New heads appointed to Australian child prisoner abuse inquiry | News | DW | 01.08.2016
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New heads appointed to Australian child prisoner abuse inquiry

An aboriginal leader and a retired judge will lead the probe into the abuse of child prisoners after the former head quit. The affair has refueled criticism of Australia's treatment of its indigenous peoples.

A Royal Commission into the abuse of children held in prison in the Northern Territory will now be headed by Aboriginal and Torres Stait Islander Social Jusice Commissioner Mick Gooda and retired Supreme Court judge Margaret White, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis said on Monday.

The move comes following the resignation of former Norther Territory judge Brian Martin, who stepped down as head of the inquiry on Monday, citing his lack of support from Australia's indigenous leaders.

Martin's resignation from the post, to which he was appointed just four days ago, came amid questions about a possible conflict of interest, with critics saying he might have personally given jail sentences to young people who could become subjects of the inquiry.

"I'm not the only person who can conduct this Commission effectively and competently, and it is critical that whoever is appointed has the confidence of those who are vitally concerned with this matter," Martin told journalists in Darwin as he announced his resignation.

Aboriginal leaders, including Gooda, had also criticized the fact that indigenous peoples were not represented on the Commission.

Poor record

The inquiry was ordered last week by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after the broadcast of a TV program showing CCTV footage of guards teargassing six aboriginal teenage inmates in a youth prison, and strapping a half-naked, hooded boy to a chair. The Commission is to have its first hearing in the territory capital, Darwin, on September 6, a date unaffected by the new appointments.

The broadcast triggered protests in various Australian capitals, and the United Nations Human Rights High Commission has called on Australia to compensate the victims.

Australia has a poor record on its treatment of its indigenous peoples, with Aborigines making up 27 percent of those in prison despite comprising just three percent of the country's population. In the Northern Territory, they make up 94 percent of juvenile inmates.

The life expectancy of Aboriginal Australians also lies well below that of non-indigenous Australians, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggesting that they die on average about 11 years earlier than the rest of the population.

tj/kl (dpa, Reuters)

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