SYDNEY Australia’ Northern Territory on Wednesday 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.
Turnbull ordered the inquiry on Tuesday after national television aired video showing guards at a juvenile detention centre teargassing teenage aboriginal inmates and strapping a half-naked, hooded boy to a chair.
The case highlights concern about the disproportionate numbers of aboriginal youth in custody, with one indigenous leader calling for politicians to deal with the wider issue of crime within the community.
“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 in Darwin on Wednesday.
“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.
The footage showing 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.
Aborigines make up the majority of the Northern Territory population and 94 percent of its juvenile inmates.
Australia’s roughly 700,000 indigenous citizens track near the bottom of almost every economic and social indicator for the country’s 23 million people.
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 the city of Cairns.
“This will be clearly focussed on the Northern Territory and will be focussed 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,” Mundine, who heads the prime minister’s indigenous advisory council, told Reuters by phone.
“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.
The inquiry’s exact remit would be determined by the cabinet and it would begin in August, Turnbull said.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Robert Birsel)