ABC 774 Drive With Rafael Epstein

SUBJECT: Royal Commission into abuse in Northern Territory juvenile detention system



SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into abuse in Northern Territory juvenile detention system

RAFAEL EPSTEIN, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General, part of Bill Shorten’s opposition. Mark Dreyfus, good afternoon. 


EPSTEIN: Margaret White and Mick Gooda, you happy with their selection?

DREYFUS: They both look to be fine appointments and I’m very happy that the government has listened to Labor’s suggestion of an Indigenous commissioner. And so out of a false start and pretty regrettable set of circumstances probably produced by the haste with which Mr Turnbull and Senator Brandis went about this, we’ve now got that false start behind us and are off to a better start, and I’m wishing this Royal Commission well, as we did right from the outset because we welcomed this Royal Commission.

EPSTEIN: On appearances of bias, Mick Gooda did text I think it was on Tuesday that the entire NT government should be sacked. Is that an issue for you?

DREYFUS: He was…I saw Mick Gooda asked about that at his press conference and he said well we’ll see - which is an appropriate answer.

EPSTEIN: It doesn’t suggest that he’s already made up his mind?

DREYFUS: I think that everybody who saw that Four Corners, the images on that Four Corners show would have been shocked to the core. Everyone in Australia, shocked to the core and I think that particular question about the status of the NT government is going to become a moot point on the 27th August because there is an election. And the people of the Northern Territory will be passing their own judgement on that government.

EPSTEIN: None of us should have been shocked though Mark Dreyfus. I neglected to read those stories, a lot of what was covered in that Four Corners report happened when there was a Federal Labor government. In fact I don’t  think anything except the footage was new. We have - all the media and all politicians of the major parties - have dropped the ball on this haven’t we?

DREYFUS: I agree. The political class as a whole has failed these children who have been in this detention centre and in other detention centres in the Northern Territory copping this sort of cruel treatment and I’m not going to try and defend anyone who’s been involved in this, that’s why a Royal Commission is absolutely appropriate as a system-wide inquiry and if some blame is attributed to previous Labor ministers, so be it. As I say the political class as a whole, perhaps the media included in that as well, have failed because most of what came out was already in the public domain.

EPSTEIN: How do we make sure that whatever they discover and recommend actually gets done?

DREYFUS: That’s as always a matter of political will, Raf. Inquiries are one thing but it’s the decisions which follow, and the implementation of a claim that you are accepting a recommendation that matters. I’m hoping that one of the things that’s looked at in this Royal Commission which is going to be a relatively short Royal Commission - and I support that - will be looking at why some of the recommendations of the Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission, which touch on the conditions in detention, that’s 25 years old, why they didn’t get implemented. Why other reports that touch on youth justice in the NT have not been fully implemented. I’m hoping this Royal Commission actually looks directly at that and offers some suggestions to government as to how to make sure that recommendations of this Royal Commission are acted upon. It’s pretty important.

EPSTEIN: Do you think systemic racism is part of the problem?

DREYFUS: I think that this Royal Commission is going to be looking very directly, and Brian Martin at the press conference with the PM on Thursday rightly said, that the Royal Commission will need to look at racism in the system, whether or not different treatment is given to Aboriginal children from the treatment given to white children, and whether or not there are reasons, racist reasons why there are more Aboriginal children in detention because one of the more shocking statistics is that has been bandied around…

EPSTEIN: Do you think it’s racism, Mark Dreyfus?

DREYFUS: I think that there has got to be an element of racism both in the actual conduct towards Aboriginal children and possibly the public reaction or even the turning of a blind eye to what’s occurred.

EPSTEIN: In what way is that racist, can you just expand on that?

DREYFUS: Well racism is simply treating people differently because of their race. And if there is differential treatment that’s been given to Aboriginal children because they are Aboriginal, that’s racism.

EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus is with me, Shadow Attorney-General. Just a few other quick issues, Mark Dreyfus, the effort for a referendum, constitutional recognition for Indigenous people. Some of the right-wing media have accused Bill Shorten of politicising the issue after the election, he was at the Garma festival in the Territory. When I asked the PM about that he did not want to accuse Bill Shorten of politicising the issue. However, if Labor tries to expand it to talk of a treaty, that makes a referendum tougher to win doesn’t it?

DREYFUS: No. This is a complete beat-up today from some of the right-wing commentators or some of the right-wing politicians in Australia. It’s complete nonsense Raf to suggest that there can’t be a parallel conversation about issues of a treaty, and the possibility of agreements being reached in different parts of the country between the Australian government and in particular Aboriginal communities. It’s nonsense to suggest that there can’t be a conversation…

EPSTEIN: But it’s a broader issue though, harder to win...

DREYFUS: Well just let me finish…both of them…no, the recognition of Indigenous people in the constitution can come now, it’s a necessary first step, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t at the same time also be talking about a matter that has been raised by Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal people across Australia which is the possibility of a treaty or reaching agreements. Just talking about a treaty doesn’t damage constitutional recognition at all. I was amazed at this attack made on Bill Shorten. Bill has shown a fantastic preparedness to engage with the Indigenous community, you’ve only got to look at him turning up in Darwin on Saturday to meet with Indigenous leaders and community groups before going to the Garma Festival and then spending some more time in Darwin today talking to Aboriginal people and Aboriginal community groups. He’s prepared to engage, I’m hoping that Mr Turnbull is prepared to engage as well, at that same deep level. I regret that Mr Turnbull didn’t go to Darwin and talk to Aboriginal communities and leaders better before announcing this Royal Commission, but he didn’t, let’s hope that he can now engage properly on Indigenous recognition. Because certainly it’s not going to happen, we know this from the history of referendums in this country, it’s not going to happen unless political leaders on both sides are fully invested in the process. We need to hear a lot more from Mr Turnbull on constitutional recognition.

EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus thank you.

DREYFUS: Thanks very much Raf.