SYDNEY Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday ordered an inquiry into the treatment of children in detention after the airing of video showing prison guards teargassing teenage inmates and strapping a half-naked, hooded-boy to a chair.
Turnbull said it was clear that mistreatment had occurred after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) aired CCTV footage late Monday of inmates in a Northern Territory juvenile detention centre being stripped naked, thrown by the neck into a cell, and held for long periods in solitary confinement.
“Like all Australians, I’ve been deeply shocked – shocked and appalled by the images of mistreatment of children,” Turnbull said on ABC radio as he announced a Royal Commission, Australia’s most powerful, state sanctioned inquiry.
“We’re going to move swiftly and decisively to get to the bottom of this,” said Turnbull, who announced the Royal Commission within hours of the video being aired.
The CCTV footage in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin was shot between 2010-2014, according to the ABC. A report into some of the incidents by the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner in 2015 found fault with the guards’ behaviour, but the findings were disputed by the then head of prisons and not acted upon, said the ABC.
The video showed guards mocking inmates, carrying a boy by the neck and throwing him onto a mattress in a cell, and covering a teenager’s head with a hood and shackling him to a chair with neck, arm, leg and foot restraints.
“If one of us were to have been found to have treated our children in this way we would probably be charged with a criminal offence and the children would be taken away from us,” said Australia’s Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, who backed the inquiry.
Turnbull said the inquiry into children in detention would examine both the abuse in the Northern Territory and why authorities failed to reprimand prison officials sooner.
His office said the full terms of reference for the inquiry, including whether it would be restricted to the Northern Territory and juvenile detention centres, would be released after further discussions with authorities.
“There are many issues of concern here and we will get to the bottom of it and we will appoint a very thorough, meticulous examiner of this,” said Turnbull, declining to say whether the particular institution involved in the abuse would be closed.
(Editing by Jane Wardell and Michael Perry)