SYDNEY • Australia's Northern Territory has suspended the use of hoods and restraints on children, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull resisted pressure to broaden an inquiry into mistreatment in youth detention centres.
The investigation was ordered after national TV aired video footage showing guards at a centre strapping a half-naked, hooded boy to a chair. "Whether the chair is the right thing or not, I'm putting to review. I've stopped its use," Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) yesterday as anger mounted over the scandal.
"Let's stop use of the spit masks until we take advice," he said, referring to the kind of hood that was placed on the boy in the footage, covering his neck and head.
Mr Giles has insisted he was not aware of the extent of the abuse, as calls mounted for him to resign after his 2010 comments calling for criminals to be put "in a big concrete hole" resurfaced yesterday.
The footage showing the abuse of six Aboriginal boys was shot between 2010 and 2014 at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre near Darwin. It also showed boys being stripped naked, thrown by the neck into a cell and held for long periods in solitary confinement.
A former guard at the centre told the ABC he had seen one boy, Dylan Voller, put in the chair at least three times. In one video, the then 17-year-old was left alone for two hours after being shackled.
Voller, who has been in and out of custody since he was 11 and is now in an adult prison, thanked the ABC for "getting the truth out there" in a handwritten letter released by his lawyer yesterday. "I would just like to thank the whole Australian community for the support you have shown us boys as well as our families," said Voller, who has previously been convicted of crimes including car theft and robbery. "I would also like to take the opportunity to apologise to the community for my wrongs and I can't wait to get out and make up for them."
The case highlights concern over the disproportionate number of Aboriginal youth in custody, with one indigenous leader calling for politicians to deal with the wider issue of crime within the community. Aborigines make up the majority of the Northern Territory population and 94 per cent of its juvenile inmates.
According to Amnesty International, Aboriginal children are 26 times more likely to be jailed than their non-indigenous counterparts as they struggle to deal with poor education, high unemployment rates and substance abuse.
But Mr Turnbull resisted calls for the investigation to tackle wider issues. "These inquiries need to have a very clear focus if they're going to be effective," he told reporters in Cairns. "This will be clearly focused on the Northern Territory and will be focused on the failings of the youth detention system there."
But Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine said such a limited inquiry would not get to the heart of the problem. "If you're just looking at abuses in the system, you're not going to resolve the bigger issue," said Mr Mundine, who heads the Prime Minister's indigenous advisory council. "We need to deal with crime rates within indigenous communities... you just can't do one without the other."
Similar calls were made by the opposition Labor Party and Australia's Human Rights Commission. Rights groups have called for the royal commission to be Australia-wide, but Mr Turnbull ruled this out, saying it risked becoming too cumbersome.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE