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Indigenous leader to co-chair NT royal commission


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has been appointed to co-lead the Federal Government’s royal commission investigating abuse in Northern Territory youth detention.

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Gooda, whose co-chair will be former Queensland Supreme Court justice Margaret White, was appointed after former NT chief justice Brian Ross Martin stepped down amid criticism of his appointment.

There had been accusations of a conflict of interest over Justice Martin’s daughter’s employment as an adviser to the former NT attorney-general.

Questions were also raised about whether he had a personal conflict, given he may have sentenced young people involved in the inquiry who were potentially abused behind bars.

He said his decision to resign was solely his own.

“My resignation does not imply any criticism of the Government, Prime Minister or the Attorney-General,” he told reporters in Canberra.

He said it became apparent, “rightly or wrongly”, that he would not have the full confidence of sections of the indigenous community that have a vital interest in the inquiry.

“As a consequence, the effectiveness of the commission is likely to be compromised from the outset.

“I am not prepared to proceed in the face of that risk. This royal commission is far too important to undertake that risk.”

Gooda has high standing in the indigenous community around the country, and is also popular with both sides of politics.

In 2010, he was appointed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission by a Labor government and in a display of bipartisanship, reappointed by the coalition.

A Gangulu man from central Queensland, Gooda is passionate about closing the health gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and each year releases a progress report in Canberra. He also vocally pushes for a justice target to close the gap in incarceration rates.

Attorney-General George Brandis said he had “very high regard” for Gooda, whom he described as an obvious candidate to help lead the royal commission.

“Mr Gooda obviously meets the need, which the government accepts, for there to be an indigenous voice among the commissioners,” Senator Brandis said.

At least 95 per cent of young people in NT detention are indigenous.

While liked by both sides of politics, Gooda’s neutrality has already been questioned after he called for the NT Government’s head when the footage aired.

“The federal government has to intervene and sack the NT Government,” he wrote on Twitter last week.

While being revealed as co-commissioner today, Gooda defended that remark as one made on a “day of emotions”.

“In the clear light of day, I probably wouldn’t think that,” he told reporters.






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