Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is seen with Braitling Preschool student Jake Rennie, 4, at Braitling Preschool, Alice Springs. Photo: AAP Image/Chloe ErlichMalcolm Turnbull has rejected suggestions his government should be contributing to the cost of fixing the Northern Territory’s troubled youth justice and protection systems.
The prime minister ordered a Royal Commission after ABC TV aired footage in 2016 of children in detention being abused in restraint chairs but has not agreed to add to the $229 million the Territory government has committed.
Regular violent incidents, escapes and unrest at the NT’s two youth detention centres have prompted critics to say nothing has changed.
“The Royal Commission made very clear that shortage of money was not the issue, there was plenty of money available for the Territory to do its job and provide proper child protection services, the issue was how the money was spent,” Mr Turnbull told reporters at the Braitling preschool in Alice Springs.
He was visiting to highlight a federal indigenous family program and support Country Liberal candidate for Lingiari, Aboriginal woman Jacinta Price.
“The Royal Commision said the Territory has to step up and do its job, to be fair to (NT Chief Minister) Michael Gunner he acknowledged to me his department failed in Tennant Creek shortly after the tragic incident and attack was reported,” he said.
“He’s acknowledged he’s got to do better, clearly there is massive funding here in the Northern Territory from the Commonwealth and what Territory has to do is deliver these core services.”
The rape of a two-year-old girl in Tennant Creek in February caused outrage and attention for indigenous social issues, prompting Mr Turnbull to become the first PM to visit in decades.
Mr Gunner has repeatedly complained that the Territory cannot afford to pay to fix the youth justice and protection system and was angered when the federal government’s response to the Royal Commission was to order a review of “the approach to funding and evaluation including an audit of all funding going into the Northern Territory”.
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said there had been no applications from the NT government for funding related to the Royal Commission.
Both parties had a suite of responsibilities they needed to fund, and the Commonwealth would fully fund what it was obligated to, he said.
Other ways of tackling the issue include possibly changing the Land Rights Act to ensure royalties actually benefit Aboriginal people and are invested and not wasted.
“A common view I hear talking to First Australians is that the economic benefits getting land back have not flowed,” Mr Turnbull said.
Mr Gunner has been contacted for comment.