SYDNEY, Australia – An Australian Aboriginal leader was Monday, August 1, appointed to investigate the abuse of teenagers at a detention center after the judge named to lead the inquiry resigned, saying he lacked the confidence of the indigenous community.
The government ordered the inquiry into the treatment of young offenders after video emerged of prison guards assaulting mostly indigenous boys in a Northern Territory detention center in 2014 and 2015.
Graphic footage showed teenagers being tear-gassed, stripped naked and roughly restrained at the Don Dale Centre in Darwin, images that shocked and angered Australians.
Snap protests were held on the weekend calling for justice for the victims, one of whom was hooded and shackled to a chair for two hours in scenes compared to the treatment of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay.
Attorney-General George Brandis said two royal commissioners would now head the inquiry – one of them indigenous leader Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner on the government’s Human Rights Commission.
The appointment of Gooda, who will co-chair the inquiry with former Supreme Court of Queensland justice Margaret White, comes after judge Brian Martin resigned on Monday, days after he was appointed to head the investigation.
The Aboriginal community had complained it had not been sufficiently consulted on the inquiry, which was also expected to determine if race was a factor in the abuse.
Martin, formerly the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, had previously denied his role in the territory’s justice system could be seen as a conflict of interest.
He said Monday that he did not perceive “that there is any problem with bias, either actual or perception of bias, but others do”.
It had become apparent, he said, that he did not have “the full confidence of sections of the indigenous community”.
“As a consequence, the effectiveness of the commission is likely to be compromised from the outset,” he told reporters.
“I am not prepared to proceed in the face of that risk. This royal commission is far too important.”
The attorney general stressed that Martin’s resignation “does not imply that a royal commission conducted by him would have been tainted by either real or apprehended bias”.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance said it had no doubts as to Martin’s integrity, but welcomed his decision to stand down.
“It is essential that the new commissioner has no background in the Northern Territory justice system,” spokesman Greg Barns said in a statement. – Rappler.com