Australians rallied on Saturday against the treatment of young people in detention — including the hooding and physical restraint of teens — amid calls for an inquiry into the abuse to be expanded.
Graphic footage of teenage boys being stripped naked, tear-gassed, held in solitary confinement and shackled to a chair as a restraint measure shocked the country when it aired last week.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull immediately ordered a royal commission into how youths were treated at the Don Dale Centre in the Northern Territory in 2014 and 2015. But at snap “emergency protests” in Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere on Saturday, hundreds gathered to call for justice for the teens, many of whom are Aboriginal.
“If we could see some action, some real fair and just action taken, I think that would allay some concern,” Sydney community elder Aunty Jenny Munroe told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Northern Territory has one of the highest crime rates in Australia, with indigenous offenders making up more than two-thirds of the prison population. But there have been calls for the royal commission to be expanded beyond the Northern Territory, given concerns about physical and emotional abuse in youth detention centres in other states.
Opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten said his party fully supported the inquiry but argued that it should also have indigenous commissioners.
“This royal commission has to be with Aboriginal people, not to Aboriginal people,” he told reporters in the northern city of Darwin. “I believe it would be appropriate for the royal commission to have two co-commissioners who are Aboriginal Australians, strong people, men and women, who can make sure the voices and the experiences of Aboriginal Australians are given full justice in this royal commission.”
Australia’s Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion has since apologised for not being aware of the what went on at the Don Dale centre.
One barrister has described the treatment of some teens at the facility as reminiscent of Guantanamo Bay, the notorious US military prison in Cuba that holds terror suspects.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t aware of the full circumstances that were exposed this week,” Scullion said.