Monday’s announcement by the royal commissioner into youth detention in the Northern Territory, retired Northern Territory chief justice Brian Martin, that he was resigning was embarrassing to him, but humiliating for the government that appointed him.
Mr Martin cited the risk of perceived conflicts of interest from his time on the Bench and the fact his daughter has worked for a NT Labor attorney-general. He also, however, said that he accepted that “in the role I would not have the full confidence of sections of the Indigenous community which has a vital interest in the inquiry”.
Indeed, Mick Gooda already has been appointed as one of two co-commissioners to replace Mr Martin, along with retired Queensland judge Margaret White. With Warren Mundine, Mr Gooda was one of two indigenous leaders consulted last week by Mr Turnbull about the terms of reference for the commission. Subsequently, however, he lent support to Bill Shorten’s demand the government appoint indigenous assistant commissioners to support Mr Martin. From critic to commissioner …
The swiftness of Prime Minister Turnbull’s response to the shocking revelations and images on last week’s Four Corners about the brutality on plain show at the Don Dale detention centre is admirable. But the lack of consultation, due diligence and careful consideration of the governance, policy and political issues around the royal commission is not.
Instead of using Mr Martin’s stepping aside to rectify last week’s rushed handling, the government hurtles on. Given, however, the legal, policy and jurisdictional complexities, the heated emotions on all sides, and the need for sober and objective consideration of what to do next, the best response the government could have – should have – pursued was, however, to hasten slowly. Having announced decisively its intention to establish a royal commission (big tick), the government could then have gone away for a few weeks and put it all together while being openly consultative as it went and assessing how the public debate evolved.
That deliberative process should have included engaging the opposition, appropriate not least because the Don Dale fiasco was presided over by successive Labor and Country Liberal NT administrations. Having been ignored by the Government, however, Mr Shorten’s politicised the process by grandstanding on the Indigenous co-commissioner issue. Yet, by appointing Mr Gooda just one day after Mr Shorten’s opportunistic call, the PM now looks reactive to the Shorten agenda – which, sans politics, was actually a prudent and sensible suggestion that the government should have adopted in the first place, had it not believed that simply being been seen to do something immediately was better than doing the right thing with due consideration.
When justice is crying out to be done and the community wants answers about the disgraceful Don Dale doings, there’s now the perception the PMO and key ministers are not on top of their administrative game. While his determination to act decisively on the royal commission is the right instinct, the PM has been poorly advised. All involved may have meant well, but the government’s groundwork and decision-making processes have been haphazard, rushed and ill-thought through.
All in all, not a good look