol continues for so long as alcohol is available. People drink until they can drink no more and then get up the next day and start all over again. The frequency with which drunken violence occurs is unacceptable and the level of violence is likewise completely unacceptable.

For the good of the town, for the good of the victims, for the good of the offenders and for the good of the innocent children of Tennant Creek, it seems to me obvious that a system must be devised to limit the amount of alcohol made available to the people whose lives are being devastated in this way and to educate and rehabilitate those already abusing alcohol. The people of the Northern Territory cannot sit on their hands and allow what is occurring in Tennant Creek to continue. I accept that it is a complex issue but it is an issue that must be addressed and must be addressed sooner rather than later. Hard decisions must be taken.”

Mr Ross said he takes concerns about next week’s annual general meeting of the Tennant Region Aboriginal Corporation (TRAC) seriously but they are a diversion from the essential issues facing the town.

“Aboriginal corporations are legally obliged to hold AGMs in a timely manner and we have been working with corporation directors and the federal government to minimise any adverse impacts,” Mr Ross said.

“There is no distribution of cash at these meetings, as has been claimed.”

“The Director-General of Licencing and NT Police have been invited to meet with the TRAC directors following the AGM to discuss the impact of liquor restrictions on the wider community,” he said.

Mr Ross said the small team at the CLC’s Aboriginal Association Management Centre must facilitate almost 100 Aboriginal corporation AGMs a year within a statutory time frame.

“We schedule meetings when they have the smallest possible impact on school attendance,” he said.

“We draw on independent analysis of NT Education Department statistics showing where and when a meeting may have harmful impacts,” he said.

Mr Ross said the CLC has also long supported traditional owners to invest their income in community development programs.

“While the amount of money going towards these community driven projects is steadily increasing governments could offer incentives to encourage more traditional owners to take up this option.”

Traditional owners of Karlu Karlu (the Devils Marbles) in the Northern Territory are calling for the prosecution of those responsible for the recent desecration of their sacred site and for visitors to respect their longstanding wish not to drink alcohol anywhere at the site.

The Central Land Council has asked the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority to take legal action under the NT Sacred Sites Act against the individuals who defecated on the site and circulated a video of the desecration that was published by numerous news web sites and papers around the country.

The traditional owners told CLC chair Francis Kelly during a site visit that they feel deeply distressed and upset about the incident and believe it has demeaned their culture.

“They are feeling very hurt and angry,” said Mr Kelly.

“One elder said: ‘When I see that video it is not only him shitting on our site but shitting on our culture. We see that and we think that he sees our culture as shit. In the old days he would have been speared in the leg’.”

The incident has opened old wounds for some of the traditional owners.

“Why do they hate us?” asked Sonny Curtis.

“Everybody knows we are strongly saying we would like to share our country. It’s here for everyone, all of us to enjoy. But somehow they want it all, don’t want us to have any say at all.”

Mr Curtis reiterated the traditional owners’ well-documented desire for an alcohol ban at Karlu Karlu because they believe that drinking promotes disrespectful and unsafe behaviour.

“There shouldn’t be any grog. The best thing would be for people not to have grog at all when they are at a sacred site. Just enjoy the scenery, not drink grog because we all know grog brings lots of trouble.”

Traditional owners have requested signage at Karlu Karlu that informs visitors of their wish.

They also called on the company that brought the perpetrators of the desecration to the Tennant Creek region to apologise to them both publicly and privately.

They plan to raise the matter directly with AAPA at the CLC meeting in Tennant Creek this week.

The maximum penalty for individuals who desecrate a sacred site is $61,600 or two years jail.

CLC delegate Rayleen Silverton spoke up during council’s alcohol policy discussion at Ross River.

The Central Land Council supports the reintroduction of the Banned Drinkers Register (BDR) and calls for additional support for families affected by the Northern Territory’s extreme rate of alcohol consumption.

Meeting at Ross River, east of Alice Springs, the CLC delegates called for the racially discriminatory Temporary Beat Locations (TBL) policy to be removed but accepted that it needs to be phased out.

In their discussion with the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition CLC delegates voiced their expectation that the police resources freed up by the abolition of the TBL will be redirected to tackling the illicit grog trade.

The delegates passed the following resolution:

“The Central Land Council acknowledges the devastating effects of alcohol on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families and communities.

Alcoholism is a disease, not a criminal offence.

Alcohol policy should treat all people the same and not discriminate.

The CLC calls for

the TBL to be phased out, and for police to deal only with alcohol issues, not other offences or warrants on the temporary beat;

the BDR to be reintroduced in a way that targets problem drinkers and those with alcohol-related offences;

more support and rehabilitation services for individuals and families living in town and remote communities who are struggling with alcohol issues;

more education for young women and their families about the impact of alcohol and the risk of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder; and

greater transparency about and access to the process of seeking a permit or exemption for a dry area.”

Northern Territory Aboriginal peak organisations today welcomed the announcement that Commissioner Brian Martin is stepping down from his role on the Royal Commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory.

“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.

CONTACTS: John Paterson 0418 904 727; Donna Ah Chee 0418 859 416; David Cooper 0418 486 310

Three Northern Territory Aboriginal peak organisations say they are bitterly disappointed that the Prime Minister has ignored their request to be consulted about the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into child protection and youth detention in the Northern Territory, and utterly reject his choice of former NT Chief Justice Brian Martin as the Royal Commissioner.

The organisations are the Northern and Central Land Councils and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT). On Tuesday, a wider group (APONT – Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory) wrote to Prime Minister Turnbull, seeking an opportunity to comment on the terms of reference and urged him to ensure that the Royal Commission be led by an “independent” expert and include Aboriginal representation from the NT. That wider group included two Aboriginal legal aid agencies, Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) and North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) which are both unable to comment on today’s announcement of the Royal Commission appointment, because they will likely be representing parties before the Commission.

“Prime Minister Turnbull has comprehensively failed us,” said AMSANT Chief Executive John Paterson on behalf of the three 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. “Weare also deeply disturbed that NT Chief Minister Adam Giles was party to developing the terms of reference and selecting the Royal Commissioner,” Mr Paterson said.

The Aboriginal organisations have challenged the statement by the Prime Minister and his Attorney General that the Royal Commission is independent of government. “The appointment of Brian Martin does not satisfy any threshold of independence. On the facts and on perception, the appointment is unacceptable,” said AMSANT Deputy Chair Olga Havnen. “Only a few weeks ago Brian Martin delivered to the NT Government a report about the establishment of a regime to investigate corruption, at the instigation of the now disgraced and former NT Corrections Minister, John Elferink. Mr Martin accepted that commission and was paid for it, so how can Mr Turnbull boast his independence from government?

“There are many other eminent former judges around the country who would qualify as truly independent, but the Prime Minister clearly did not canvas that field. “This appointment is wrong for all manner of reasons, and Aboriginal people in the Territory will not have confidence in the appointment of Brian Martin. As Chief Justice, he sat at the apex of the NT’s justice system. He presided over all judicial officers who sentenced young Aboriginal offenders to detention, and he knew them all; he himself sentenced juveniles to detention.

“Worse,although Mr Martin retired as NT Chief Justice in 2010, he was later that same year appointed as an
additional judge of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory and he continues to hold that appointment. “Finally, we are further upset that the terms of reference are not cast widely enough to include the wider NT youth justice system, rather than a narrow focus on youth detention, and that they do not specify an examination of the huge over-representation of Aboriginal youth in detention.

“Not only does the Northern Territory justice system lock up more juveniles than any other jurisdiction, more than 90 per cent of those detainees are Aboriginal.

“Mr Turnbull has let us down badly,” Ms Havnen said.

The Northern Territory’s main Aboriginal land councils, medical and legal services have written to the Prime Minister, urging him to keep the Royal Commission into juvenile justice at arms’ length from the Giles government because it is part of the problem under investigation.

The coalition of peak NT Aboriginal organisations also asked the PM to honour his word and do things with rather than to Aboriginal people by involving them in the development of the commission’s terms of reference.

“We urge you to ensure that Aboriginal people and organisations are fully engaged in the
process and that it is one that is entirely independent of the Northern Territory Government,” the letter states.

The coalition, which represents the vast majority of Aboriginal people in the Territory, yesterday led calls on the Australian Parliament to dismiss the Northern Territory Government over the abuse of children in detention.

“We do not make this call lightly but any government that enacts policies designed to harm children and enables a culture of brutalisation and cover-ups, surrenders its right to govern,” the organisations write.

“In relation to the Royal Commission we would also like to make these specific requests of you:

Ensure that the Northern Territory Government has no role in the development or oversight of the Royal Commission, including the provision of funding or developing the terms of reference.

We can have no confidence in the Northern Territory Government, given not only its protracted inaction in relation to the matters raised, but also the manner in which the public has
been actively misled in relation to events.

  1. The Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory (APO NT) be given an opportunity to
    comment on the draft Terms of Reference.
  2. That the Royal Commission be chaired by an independent expert and must have Aborigina representation from the NT.
  3. The terms of reference must necessarily be broader than the incidents exposed in the Four Corners program. It is vital that it considers issues closely related to the treatment of young people in detention, including:

• legislation and policies that underpin the treatment of young people in detention,
including the use of force and isolation;

• the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in detention, especially on remand;

• the role of the Department of Children and Families in caring for Aboriginal young
people who come in contact with the criminal justice system;

• the need for specialist approaches to the policing of young people;

• the availability of trauma support and counselling for Aboriginal young people in the

• examine all previous enquiries relating to youth justice in the NT for cover ups and
uncover why the recommendations were not implemented; and

• not limit how far into the past the Commission can inquire.

  1. It is imperative that Aboriginal organisations are properly funded to provide support to people in
    connection with the Royal Commission, including legal representation and counselling.

The letter thanks the PM for his leadership in recognising the national importance of these issues.

The APO NT letter is signed by David Ross and Joe Morrison on behalf of the Central and Northern land councils, Priscilla Collins and Eileen van Iersel on behalf of the NT Aboriginal Legal Services NAAJA and CAALAS and John Paterson on behalf of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT, AMSANT.