“This week, Australia is a boy in a hood in a cell"

Men, women, children dancing together

Prominent Indigenous broadcaster Stan Grant has spoken of his "pulsating rage" about the way Aboriginal youths have been brutalised in a prison in Australia’s Northern Territory. “This week, Australia is a boy in a hood in a cell," he said in a public speech given at Sydney’s University of New South Wales. It can be heard here. A television report showed prison guards stripping, assaulting and mistreating a teenage boy, who was one of six children tear-gassed at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin in 2014.


Grant admitted that critics who said he had given Australia too much credit were correct. "This week I have struggled to contain a pulsating rage," he said.

Conservative prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, re-elected with a majority of one on 2 July, has appointed Brian Martin, the former NT Supreme Court Chief Justice, known to be prejudiced against Aborigines, to head an inquiry into the abuses at the Darwin youth prison, where nearly all the prisoners are Aboriginal.


The commission attracted criticism almost immediately after the announcement, with claims that Indigenous groups were not consulted and some suggesting that the fact Martin may have sentenced some of the prisoners at Don Dale juvenile detention centre may give the impression he is not independent. Members of Indigenous organisations are deeply angry they were not consulted about it.




Brian Martin has resigned as the head of the royal commission just days after being appointed. His replacements have been announced as former Queensland Supreme Court judge, Margaret White, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda. Citing the need for public and stakeholder confidence in the joint Commonwealth-NT inquiry, Martin said criticisms of him had been "disingenuous" and ill-informed. The resignation followed perceived conflicts of interest relating to his and his daughter's former roles.

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Labor Senator Patrick Dodson, an Aborigine, joined Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's call for two Indigenous co-commissioners to be appointed to the royal commission to ensure that Commissioner Martin had Aboriginal input into his investigations and balance his long history involved in Territory law and order issues as the Chief Justice.



Grant called for a broader Truth and Reconciliation Commission and for the royal commission to be replaced with a 'full reckoning of our nation's past'


Anger and sorrow over the horrific abuses of the imprisoned Aboriginal children are overshadowing Australia’s largest Indigenous cultural festival, which attracts international participation.


Hosted, coordinated and programmed by the Yothu Yindi Foundation (YYF), Garma, held in north-east Arnhem land in the Northern Territory, attracts an exclusive gathering of 2,500 political and business leaders from across the globe.

From the foundation’s website (which displays some amazingly beautiful photographs): “In its 18th year, Garma has become Australia’s Indigenous equivalent of the World Economic Forum held annually at Davos in Switzerland. YYF is committed to improving the state of Indigenous disadvantage by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.

“The Garma gathering brings together business leaders, international political leaders, intellectuals, academics and journalists to discuss the most pressing issues facing Australia. Garma is the platform for Australia’s own Davos because, whereas at other Aboriginal conferences you will learn about Indigenous rights and culture, at Garma you will learn about the economic challenges, the steps that need to be taken to ensure that there are economic opportunities for Aboriginal people, and at the same time, Garma attempts to strengthen our cultural genius through the preservation and maintenance of a culture 50,000+ years old.”

The festival runs from 29 July to 1 August this year.

Northern Territory opposition Labor leader Michael Gunner said: "Repeated Northern Territory governments have failed in their duty towards the children in our care. For that I say sorry. To you all: sorry," Gunner said. "When children are in government’s care -- we are their parents. As a parent there is a clear relationship -- of love, of care, of trust. Yothu Yindu -- child and mother -- that's the proper way. As the leader of the Labor Party in the NT I accept our share of the responsibility.”

Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion apologised for not being aware of what he referred to as the horrors at Don Dale. "We must all take appropriate responsibility for what's occurred, including myself," Mr Scullion said. "Now, I'm sorry I wasn't aware of the full circumstances that were exposed this week. Clearly I must be better informed about such matters, particularly when the vast majority of youths held in detention in the Northern Territory are Indigenous."


This year's festival marks the 40th anniversary of Australia's Aboriginal Land Rights Act. Chief Executive of the Northern Land Council Joe Morrison reflected on its downfalls. He said since he took the head role at the NLC, he had found his principal job to be simply protecting the act from being watered down. "We do lament the lack of protection for the Aboriginal Land Rights Act." Morrison also slammed the Northern Territory Government over what he called the broad mismanagement of Aboriginal affairs and called the treatment of youth in detention facilities a stain on Australia.

Respected Indigenous elder Galarrwuy Yunupingu said he believed Aboriginal people had allowed the land act to be watered down. Mr Yunupingu said 40 years ago Aboriginal people had interpreted the act as conferring determination for the land to them and them only, and that it would not be shared with mining companies.

In a discussion around the proposed constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, leader Mick Gooda said until Australia admitted to the mass murders of its Indigenous people in early Australia, the movement could not be advanced. "This is the truth telling we've got to come to, and it's not about making people feel guilty, it's about hearing the truth. It's this truth as we go through this journey towards constitutional recognition that will guide us as an Australian people to say: this has got to be meaningful and we've got to reset our relationship with our first people." Indigenous support is growing for scrapping the heavily government funded drive for constitutional recognition in favour treaties with First Nations.

Gooda said while he had previously advocated for pushing the constitutional recognition movement, the initial round of consultations had shown the movement required a slower pace. He doubted that a planned referendum on the issue would be possible on the target day of  May 27, 2017.

Many Territorians are starting to push back against the royal commission into the NT government's detention record and policies, saying guards at the Don Dale Centre were dealing with difficult teenagers who are part of an out-of-control wave of petty crime.

But protesters at a weekend rally at Darwin's Raintree Park supporting change to the judicial system said they feared renewed polarisation following the television report would harm the referendum's chances of passing.

Broadcaster Grant calls for a treaty with Indigenous Australians and for Australia to look to other nations on how to negotiate one.