Pearson, Mundine urge blackfellas to ‘take responsibility’ for their children

Two of the nation’s most respected Indigenous leaders have urged their people to take responsibility for their own children, with the PM’s top Indigenous advisor saying the royal commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory must be focused and deliver a short, sharp result.

Malcolm Turnbull’s Indigenous Advisory Council chair Warren Mundine said nothing would be gained from a sprawling royal commission that delivered hundreds of recommendations.

His observations came as prominent Cape York leader Noel Pearson last night told ABC’s Lateline program that nothing would change in the NT until blackfellas took “some responsibility for their children”.

“We can’t allow our outrage to be selective. We should be outraged about those things that are driving the large numbers of those tragic juveniles, who were once little babies, who were once little toddlers and who have ended up with a bag over their head being abused in an institution,” he said.

“I’m interested in the question of how do we stop these children from entering that system? How do we make sure that the children are protected at the earliest of stages from ever leading that kind of life?

“I can tell you those kids with a bag over their heads in the institutions that are coming in and out of Townsville and Aurukun or Don Dale and Yirrkala, those kids are going to end up in prison as sure as night turns to day.”

Mr Mundine, speaking to, said: “We don’t need 300 recommendations,” he said. “We don’t need it to go on for 10 years. It can be short and sharp and deliver an outcome and a small handful of recommendations otherwise it becomes totally useless.

“We’ve seen that happen with the deaths in custody (royal commission).”

Mr Mundine’s comments came as the royal commission got off to a shaky start when former Northern Territory Chief Justice Brian Ross Martin resigned on Monday, just four days after being appointed.

Mr Martin said he had decided it was not in the public interest for him to continue because he did not have the full confidence of sections of the Indigenous community.

Mr Mundine said today he believed Mr Martin had “wimped out on it” and he called for people to stop playing politics with the commission.

“The reality is, it’s quite funny actually, because the people who were complaining about his appointment, he was more in line with their type of thinking than any other type of persons thinking,” he said. “So I thought it was a bit bizarre.”

But Mr Mundine said the Turnbull government had acted quickly in finding excellent replacements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and former Queensland Supreme Court judge Margaret White.

“It’s going to be a tough process because a lot of people have a lot of expectations in different areas.” Mr Mundine said of the NT commission “And if things don’t pan out in quite the way they think it is they’ll not be happy.

“It’s going to be a massive challenge for the commissioners.”

Mr Mundine said he personally wasn’t keen on royal commissions and would have advised the Prime Minister against one if he had been asked, but he now totally backed the inquiry.

He said the last few royal commissions had cost between $50 million and $90 million which is money that could have been better spent on education or job programs.

“I haven’t seen a royal commission that has sustainable long term outcomes that deliver socio-economic benefits to Indigenous people,” he said. “In fact if you look at all the royal commissions, we’ve gone backwards — and we’ve spent a lot of money on it.”

Mr Mundine said a royal commission by itself would also not solve the problem of Indigenous youth incarceration.

He welcomed Mr Turnbull’s announcement today that he would take the general issue of Indigenous youth detention around Australia to the next Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meetings.

“They are looking at how do we reduce crime rate for the Indigenous communities because the only reason you are in incarceration is you commit crimes, so how do we get youths out of these detention centres into jobs and education,” he said. “That’s the bigger picture stuff. So us working with the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister’s advisory committee, plus COAG, together we should be able to move forward fairly rapidly here.”

Mr Mundine said Indigenous communities could help too.

“This can’t keep on going the way it is,” he said. “What is it, 94 percent of people in juvenile detention centres in the NT is Aboriginal? That is not sustainable. That’s a ticking time bomb for the future.

“Once you get into these detention centres it’s like a university for crime. You do bigger crimes and you end up in jail. We need to break that cycle. Indigenous leadership really need to deal with the dysfunctionality that is happening in their communities that’s causing these crime rates.”

NT Aboriginal groups, who had wanted a commissioner without past links to the NT and Indigenous co-commissioners, this week thanked Mr Martin for stepping aside.

Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT chief executive John Paterson said in a statement that Martin’s actions were “courageous”.

“We welcome his acknowledgement that his decision has been made foremost in the best interests of our children who are the subject of this inquiry,” Mr Paterson said.

“We wish to make it clear that his stepping down in no way reflects on his standing or capacity and we acknowledge his distinguished legal career.”

Mr Martin stood aside after allegations of conflict of interest — his daughter worked for former NT Attorney General Delia Lawrie as a justice adviser from 2009 to 2011. Some media also questioned his possible involvement in sentencing young people allegedly abused in detention.

Mr Martin told a press conference in Canberra on Monday: “Since my appointment I have been extremely disappointed with the disingenuous and ill-informed comment that has ensued. However, notwithstanding the ill-informed nature of the commentary, it has become apparent, rightly or wrongly, that in this role I would not have had the full confidence of sections of the Indigenous community which has a vital interest in this inquiry.”

Mr Gooda was announced a commissioner just a few hours later and said it made it a special day for him.

The royal commission into child protection and youth detention in the NT is tasked with examining failings in the NT system, whether the treatment of detainees breached laws or human rights and whether the NT government should have done more to prevent “inappropriate treatment”.

Mr Gooda and Ms White would work closely with the Office of the Royal Commission to appoint a counsel assisting, to recruit staff and find a suitable location in Darwin for hearings, a spokesperson said.

A website for the royal commission will go live later this week.

The commission is due to report back to the government in March.

Wendy Caccetta



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