• NT Children's Commissioner Colleen Gwynne (right) talks with NITV News' Malarndirri McCarthy (NITV News)
Will there be substantive and swift reform of Australia's youth detention centres? NITV News' Malarndirri McCarthy speaks with Northern Territory Children's Commissioner to find out.
By
Malarndirri McCarthy

16 Oct 2015 - 5:22 PM  UPDATED 16 Oct 2015 - 5:56 PM

TRANSCRIPT

Malarndirri McCarthy: We go now to the Northern Territory to speak with the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner Colleen Gwynne.

RECOMMENDED STORY
Indigenous youth incarceration jails ‘regular kids’: Briggs
Regular children in extraordinary circumstances – that’s how respected rap artist Briggs wants Australians to understand Indigenous youths who have been locked up.

Commissioner Gwynne completed a report into the teargassing of six youths at Don Dal Correctional Centre before they wre relocated to an adult prison last year. The report was tabled in the Northern Territory Parliament and the serious nature of the incident has outeraged Indigenous legal organisations and families.

Former president of the Northern Territory Bar Association John Lawrence SC told this program last week that children in Don Dale were not safe and that the use of casual prison staff was wrong.

John Lawrence SC, Northern Territory Bar Association: That is against all national principles that apply to dealing with what is arguably the most vulnerable section of our community.

Malarndirri McCarthy: Commissoner Gwynne, we've heard from John Lawrence, an NT barrister, saying it's not safe for the children in Don Dale. What's your response to that?

Colleen Gwynne, NT Children's Commissioner: Look Malarndirri, I haven't seen anything that satisifes me that we've really reformed our youth detention centres.

"The investigations are thorough, the findings are sound and the recommendations gives them that ability to be able to reform what is a youth detention centre in a bit of crisis"

 

The report goes into some real detail around the gaps and what we need to fix to ensure that young people are safe, they're given the best opportunities, there are structured programs to allow them to rehabilitate and reintegrate back into our communities. Our discussions with the Department of Corrections has been well before I provided this report for the minister to table.

So this isn't a recent issue. We've been raising concerns around the running of youth detention centres. So look, there's a lot of work to do and my report gives them that blueprint to say, 'yea there are some gaps here'. The investigations are thorough, the findings are sound and the recommendations gives them that ability to be able to reform what is a youth detention centre in a bit of crisis.

Malarndirri McCarthy: Commissoner are they moving quickly enough?

Colleen Gwynne: I'm not convinced yet. Look it's early days in terms of the tabling of the report. I hope to meet with the Attorney-General next week. I haven't given up hope that they're not going to adopt all my recommendations. The reference that government is making is to the Vita report.

The Vita report was a good report it just doesn't go far enough. It just doesn't cover of the areas that my report does in terms of those people that are suitable to work in youth detention, the training they receive, the policies that govern what they do, and Vita was a little bit...it was a bit briefer than my report and so I stressed to government that they need to look more broadly.

Malarndirri McCarthy: But what's the time frame you're putting on it in terms of the urgency here and are the children able to access you directly.

RECOMMENDED STORY
A generation lost if Indigenous youth incarceration rate continues: Amnesty
Amnesty International says an entire generation will be lost if Indigenous youth continue to be incarcerated at 24 times the rate than non-Indigenous youth.

Colleen Gwynne: Children do ring our office directly. They can access our office and they often do. We get calls from young people in detention weekly. How we detemrine our response to those complaints, obviously is determined by the complaint itself. But what I want to see is a more broad reform around how we deal with young people in detention.

Malarndirri McCarthy: And how quickly do you want to see that happening? 

Colleen Gwynne: I'd like to see that happening now. It's got to be immediate. The issues that I raise in my report are so serious that the response has to be today. 

And if it doesn't happen today?

"If it doesn't happen today I'm concerned about what may happen to these young people. We're just not going to get good outcomes for young people"

Colleen Gwynne: If it doesn't happen today I'm concerned about what may happen to these young people. We're just not going to get good outcomes for young people. We're going to need to build bigger, more elaborate youth detention centres because we are not approaching this in a way that we'll see any form of rehabilitation for young people entering youth detention centres.

Malarndirri McCarthy: So those children, in particular those six who were involved and teargassed, are they receiving ongoing support. There must be incredible amounts of trauma going on for them and I've certainly spoken to the father of one of those six who's deeply worried about the trauma and the impact.

"We need to understand that what we're doing now doesn't work. It won't work in the future and we have to change the way we deal with young people"

Colleen Gwynne: We're dealing with young people that haven't received one traumatic event. This is ongoing through their chilhood.

They are always in a heightened sense of anxiety, they're frightened, they've had every challenged thrown at them. So our response and our approach to young people in detention has to be completely different. We need to understand that what we're doing now doesn't work. It won't work in the future and we have to change the way we deal with young people.