Northern Territory minister says ABC report on juvenile detention abuses in Australia gave “leg up” to opposition

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 2:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 2:42pm

Adam Giles has accused Four Corners of deliberately delaying its report on the Don Dale abuses to cause maximum damage to his election campaign and give a “leg up” to the Labor opposition.

The Northern Territory chief minister made the comments to Sky News on Thursday, claiming the story, which revealed graphic CCTV footage of the alleged abuse of young boys inside juvenile detention, gave the Labor opposition a “clear advantage”.

I think Four Corners should be ashamed of what they’ve done
Adam Giles

He said the ABC report was “outrageous” and had “stirred up racism” in the NT, and he accused Labor of subsequently using race in the campaign.

“I think Four Corners should be ashamed of what they’ve done,” he said. “For me to be talking about child protection policies in the lead-up to the territory election is just food for Labor to drive racism at the heart of territory politics, rather than put the interest of the child at the forefront.”

On Thursday he said Four Corners had “certainly” attempted to “give Labor a leg up” with its programme.

“And I think that’s unfortunate for a public broadcaster to do that, particularly one that’s taxpayer-funded,” he said.

Recent polling conducted by the NT News found a 20 percentage point swing away from the CLP, giving Labor 64 per cent in two-party-preferred terms, with the election barely two weeks away. Just 33 per cent of respondents said the CLP deserved to be re-elected on 27 August, the report said.

The executive producer of Four Corners, Sally Neighbour, said on Twitter the allegations were “false, outrageous and desperate”.

Asked why he had called for a royal commission within hours of the Four Corners programme, Giles said he was responding to public reaction.

“Well certainly Four Corners sought to display images to try and portray images of acts of terror within the system in the Northern Territory, and strike fear into many different communities around Australia,” he said.

On the night of the broadcast Giles released a statement calling for a royal commission into the incidents, saying he was “shocked and disgusted” by what he had seen.

“A community is judged by the way it treats its children and serious questions were raised by ABC tonight,” he said.

He hoped the royal commission would examine the whole of the juvenile justice system, as well as the child protection system.

More than 96 per cent of juvenile detainees in the NT are Indigenous, and Indigenous children are over-represented in out-of-home placements nationally. Giles said Aboriginal children should stay with Aboriginal families if they had to be removed.

“We don’t want anybody being removed and we don’t want to create another stolen generation, but I am a person who puts the child at the forefront and I think those policies need to be looked at,” he said.

Giles told Sky News he “had to be careful” when discussing the issue because Labor would “get out on the ground and tell people that Adam’s trying to steal kids”.

The comments are the latest in a series of changing responses from Giles to the juvenile detention scandal.

After the report aired Giles said he had not seen any of the footage, then he said he had seen the tear-gassing footage, and then he retracted that statement.

He announced the use of spithoods and restraint chairs would be banned, despite his government having legislated just four months ago to widen the scope of their use. The following week, in an interview with Guardian Australia, he said the ban did not extend to adult prisons, including the one where Dylan Voller – the boy seen in the chair on Four Corners – is now held. He said if Voller were again to be strapped into the chair, that would be in line with “adult policies”.

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In an interview on Mix 104.9 Giles questioned how many of the lawyers who appeared in the Four Corners show were members of the Labor party.

He later denied that he was questioning if the show was politically motivated, saying he was inquiring only out of personal interest, and it would “probably make a good trivia question”.

In several public appearances Giles had committed to releasing the latest review of the juvenile justice system, because the Four Corners report featured incidents that occurred before many of the improvements his government had made.

But last week he said the report would not be made public because its findings contradicted those of other reports, and all would be given to the royal commission.