SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into NT juvenile detention; Constitutional Recognition; Labor’s win in Herbert
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody, it's good to be in Darwin again, in the Territory, my third day here and, of course, I'm here with Malarndirri McCarthy, our new Senator, and Senator Pat Dodson, my Assistant Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs. First of all, I just want to say that Labor regards the actions of Justice Brian Martin to be the actions of an honourable man. He wanted to help and he wanted to serve in this Royal Commission and now what he's done in difficult circumstances is he's given the Royal Commission the best opportunity to move forward. I don't regard this current confusion and his stepping down as Royal Commissioner to be his fault at all. He hasn't caused any of the difficulties. In fact he has helped restore and indeed give new energy to the Royal Commission by his honourable actions. The same can't be said for Mr Turnbull or Mr Brandis. They rushed the Royal Commission appointment, they failed to talk to affected groups, especially in the Northern Territory, and this is what happens when you rush and you bungle, you create confusion, you cause problems and you put people into corners. Today's announcement could have been avoided if Mr Turnbull had simply learned one lesson - consult, cooperate, achieve consensus by listening to people. Since the last election, Mr Turnbull has spoken a great deal about consensus, cooperation, and consultation, but in one of his early tests about consensus, and cooperation, and consultation, he has failed abysmally. We shouldn't see this sort of administrative bungling, this sort of high-handed one-man band antics from the Government that they know best and don't need to worry about what anyone else says. Today, Labor welcomes the appointment of the two new Royal Commissioners. We want to see this Royal Commission proceed now and get on with the important work of understanding and improving the youth justice system in the Northern Territory. But there is a very clear lesson here that Mr Turnbull needs to learn for the nation's sake - if you want to make good decisions, consult people first. Labor has been bipartisan about the goal of the Royal Commission and we remain bipartisan about the goal of the Royal Commission. There are young people who are receiving abominable and abysmal treatment in the Northern Territory youth justice system such as it is. That is the real issue here, and we need the Government to focus on that, not through rush and arrogance and haste causing the sort of confusion which has seen an honourable man have to step down this morning in difficult circumstances. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Last week Mick Gooda made a few tweets about the NT Government should be sacked. How do you think that reflects on his new role as Commissioner in this Royal Commission?
SHORTEN: Mr Gooda is an eminent Australian. Labor called, after consulting with Aboriginal groups in the Territory and elsewhere, we called for a co-Commissioner or Commissioners, one of whom should be at the very least, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. We do welcome Mr Gooda's appointment. In terms of what he tweeted last week, he's explained, he's explained what he was doing then. He said it was a very tough week. I just want to say, having been in the Territory for the last three days, there are a lot tougher things being said about the Giles Government than what Mr Gooda said. The fact of the matter is, every Australian who watched the Four Corners footage of last Monday was shocked, was sickened by this image of Australian justice being a 14-year-old teenager strapped and hooded and restrained in a chair. That is not the Australia which 99.9 per cent of Australians support and that is not the vision of our justice system that we want the world seeing or our young people experiencing. Mr Gooda has explained his remarks. I have to say that there is a lot of Aboriginal people, in particular in the Territory, who are hurting. There is real anger at the Giles Government. There is real frustration, there is a real sense of hurt and pain and I think that if anyone was to speak to people in the Northern Territory, there would be quite a lot of Mr Gooda's sentiment coming from different quarters.
JOURNALIST: You're saying that he had a tough week but we are talking about someone who will have a role as co-Commissioner in a Royal Commission and his comments potentially show a previous position that may cause a conflict. How is it that Brian Martin should potentially be OK to stand down and not OK for - and it's OK for Mick Gooda to continue on in that role?
SHORTEN: I don't think I could find any Australian who wouldn't have had a negative view of those images on the Four Corners report. I don't think that person exists in Australia. If they weren't sickened by the images on Four Corners, I wouldn't think they would be appropriate to be a Royal Commissioner either.
JOURNALIST: So you don't think there is any conflict whatsoever?
SHORTEN: Well Mr Gooda has explained that. And I have to say, I invite Mr Turnbull to come with me, to talk to Aboriginal families, Aboriginal young people in the Territory. What we need now is more understanding and less judgement. What we need now is people who have been disempowered and not listened to, to be listened to. The real politics here is that the Government over the last week rushed into a process, they didn't properly consult, it's now blown up in their face. Now we are trying to get it back on track. I was the person who called over the weekend, after consulting with Aboriginal groups, that there should be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander co-Commissioner or co-Commissioners. I'm pleased that the Government has heeded that call. All I'm doing is reflecting the views of literally tens of thousands of people who live in the Territory.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Margaret White being co-Commissioner?
SHORTEN: We welcome the appointment of these two people. We want to get down to the business of making sure that the sort of scenes that we saw can't happen again and understanding how they came to happen. I've spent the last three days in the Territory talking with leaders, talking with legal advocates, talking with young Aboriginal people, talking with their families. The system which is going on here in the Northern Territory isn't acceptable. There have been reports, there have been investigations and not enough has happened. I hope that the Royal Commission is a turning point, that some good can come out of those terrible images, those shocking images - that now we decide that we are going to properly see proper support for youth justice. We cannot treat our young people, be they Indigenous or non-Indigenous, in the images we saw on Four Corners.
JOURNALIST: One of the newest recruits for the Labor Party is Territory Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy who is with us here today, she had quite a large role in the child protection system. She is a former Northern Territory Child Protection Minister, in fact, she presided over a system that was so broken and ended up in an independent board of inquiry which described there was a tsunami of need and that the system was broken. Have you spoken to Malarndirri McCarthy about her contributions to the child protection system and whether or not she may have to appear before the royal commission?
SHORTEN: I don't accept a few of the assumptions in that question. First of all Malarndirri McCarthy is an outstanding leader and she'll make an outstanding Senator. In terms of the actions the previous Territory Labor administrations took, the State or Territory leader at the moment, Michael Gunner has made it clear that everyone takes some responsibility for the system and deterioration and the system that we now see on television. Let's be straight here. It's been Labor administrations at the Territory level who've pushed for inquiries, who've pushed for change. I think the fact of the matter here is that we see a system which is failing our young people. There are very few things which could be regarded as more important than the welfare of our children. I know that the whole Labor team is united and committed to this Royal Commission but it is greatly frustrating that the Government have bungled this early test of their process of cooperation. It is right that people are outraged over the images they saw. But these images are not necessarily new news for people in the Territory. What we've now got to do is get to the bottom of why the problem persists, how do we make sure young Aboriginal people do not end up, through neglect in the custodial system and prison system when many of them through earlier intervention could be put back on the right track and given proper educational and job opportunities.
JOURNALIST: Just to go back to that question though, did you talk to Malarndirri McCarthy at any stage about her role as the former Northern Territory Children Commissioner. Is was during her reign unfortunately she had a few horrible inquest that piled up, there were some other issues also about children appearing with hospital wounds, there was a Director of Paediatrics writing letters about children potentially starving. All of this happened under her watch or under previous Labor Minister watches. Have you talked to her about what led to that situation?
SHORTEN: I've certainly spoken with Malarndirri in terms of her commitment to reforming child protection. I absolutely believe she is 100 per cent committed to that. And of course the images which we saw last Monday which have triggered this Royal Commission do deserve a Royal Commission. We support that. But what we've seen in the last week is a Government acting in such haste that they failed to listen to the voices of people in this community. After I met with Aboriginal justice advocates, Aboriginal health advocates, leaders in the community, people who work in the justice system in the Northern Territory, it became very clear to me in the course of Saturday that if there weren't Aboriginal co-Commissioners, this inquiry would be greeted with great scepticism. I'm not saying that everybody is going to be happy with the inquiry as it's now constituted. But Labor is more confident about this inquiry now that the Government has decided, in part through Brian Martin's actions, to include an Aboriginal co-Commissioner and so I'm very confident.
JOURNALIST: Did he have a conflict of interest do you thing?
SHORTEN: Did Brian Martin?
JOURNALIST: Yeah, just to go back to Brian Martin.
SHORTEN: Well he addressed that question. I'm not here to second guess him. Labor was prepared to accept him as the Royal Commissioner. There were obviously concerns raised in the Territory. We were prepared to accept him as the Royal Commissioner. We believed there needed to be an Aboriginal co-Commissioner or co-Commissioners. We admired the fact that Brian Martin didn't want to make himself the issue. That was an honourable course of action, not any easy course of action. We attach no blame whatsoever to Justice Martin in terms of his actions. We are pleased there's a co-Commissioner. We do hope that Malcolm Turnbull's learned the simple lesson, that if you want to make good decisions, you've got to consult. You can't run Australia as a one-man band, you've got to consult. The bungling which has seen this course of event in the last few days hopefully will be a lesson for Mr Turnbull and his team, that the more they consult, you know they should talk to Labor about the decisions they make before they make them on issues as important as this. I'm sure that collectively, just as I did when I came up here to listen to Aboriginal groups and representatives, we could collectively get to better outcomes with less angst as we've seen with the Government just trying to do it all their own way.
JOURNALIST: Are you worried the controversy has set the Royal Commission back and if so, do you feel somewhat responsible for applying pressure about having Indigenous co-Commissioners?
SHORTEN: I think that the Government got themselves into a mess all on their own on this one. I think that their failure to consult, their failure to include an Aboriginal co-Commissioner or co-Commissioners that was a Government decision. Now I believe that the Royal Commission can be successful. We welcome the new appointments, we acknowledge the selfless act of Brian Martin. For me, what matters, isn't how the Government's feeling about the issue. What matters to us is that we've got young people in detention right now. What matters to us is to make sure that the shocking scenes we saw on Four Corners are not repeated. What matters to us is to make sure that young Aboriginal people, it doesn't become a rite of passage for them to end up in jail. What matters to us is to make sure we don't have young people, who through neglect of a system which is failing, end up with jail as their only alternative when there are other alternatives that don't involve custodial sentences which could help set the kids up on a much better trajectory in life.
JOURNALIST: You've offered your support to a treaty like process with Indigenous Australians do you accept that this could potentially put back the case for constitutional recognition?
SHORTEN: Not at all. I've said nothing new yesterday that I haven't said for months. The fact of the matter is we should have constitutional recognition. I think Mr Turnbull wants that too by the way. The problem is that we see the right-wing puppet masters of the Liberal Party trying to seize upon every comment, trying to seize upon every alternative view to their own narrow view of the world to tie Mr Turnbull's hands together. The reality is that the right-wing puppet masters of the Liberal Party will try to derail constitutional recognition just like they tried to derail Kevin Rudd's candidacy for the UN. Every time they pull the strings, Mr Turnbull dances to the strings of the right-wing of his party.
JOURNALIST: Ewen Jones says he is not ruling out a possible challenge to the result in Herbert. Did you counsel him against doing that?
SHORTEN: What the Liberal Party do is up to them. What I’m confident about is that Cathy O'Toole, I and Labor will get down to the business of standing up for jobs in Townsville. I spent six or seven days of that long election campaign in Townsville. The biggest issue in Townsville is jobs. We will make sure that the Liberal Party are kept to their promises about building the new stadium in Townsville. We will make sure the promises on jobs are kept. It's up to the Liberal Party, if they want to pursue legal and political debates. I and Cathy O'Toole and Labor will work hard to improve the job situation for people in Townsville who are doing it hard. In fact I'm going to Townsville later today.
JOURNALIST: Just to go back to Mick Gooda, should he have been aware of some of the conditions in Don Dale already, he is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, there were numerous reports already on the record, does he have some skin in the game here that makes it inappropriate for him to be co-Commissioner from that sense point of view?
SHORTEN: I think Mr Gooda is a distinguished Australian. He is not in charge of the corrections system in the Northern Territory. I think if you want to look at some of the debate about who should have done what, you need to get closer to the Government of the Northern Territory. Thanks everybody, see you later.