The pledge from a “deeply shocked” Malcolm Turnbull came in the wake of footage aired by the ABC Four Corners program showing teens being stripped naked, tear-gassed and held in solitary confinement for weeks at a time in the Don Dale centre in 2014 and 2015.
In one video, a 17-year-old is hooded, shackled to a “mechanical device” chair and left alone for two hours.
“They’re being shackled to chairs a la Guantanamo Bay,” barrister John Lawrence told the ABC.
In another, one of the guards is heard saying “I’ll pulverise the f***er” as a young man in isolation was banging at windows.
NT Chief Minister Adam Giles today took over the corrections portfolio from the minister and retiring MP John Elferink and admitted to a systemic “culture of cover-up” which had led to most of the footage being kept secret from cabinet and police.
The royal commission is expected to begin taking evidence in September ahead of a final report in early 2017 on the corrections system, child protection and the “root causes” of child detention, Giles said.
NT police will investigate the program’s allegations, a new detention centre will to be built and an inspector-general of corrections will be appointed, with other measures to follow from an independent review already under way and which will report on Friday.
Turnbull said “cultural and administrative problems” needed to be resolved.
“We need to understand how it was that there were inquiries into Don Dale (youth detention centre) as a place where there had been allegations and claims of abuse … that did not produce the evidence that we’ve seen last night,” he said.
The Law Council has called for the immediate closure of the Don Dale centre, in line with an earlier Children’s Commission report.
The upcoming royal commission, likely to be led by a senior lawyer or retired judge, will have powers to compel witnesses and the production of evidence. It’s expected to jointly run by the federal and NT governments and the terms of reference to be drafted soon.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said a “broad, systemic” response was necessary.
“There are solutions to this … but the horror that we saw last night cannot go unanswered,” he told 2GB radio.
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor was ready and willing to work with the Government on a royal commission.
“This national shame demands national action,” he wrote on Facebook.
Federal Liberal indigenous MP Ken Wyatt said he was so stunned at the ABC revelations last night that he immediately texted the Prime Minister.
“I was angry,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“That we, as a first world nation, are doing this to Aboriginal kids in custody also beggars the question were there other children who weren’t indigenous that were subjected to the same processes that we saw last night.”
Indigenous Labor Senator Pat Dodson congratulated the Prime Minister for announcing the royal commission, describing the abuse of inmates as a matter of “utter shame”.
“The fact young people have been treated in this manner obviously shows there’s no concept of the duty of care, which is a principle matter highlighted in the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody,” he told ABC radio today.
Senator Dodson believes the NT Attorney-General should stand down in the meantime.
“The person who is responsible for the oversight of these duties and responsibilities, if they’ve got any honour about them, ought to stand aside voluntarily or they ought to be sat aside by their chief minister,” he said.
“These kids have been subject to this torture and mistreatment since 2010 basically, and some of them repeatedly, and you can’t allow the people who have been in charge of this … to remain in charge.”
He wants the royal commission to be bipartisan and hopes it is led by someone with experience.
Senator Dodson admired the courage of the young men who spoke up and lawyers for exposing what happened.
The former commissioner into Aboriginal deaths in custody said the issue of incarceration should be further discussed by the Council of Australian Governments.
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