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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9863

Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:15): My question is to the minister representing the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. We have all heard about the horrifying abuses that came to light over the course of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Mr Turnbull, during question time on Monday, said that he would consider the recommendations handed down by the commission. I ask: is the government committed to implementing all of the recommendations directed at the Commonwealth by the royal commission? And what is the time line for the government's response to the royal commission's recommendations?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:16): Thank you very much, Senator Siewert. That's a very important question. As you would know, the Prime Minister, Senator Scullion and I moved very, very swiftly to establish the royal commission into the child protection and youth detention systems in the Northern Territory. So swiftly, I might say, that we were criticised by some for being too swift in our reaction. The decision to establish that royal commission was made mutually by the Prime Minister, Senator Scullion and myself the very morning after those serious allegations and that very disturbing footage, in particular, had come to light.

As you know, Senator Siewert, the royal commission has now reported. The government is, as you say, considering its recommendations. Most of the recommendations are matters within the jurisdiction of the Northern Territory government, as you would expect with it being a Northern Territory facility. However, the Australian government is considering those findings that are directed to the Commonwealth. We are committed to ensuring a comprehensive and appropriate response to the substantial work of the commission. I might take the opportunity presented by your question to thank the royal commissioners, the Honourable Margaret White and Mr Mick Gooda, who did a wonderful job. There has been nothing but praise for the job that Margaret White and Mick Gooda did.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, on a point of order?

Senator Siewert: I will make a point of order. I do appreciate the Attorney-General thanking the commissioners. The Prime Minister did that in his response. He hasn't gone anywhere near answering the questions I asked, which were: are they committed to implementing all the recommendations directed at the Commonwealth, and what's the time line?

The PRESIDENT: Apart from that little segue thanking the royal commissioners, I do consider the minister to be relevant to the question as asked. I can't direct him to respond in the way you would like.

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Siewert, the report of the royal commission was only released on 17 November. It's now 6 December. It's less than three weeks ago. I'm sure you would understand that the government, as I've told you, is carefully considering the recommendations, but I hope you would think they are entitled to more than three weeks of consideration.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, a supplementary question?







Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:19): I will have another try at asking about the time line. Answering this question will directly relate to the time line. The royal commission recommended, in recommendation 7.3, that the Northern Territory government and the Commonwealth government immediately engage with Aboriginal community representatives to negotiate the broad terms of a partnership between communities and the government to foster better outcomes for children and young people and the implementation of the recommendations across the NT. Has the government started that consultation as part of its considerations of the royal commission's recommendations?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:19): Senator Siewert, I know there has been a great deal of discussion between the Commonwealth government and the Northern Territory government, arising from the recommendations.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, a final supplementary question.

Senator Siewert: The question was not about the Northern Territory government, it was about Aboriginal communities. Could the Attorney-General—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, do you have a final supplementary question?

Senator Siewert: He didn't answer my question.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, you know I can't direct the minister how to answer. The minister has resumed his seat and completed his answer. You have the opportunity for a final supplementary question.

Senator Siewert: Mr President, can you start the clock again then, please? I'll make it quick—

The PRESIDENT: It would assist if you didn't provide me with advice from your chair. I will start the clock again.









Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (14:20): Thank you, Mr President. There are ongoing abuses in other detention facilities around this country. They have been reported. Can I ask: what is the government going to do about the abuses in youth detention centres that are ongoing around Australia?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:20): You are right, Senator Siewert. The findings of the royal commission, although focused on the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre—many of them at least—are of a general character from which other youth detention centres, operated by other territories, or other states, at least, can learn. Through the Council of Attorneys-General, we will be examining the recommendations and the way in which other jurisdictions are learning from or giving effect to the recommendations of the royal commission. But I stress again that these are all facilities that are operated by the states and the territories. They are not facilities over which the Commonwealth has direct control, but, nevertheless, the Commonwealth, as the lead government of the Federation, if I may put it that way, does, of course, have a deep interest in ensuring that all jurisdictions take these findings very seriously.