• Dylan Voller, age 14 while in Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre, 2011. (ABC TV)Source: ABC TV
Critics say the NT government is moving away from recommendations by the youth justice royal commission.
22 Mar 2019 - 10:45 AM  UPDATED 22 Mar 2019 - 10:45 AM

The Northern Territory is set to pass controversial new laws would give guards greater latitude to restrain, isolate and use force against children held at detention centres.

NT Families Minister Dale Wakefield said the changes were necessary to provide "clarity" for guards who said they were unsure about their powers during security incidents.

Advocates said the changes go against the findings of the royal commission into NT youth justice.

It also comes after the NT government announced that it will not close Darwin's Don Dale detention centre - one of the key recommendations of the investigation.

“We must ensure that staff in our detention centres can operate with certainty, secure in the knowledge that if they do their job well, the law will back up their actions,” Ms Wakefield said. 

The government said the proposed changes would affect current court cases being brought against it but did not clarify which ones.

Yolŋu Elder and Independent MP Yingiya Mark Guyula said the community, legal experts and politicians have not had time to consider the consequences. 

“These laws should not be rushed through," he told NITV.

"We should be looking to get things right. I am concerned that the laws are retrospective and I do not know why."

“I have told government that many remote communities want to provide raypirri (discipline and respect) ceremonies and camps on country for our children."

"We have the answers and solutions for our own children and the government needs to listen to the community Elders on the ground.”

The Law Society Northern Territory said it was "deeply concerned" that the retrospective changes were being rushed through parliament.

“It is bewildering why these amendments have had to be made on an urgent basis and to apply retrospectively,” law society president Maria Savvas said.

Images of detainees being shackled to chairs and wearing spit hoods caused national outrage when aired on national television in 2016.  

Ms Savva says she fears the changes will strip away safeguards meant to protect children and could see greater use of restraints.

“When the Royal Commission recommendations were announced, the community dared to hope that the Territory would achieve the balance between a child’s right to be treated with dignity and the safe operation of youth justice centres in the Northern Territory,” she said.

“This bill disregards the spirit and intent of the Royal Commission recommendations. It represents a clear change in policy. We are gravely concerned that the amendments chip away at the rights of children and young people in youth detention.”

- with AAP