SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into NT juvenile detention; The Coalition not supporting the nomination of Kevin Rudd for the UN Secretary General position.
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Thanks for coming ladies and gentlemen. My name is Luke Gosling, the member for Solomon. It's fantastic to have our Labor leader, Bill Shorten in town today. He's here to listen and we've just had some great meetings and we'll be very pleased to be also spending some more time in the Territory over the next couple of days. So, great to have Bill in town. Thanks for coming.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Luke and it's great to be here with the new member for Solomon, Luke Gosling and of course our new Senator for the Northern Territory, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.
On Monday night, I think a lot of Australians got an overdue wake up call. We all saw the appalling images. Chloe and I, as parents, were shocked that a child could be treated in this way. The picture of Australian justice now appears to be that of a 14-year-old boy hooded and strapped and restrained to a chair. That is not Australian justice and that is not the way this nation should treat its children. Labor absolutely supports a Royal Commission, making sure that the welfare of children in the justice system is upheld and not abused, as we've seen. But it is important that if we're to do this Royal Commission, that it is done properly. The Royal Commission about the protection of our children is a matter of the highest importance and should be down in the most professional way possible.
Now, I understand there's been some reservations expressed about the Royal Commissioner, but the Prime Minister set the Royal Commissioner as the person who's picked and that's that. I would ask Mr Turnbull to listen carefully to the voices of Aboriginal Australians, in particular but not exclusively the voices of Northern Territory Aboriginal Australians. I'm up here to listen. It is the children of Aboriginal Australians who are experiencing incarceration in some of the shocking images we saw so graphically on ABC's 4 Corners show less than a week ago. I think it's important that Mr Turnbull consult Aboriginal Australians who live in the Northern Territory about how their anger, their concern and their experiences best given voice. This Royal Commission has to be done with Aboriginal people, not to Aboriginal people. I believe it would be appropriate for the Royal Commission to have have two co-commissioners who are Aboriginal Australians, strong people, men and women who can make sure the voices and the experiences of Aboriginal Australians are given full justice in this Royal Commission. In the last ten years it's been estimated there might have been 1500 or 2000 Aboriginal children through some of these facilities - through this facility and indeed through the Northern Territory legal system. Some of these people I suspect will have received the same sort of treatment or worse than what we saw on Monday night. Their stories deserve to be heard and they deserve to see Aboriginal Royal Commissioners hearing their story and providing that understanding and lessons and learning which has been denied them so far.
I ask Mr Turnbull to put two Aboriginal co-commissioners to support the Royal Commission. I ask Mr Turnbull to come to the Northern Territory, there's a lot of people up here who are hurting. There's a lot of parents who are frustrated at their wits end that with more support they could be looking after their children rather than seeing children in the custodial system. It's important when we look at this Royal Commission, not only to ensure that children in the care of the state, in the care of government are properly treated. We need also to ask the question: why are so many young Aboriginal people been given custodial sentences in our justice system? I have to say this is not just a challenge for the Northern Territory, other States in Australia have unacceptability high rate of incarceration, custodial sentences and keeping kids on remand in the equivalent of prisons. It cannot be the case in this country that the colour of your skin increases the likelihood of you going to jail or receiving custodial sentences.
Labor supports this Royal Commission, we just want to make sure though that when we're having a Royal Commission into the welfare of children in our justice system, that the job is done properly. The last thing Aboriginal Australians want, in fact the last thing all Australians want, is another report, another set of recommendations which get ignored and the problem and the pain goes on and on and on.
Happy to take questions on this and other matters.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you know the concerns that the Royal Commissioner, Brian Martin that there would be a conflict of interest, given one, the fact that he presided over the justice system, he had such a key role between 2004 and 2010, and two, because his daughter, Joanna, worked as a justice advisor to the former Labor NT Government?
SHORTEN: Well there have been debates about the Royal Commissioner's conflicts of interest. I think Australians want to see this Royal Commission conducted to the highest possible standards. The Royal Commissioner, as a lawyer and jurist has some considerable eminence. But it is important there can be no apprehension of bias. Mr Turnbull said this is the Royal Commissioner he wants. Labor will call upon Mr Turnbull to make sure there are co-commissioners who are Aboriginal, who are strong people, who can make sure that people who've been through this justice system, who may have been mistreated or worse, have their voices heard. I think in order to satisfy a whole lot of people who are concerned about the very issues you've raised, Mr Turnbull would be well advised to listen to Aboriginal people, come up to the Territory, not to do it even by telephone, but to come up here. It would also be well advised, in my opinion as someone who supports the Royal Commission, as someone who is willing to extend bipartisanship to this very, very important inquiry, to makes sure there are co-commissioners who are Aboriginal, experienced, strong leaders of their community. The anger out in Aboriginal communities, all around the Territory, is real and they are looking for real action. I think it is important that the government of the day sustain and support the legitimate desire of Aboriginal people to make sure that this inquiry is the best possible inquiry it can be and nothing less than that would satisfy, I think, not just Aboriginal Australians but all Australians who were appalled and shocked by that imagery on Monday night.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any suggestions is to who the co-commissioners could be?
SHORTEN: No, I don’t. I think sometimes when Labor suggests something we get a knee-jerk reaction from the Liberals. So if I put a couple of names out there, I wouldn't want the Liberals just ruling it out because we said it. Unfortunately that's where some parties are shifting in Australian politics. Maybe for Mr Turnbull to talk to Aboriginal communities, there are many distinguished people in Aboriginal Australia who could provide that sort of weight and balance and seriousness and authenticity to this Royal Commission. I think, most people could reel off a dozen names right now but I think it is important. I think to have an inquiry on the treatment of Aboriginal children in the justice system in the Northern Territory and not have Aboriginal co-commissioners will be seen as a political manipulation.
JOURNALIST: Do you preclude Territorians?
SHORTEN: Well, I think there is a debate which goes on, which says that people who haven't been directly involved in the Territory justice system might be able to come and look at the system with fresh eyes. In terms of Aboriginal Australia though, I think that there's no doubt there's plenty of eminent people from the north of Australia who could help fill the bill in terms of being co-commissioners. And I would encourage Mr Turnbull to look from the Northern Territory and Northern Australia for Aboriginal co-commissioners. I say to Malcolm, this will be test of the credibility of the Royal Commission. Aboriginal Australians, it's their children who are in these facilities, it's their children who are suffering some of the shocking treatment that we've seen. I think that for Aboriginal Australians and indeed many other Australians to be satisfied you've got to empower Aboriginal Australians to be part of the Royal Commission, not just be called in to give their evidence.
SHORTEN: Well again, as soon as I start calling in names, we've seen what's happened with Mr Rudd being a former Labor Prime Minister. We've seen the partisanship of that issue. I don't want to - the Government can work these issues through, I don't need to use megaphone or dare I say TV diplomacy on who. But I definitely think that this Royal Commission needs to be one which listens to the experiences of Aboriginal Australians and I think Aboriginal Australians need to see their own people at being at the Royal Commission taking the evidence, not just giving the evidence.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor accept the Commission's legitimacy if it does proceed without Aboriginal co-commissioners?
SHORTEN: Well, what would determine the legitimacy on the Commission is what comes up in it. But I think if you don't have Aboriginal co-commissioners, I think that's a missed opportunity. If you don't adequately resource the legal aid services, which are battling on the smell of an oily rag at the moment to be able to support people giving evidence, that will undermine it's credibility. If you don't have counselors assisting and lawyers, who are at the highest sort of professionalism and regards and perceived independence, I think that's an important test for the Royal Commission. I think it's important to be able to make sure that just like we've seen with the Royal Commission in institutional responses on child abuse, I think one of the important learnings from that Royal Commission which should inform this Royal Commission is making sure that survivors, people who believe that they've been treated wrongly, get the chance to tell their story. I think if we don't have that, if it's all done very quickly and we don't hear the stories of people, we don't hear the voices of Aboriginal Australians, then we're destined to keep repeating the mistakes of the past. The other thing I say is that not everything has to wait until the end of the Royal Commission. There's no doubt in my mind that some of the circumstances which are [inaudible] a factory of sending kids into jail, i think that we could start looking at the causes of that without waiting for a Royal Commission.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten you mentioned Kevin Rudd just before, what are your thoughts on Malcolm Turnbull refusing to give [inaudible].
SHORTEN: Malcolm Turnbull's actions are pathetic, they're disappointing. He's not the person I thought he'd be when he became Prime Minister. When he became Prime Minister, I thought Labor's job will be harder but at least we'll have a more sensible political debate in this country. Mr Turnbull in his first actions in getting re-elected has screwed the chances to be a leader for all Australians and all he's trying to do is paper over the divisions in the Liberal Party. What it shows me is when his Treasurer lines up with the Abbott right, Mr Turnbull's no longer running the Government. And in the meantime someone, a former Prime Minister of Australia, a distinguished Australian, has been treated in a very shabby fashion after nothing more than, I think, petty politics.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Royal Commission, it's starting to look at child protection as well, given that fact, do you have any regrets about backing Malarndirri Mccarthy as [inaudible] when she was the Child Protection Minister in Northern Territory, she's forced to resign because of her failings in that child protection portfolio.
SHORTEN: No, listen I don’t accept any of the assumptions you just made in that statement. This Royal Commission is important, and it is about the welfare of children, I am pleased it includes the child protection service. As my Deputy Leader said, I thought pretty well, during the week while I was on leave, she said I think all of us take some responsibility for what we’re seeing. Everyone in the system, in politics, takes some responsibility, and we should. But I think Malarndirri McCarthy is a very distinguished Australian. I know some people want to make political point scoring about her. I’m not buying into that. For me, what my sessions today, meeting Aboriginal leaders, lawyers, people working in the system, what it showed me today is that it’s about making sure that children are not inadvertently or deliberately sent into the criminal justice system, that never again do we see those sorts of images. My definition of Australian justice, my vision of Australian justice, is not to see a 14-year-old boy hooded and strapped and restrained to a chair.
JOURNALIST: Adam Giles pushed very hard to get child protection included in those terms of reference. Do you think he’s doing that because he wanted to play political games? Or do you think that is a good idea generally [inaudible].
SHORTEN: I think child protection is a legitimate term of reference, Labor has said that. Listen, Mr Giles has got an election in four weeks. It’s the people of the Territory that will pass judgment on this government, whether or not they want to close this dysfunctional but exciting chapter in the Territory’s history. For me, today is all about the images we saw on Monday, but it’s also something I’ve been talking about since I became Opposition Leader. We need to close the justice gap in this country. When I say close the justice gap what I mean is, it is not right in this country, nor is it inevitable, that a young Aboriginal man at the age of 18, in this country, is more likely to go to jail than to go to university. It is not right that 97 per cent of the kids in the juvenile justice system are black in the Northern Territory. It isn’t right that we’ve got kids being remanded and locked up for offences which in other parts of Australia, if they were of a different nature, if the kids were different, they wouldn’t be in jail for. It is not right when you see those scenes of what more befit Australia’s image of what might happen in a Middle Eastern cell, in terms of a war zone, than what they see in Australia. It’s not right. So we do support the Royal Commission, but we think it’s important that Mr Turnbull does it properly, that the Territory Government frankly should be more at arm’s length, and that there’s a proper investigation and it is done involving Aboriginal Australians at the very top of this inquiry. Anything less than that I think won’t deal with some of the anger that’s legitimately felt in the Australian community. Thanks everyone, I think we’ve given it a good run today.