• Keith Hamburger, author of "A Safer Northern Territory through Correctional Interventions", giving evidence at the NT royal commission into youth detention. (NITV News/Elliana Lawford)Source: NITV News/Elliana Lawford
The man who wrote a scathing report into the Northern Territory's corrections system earlier this year, has told the royal commission past failings are set to be repeated, as official response to criticism and recommendations has been disappointing.
Elliana Lawford

7 Dec 2016 - 10:53 AM  UPDATED 7 Dec 2016 - 10:53 AM

In July, Keith Hamburger handed down 172 recommendations to government in his report ‘A Safer Northern Territory through Correctional Interventions’.

Hamburger has been giving evidence at the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory for the past two days, and has been critical of Territory Families's response to his recommendations.

“Looking at the initial responses that have been prepared here, and I realise this is at officer level, it's not at government level ... doesn't give me a lot of confidence that the officers at least are thinking down the path that we've outlined in our report”.

He referred to a document titled “Response to Recommendations”, accompanied by a statement from Territory Families Acting Deputy Chief Executive, Jeanette Kerr.

“All I could do is urge that our report and the underlying evidence that we’ve put forward to drive those recommendations are understood by government, and government give it serious consideration,” Hamburger says.

About the Hamburger Report:

While giving evidence, Mr Hamburger explained he was so horrified by what he saw when he visited Darwin's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre he needed to alert the NT Commissioner of Correctional Services, Mark Payne, before his report was finished.

“I said ‘look, we've seen hanging points, we've seen inappropriate staff supervision practices, we've seen all sorts of problems,” Mr Hamburger told the Royal Commission.

“[I said] ‘we can't leave this until the end of the review. We need to raise this concern now because we need to bring it to attention and see if we can get something happening'."

Mr Hamburger also revealed he held a workshop with more than thirty managers from the Department of Correctional Services in May this year.

In the workshop, middle and senior managers were asked to identify risks at the Don Dale and Alice Springs juvenile detention centres.

The managers outlined 36 different risks to the children, including a lack of Indigenous staff, a lack of health services, and not having facilities that were fit for purpose.

The group came up with 35 solutions that could be implemented immediately to reduce risks at the centres.

Despite this, nothing was done. 

Commissioner Margaret White described the lack of action as “astonishing”.

"If that was a representation of upper and middle management Mr Hamburger, why was nothing happening?" Commissioner Margaret White asked.

"It does seem fairly astonishing if they are not the people right down at the coal face, but the more senior people, there might have been some initiatives taken to implement these very sound principles."

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Mr Hamburger noted he was “disappointed” a facility like Don Dale existed for young people.

“I got the feeling it was like a guarding environment, not a therapeutic environment... We didn't hear any laughter from young people and it was not a happy place,” he said.

Concerns over safety 

A number of young detainee’s who were abused at Don Dale are expected to give evidence during this round of sittings, but several family members have raised concerns about the process.

“Dylan's still locked up, so I can't see how he can freely give evidence while he's still locked up,” Joanne Voller, mother of detainee Dylan Voller, said.

Images of Dylan Voller being hooded and strapped to a chair have been at the centre of the Don Dale controversy since airing on the ABC’s Four Corner’s program which led to the Royal Commission.

His mother Joanne and sister Kirra have traveled to Darwin to support him while he gives evidence, but they have renewed calls for him to be released from detention so he can speak freely during the commission.

“I know I’d be scared if I was still inside there and giving evidence, scared of the consequences,” Joanne said.

“I want him free so he can speak truthfully about the injustice and abuse inside the centre.”

Joanne Voller has also called for her son to be moved closer to family.

“The abuse was allowed to go on for so long because he was away from the support of his family,” she said.

“I'd like to think that they could at least transfer him back to Alice Springs so we can visit him over Christmas, visit him over New Years and stuff and keep in touch because obviously he is going through a really big thing.

“And everybody, you know, like the lawyers and stuff that support him well everybody's going to go on Christmas Holidays, so who's going to be there for my son after he deals with all of this?”

The Royal Commission continues throughout next week.

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