SUBJECT/S: Garma Festival; Royal Commission into NT juvenile detention.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody, it's a real privilege to be at the 16th annual Garma Festival and it's a great privileged to be here with so many of Labor's Northern Australia team. We've got Luke Gosling, our new member for Solomon, we've got Malarndirri McCarthy, our new Senator for the Northern Territory. We've got Warren Snowden, he's been re-elected for the seat of Lingiari and also one of my Assistant Ministers and of course we've got Senator Pat Dodson, from Northern Australia and one of my Assistant Ministers as well.
We're here this weekend, not only at Garma but in Darwin to talk about the issues which are affecting Aboriginal Australia. And in the last week Australians saw a new, ugly revelation of Australian justice. It's a 14 year old boy hooded and strapped and restrained to a chair. I don't think most Australians ever knew this sort of conduct was happening and I certainly don't think any Australian upon reflecting thinks that is the image of Australian justice which we want to provide, not only to the world but to our young people.
Yesterday in Darwin, I met with leaders from the Aboriginal community, from the Aboriginal justice movement and indeed from the Northern Territory legal community and child protection services. And they all had a common view that for this Royal Commission to be taken seriously, to be authentic and to indeed to have some part or some function of therapeutic justice to hear the story of survivors over the last 10 years there, must be Aboriginal co-commissioners. A man and a woman. To make sure that it's not just Aboriginal Australians telling their story, they're telling them to Aboriginal Australians in a position to rectify the problems. I believe that there is a great opportunity for Mr Turnbull to come up to the Territory, to listen to the stories and to take real action and hear the legitimate concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who want to see their own people as co- commissioners in the Royal Commission.
Furthermore, this is a great chance for me to talk to groups on every issue from family violence to some of the success stories in employment and the ranger program. To re-litigate Labor's agenda to have more Aboriginal people to become teachers in our education system. To provide greater funding for the early years, to make sure that our ranger programs are properly supported and of course to make sure that we tackle third world problems which shouldn't exist in Australia, such as but not limited to trachoma.
Labor's here to listen, we're here to consult, we're here to treat Aboriginal Australia and its representatives with respect and I've got a great team supporting me, some of whom are here today. And I should also acknowledge Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. We're ready to listen, we're determined to make sure that even from opposition the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples get the respect and the hearing that is too long overdue.
Happy to take any questions, as are my team.
JOURNALIST: You said that, really, we failed in helping provide diversion, prevention from [inaudible] etc. How much money should we put into that and what kind of programs would you like to see supported?
SHORTEN: Well, let me start that two part question, I'll answer the second part first. It should not be the inevitable consequence that when a young person who is at high risk or suffering from neglect ends up in jail. It is not the case that the colour of someone’s skin should be the best predictor of whether or not young people go to jail and the truth of the matter is it is. We need to have more non-custodial pathways for young people who are at risk. If you've got a young child, a young teenager who might be getting into low level misdemeanours, we've got to have an issue where they don't end up in the former Berrima Jail in Darwin. And this is not just a problem for the Northern Territory.
There are plenty of examples of young people, where they are given the right education, the right child protection, the right youth work that they can, you know, get back on track with the right care and their families get the right support, because what family doesn't experience stumbles from time to time?The answer to helping our young people grow up and the welfare of our young people who are at risk and families who are doing it hard cannot be jail in nearly every case. So, there are lots of successful programs but this requires proper funding. When you cut family services programs, when you don't provide the sort of extra resources in schools, when you don't provide non-custodial remedies, when you've got kids who when they're let go just end up on the street and the only place to send them is a jail or a detention centre. This country has sufficient resources to do that better. Certainly we're going to be looking at the changes that need to be made.
And I have to say, as important as a Royal Commission is, a lot of these solutions have already been proposed, you've had children's commissioners, you've had boards of inquiry, you've had work already done. But if you cut social services to the bone, if you don't provide options to the courts for the police to help send young people in other directions, then we are creating the circumstances of inevitable failure and we've seen the extreme end of that with other shocking images of abuse last Monday night on ABC's Four Corners.
JOURNALIST: Earlier this week Michael Gunner, the Opposition Leader, acknowledged that part of this [inaudible].
SHORTEN: Well I think that what the Northern Territory Opposition Leader did was show leadership in the Territory. This system wasn’t created overnight, these abuses are not just a recent phenomena, but to be fair to the Northern Territory now Opposition, they did put in place recommendations and reviews, but what we’ve seen are further cutbacks and almost a desensitisation to the process. It is important that there is a set of laws in this country at the Territory and State level where by the logical conclusion of these laws isn’t funnelling, like a factory, kids into jail.
In terms of Federal Labor, some of the lessons that I observed were in my speech I just gave moments ago Dan. Unless you have Aboriginal people empowered, unless they are making decisions on behalf of themselves and their communities, as opposed to some top-down paternalism where you’ve got one person in Canberra who says ‘I know everything and everyone should do as I say’, you know that is a big lesson.
I couldn’t be prouder of the fact that in my Labor Opposition team, I’ve got Pat Dodson, Linda Burney, Malarndirri McCarthy – but I’ve also got experienced activists like Warren Snowden and others who are all working towards making sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues are at the top of our chart. One of the reasons why I chose to take the shadow portfolio responsibility is not as I said in there because I think I have all the answers, because I want the message to go out in mainstream Australian politics, not just to Aboriginal people, to non-Aboriginal people, I and the Labor Party don’t see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues as a marginal issue. I see that every issue that we have in this country as having an overlay to make sure that our first Australians are treated with respect.
When I look at environment, I see the role of rangers, I see the relationship to country. When I look at healthcare, I see making sure that we close the gap in terms of the unfair outcomes in health and mortality and illness which Aboriginal first Australians experience. When I look at jobs, I see opportunities to make sure we have successful entrepreneurs and small businesses, and we make sure that Aboriginal Australians are getting their fair share of employment in this country.
I have got a great team, you’re probably detecting a note of pride in me, but I’m very confident that in the next term of Parliament Labor can make sure that Aboriginal people are empowered to take control of their own lives and of course one of the big issues there is constitutional recognition, and I think that we need to see the results of the consultations of the Referendum Council, then the Parliament pretty promptly needs to hear their results and set down a path to having a successful referendum. Amos.
SHORTEN: Well Amos first of all I hope that the Government hears what we’re saying. I’ve deliberately not publicly said who they should be because I don’t want the Government, and we’ve seen the Deputy Prime Minister already have a knee-jerk reaction when I just reflected what Aboriginal communities have said to me yesterday, when I said there should be Aboriginal commissioners. I’m disappointed that the Deputy Prime Minister immediately rules that out. Australians are sick and tired of partisan politics, they’re sick of because Labor says something the Liberals say no. I hope, and that’s why I’m not going to assume that the Government won’t hear what we’re saying. If you want this Royal Commission to be successful, and I think all Australians do, I think that what we want to see is that Aboriginal people and their leaders – and there are many respected leaders in the community that could do the job as co-commissioners – I think that if we’re going to solve a problem, part of the problem now is that you haven’t had Aboriginal people in charge of their own future. So I think the co-commissioner argument will be in and of itself a serious test for the credibility of the Commission. Now when you talk about a boycott, the Commission’s got its powers, it’s going to happen, and I would recommend people tell their stories, I don’t think non-participation is the answer, is my personal opinion, but I think for a lot of Aboriginal people this Royal Commission will be a far less credible venture if they’re not being consulted with, listened to; we don’t have a man and a woman as co-commissioners.
In terms of the outcomes, I just think the Royal Commission, and you have Royal Commissions into all sorts of issues in this country, but I can’t think of any more important than a Royal Commission into the welfare of our children, and when it comes to the welfare of our children, this Royal Commission should be the best, so I don’t see why the Liberals should accept a second best outcome. By not listening to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of the Territory and beyond, and having their voices, not just telling their stories, but listening in judgment, listening in inquiry to help formulate the answers.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] described it yesterday as looking like a con-job if there weren’t Aboriginal Commissioners, do you stand by that?
SHORTEN: I’m reflecting what Aboriginal people are telling me, at the end of the day I want the Royal Commission to be successful. Why should Australians settle for second best when we’ve got a terrible juvenile detention system at the excesses that we’ve seen? Don’t those kids who were strapped down, don’t their parents, don’t their families who are hurting deserve the rest of us to do the best we can? I don’t think there’s any Australian out of 24 million who thinks that those images are acceptable, and if we all agree on that then surely we can use this as a turning point to make sure that we have the best possible Royal Commission. What on earth, and I notice the Deputy Prime Minister on a rather crass remarks that Royal Commissions only ever have one person.
I’d like to refer him to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, that had a range of Royal Commissioners. I’d like to refer him to the Black Saturday Royal Commission, which had multiple Royal Commissioners.I'd like to refer him to the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child abuse. That had a range of Royal Commissioners. I'd like to refer him to the Black Saturday Royal Commission which had multiple Royal Commissioners. You know, if we're going to get this right, let's do it right the first time rather than come back and have other people who feel alienated from the process. This isn't just a process issue. This is an issue of substance. If we don't do the voices of Aboriginal people properly, if we don't hear them, if we don't give them control on an event which they've had no control on, then I think we are dooming ourselves to repeat the same mistakes which have marked the past.
JOURNALIST: Outside of the concerns you have about the lack of Aboriginal Commissioners, the terms of reference look at child protection [inaudible] adequately managed? And I'm interested in everyone's opinions.
SHORTEN: Alright I'll get others to speak in a moment, but I'm pleased that they included child protection. I think that in terms of the terms of reference, there are some people who think there should be more, like your question indicates. I don't think anything really holds this Royal Commission back from getting to the heart of the matter, but none of this is going to be effective if we just look at how kids are treated in care, in detention, I wouldn't use the word in care, how they are treated in detention. We've also got to have a discussion, why are so many Aboriginal kids ending up in detention? I don't accept that there is a wave of criminality amongst one portion of our population. What we are seeing is people are being criminalised by neglect in too many cases. So unless the Royal Commission looks at how we divert young people from not receiving custodial sentences or being kept in remand, and being exposed to these events, you know, then it's not going far enough. In terms of the overarching issues, I'm considering that if the Commission is set up properly, not only co-commissioners, if there's Aboriginal men and women, if there's an Aboriginal unit which helps do the cultural work, making it accessible. There's been somewhere between 1500 and 2000 people in the last 10 years, young people who have gone through Don Dale, you know we need to hear some of those stories as well, if there's a cultural unit. I want to also reassure people that regardless of the Royal Commission, we'll keep talking to people, we're not going to let this issue go. There are things that don't require a Royal Commission to act upon, and Territory Labor has already started making commitments around that. And we are interested in the overarching issues but I'm happy to get Pat or Malarndirri or someone else to just add to your question.
MALARNDIRRI MACCARTHY, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Look certainly if we can get two Indigenous Commissioners on the Royal Commission, I have no doubt that those people in place will make sure that all of these aspects are taken into consideration. As Bill says, not only the resourcing in terms of the cultural appropriateness, of being able to listen to the stories, you need to have interpreters, we have over 100 Aboriginal languages here, we have the Northern Territory Aboriginal Interpreter Service. We have to ensure that those people who work in departments and feel that they would like to give evidence, also have the opportunity to speak without feeling that they will be victimised in any way, or any kind of retribution. So it's quite clear to me that the request by Aboriginal organisations to ensure that there are Indigenous people involved in this is quite critical to its success.
SHORTEN: Thanks, we might just get a couple more questions, has NITV had a question yet if they've got one? News Limited has had a question. Has Fairfax had a crack? Alright and ABC. Just got to make sure we genuflect to all the altars.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Senator Dodson's comments this morning regarding Adam Giles potentially in the future taking over from Nigel Scullion on the Senate ticket. He said it would an abject failure of justice, do you agree with that?
SHORTEN: It's ultimately a matter for the CLP, but the Territory people are going to get their chance to pass judgment on the gaffe-prone, scandal-ridden Giles Government. Whenever there's a debate in the Territory, as I perceive, about criticising the government, they generally lash out and attack the messenger or counter-attack on the accuser. The fact of the matter is I think there is a mood for change in the Territory. It will be up to Territorians who they select. In terms of who they line up for their national team, I'm interested in not who replaces, the only people I'm interested in replacing LNP people with are Labor candidates at the next election when they're successful. Last question Amos.
JOURNALIST: Just on the referendum, based on what we've heard this weekend, it seems to be the view increasingly [inaudible] next year date. Are you prepared to step back from that and accept [inaudible]. You also would have heard, I'm sure be aware of Galarrwuy and others calls for something like a network of treaties, a constitutional mandate for land rights, is that something you're prepared to consider? And the third part to that question, given the breadth of things we've heard this weekend, is there a risk of Indigenous people being severely disappointed by this process getting so far out into territory that might not be realistically likely to pass, and should the Government do something to remedy that?
SHORTEN: That'll teach me for giving one last question. I'll try and go through the three questions that you said. In terms of the timetable, my preference is for May of next year, but let's get things in their natural sequence. We've got a Referendum Council, that's taking a little longer, we've had this eight-week election, the Parliament needs to consider the outcome of the consultations of the Referendum Council and I think that'll have an influence on timing. It's long overdue to have constitutional recognition, but I'm going to respect the work of the Referendum Council, and then the work of my colleagues in Parliament as they respond to it.
In terms of what's been said about constitutional recognition and what happens after that, I'm clearly of the view and I even raised it during the election, on the Q&A show, that constitutional recognition is a hook in order to work on post-recognition settlement. I've been very interested in the debates which have been circulated today and elsewhere and I've heavily influenced by Pat and others in terms of what we do. You know, let's be straight, constitutional recognition is important and it shouldn't be beyond the wit and wisdom of the nation to be able to recognise our first Australians in a nation's, sort of, official birth certificate. But that is not in itself going to resolve every issue for the last 200 years. What we need to do is have practical reconciliation and symbolic reconciliation. I don’t think people need to run, you know, run away screaming as soon as the word treaty is used and I think we just need to, some of the protagonists need to get over themselves. I think we can work all of these issues through.
For me though, the test of what is successful is when young Aborigines aren't being jailed in the numbers they are, when Aboriginal people are getting the same life expectancy. When there is genuine life recognition of the first Australians in our forums, in our agreements, in our constitution. I think Australians as a group have got a bit of common sense and I believe very much that there is a centre ground in Australian politics. You've got a few people at one edge and you've got a few people at the other edge. I think most Australians think is it legitimate to recognise our first Australians in the constitution. I don't think most Australians are running a million miles if there is talk of what is a settlement after that looks like. I think you've got to trust in the good will of Australian people.
I'll tell you where I'll finish all this interview off where I started. I feel privileged to be at Garma, I feel privileged not only to be talking to so many people interested in the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But I have got a very good team, I've got experienced people like Warren Snowdon and Luke Gosling but I'm really proud of the fact that we have three Aboriginal people, proud people, in the ranks of parliament making laws not just for Aborigines but working for the Parliament to make laws for all Australians. I think that's the plan for the future. Thank you everybody.