Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull Orders Inquiry Into Treatment of Child Prisoners After Abuse Video Airs

Malcolm Turnbull poster
Tourists ride camels along Bondi Beach near a poster promoting the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in front of a voting station, Sydney, July 2. Turnbull on Tuesday ordered an inquiry into the treatment of children in detention. David Gray/Reuters

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.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) aired CCTV footage late Monday of inmates in a Northern Territory juvenile detention center also 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."

The CCTV footage from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin, shot between 2010-2014, also raised the issue of the treatment of Aborigines who make up 94 percent of juvenile inmates in the territory. A lawyer representing two of the boys said all six boys abused were of aboriginal descent.

"Our (indigenous) people have known about things like this... and to just see it laid bare in front of us last night must be a wake-up call to everyone in Australia—that something's got to be done about the way we lock our people up in this country, and particularly the way we lock our kids up," an emotional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda told reporters.

"What we saw last night is an absolute disgrace."

A report into some of the incidents by the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner in 2015 found fault with the guards' behavior, but the findings were disputed by the then head of prisons and not acted upon, said the ABC.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles sacked his corrections minister within hours of the broadcast and said that information about the abuse had been withheld from him, blaming a "culture of cover-up" within the Corrections system.

"The footage we saw last night (went) back to 2010—and I predict this has gone on for a very long time," he said.

Some Aborigines in the territory called for Giles to be removed, with one wearing a hood over their head with the words "Sack Giles," while residents of Alice Springs staged a protest against the abuse of children in detention.

The CCTV 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.

"Excessive use of force, isolation and shackling of children is barbaric and inhumane," said Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson.

The ABC reported that only two detention staff members identified in footage remained within the youth justice system.

Lawyer Peter O'Brien, who represents Dylan Voller and Jake Roper who were abused, said he was suing the state on their behalf, alleging assault, battery and false imprisonment.

"It seems as if this abuse is built into the very core of the system," he said in a statement, calling for the immediate release of Voller, who is now in an adult prison, and all children imprisoned in the Northern Territory.

"The impact of these years of brutalisation must be immediately measured and he needs immediate assistance."

Australia's Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, who backed the inquiry, said: "We have been reporting on this question of indigenous incarceration, particularly of juveniles, for many, many years and we have had many, many reports... on the appalling conditions in which they are held."

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council demanded the Royal Commission include all states and territories, as well as an examination of the over-representation of Aborigines in detention. Aborigines comprise just 3 percent of Australia's population but make up 27 percent of those in prison.