youth leaning on wall

By Peter Murphy

Key Points:

  • The Royal Commission has delivered a comprehensive report with extensive recommendations.
  • The recommendations are predictable as to what is needed – a focus on early intervention and diversion with detention as a last resort.
  • Successfully implementing the 226 recommendations is now the challenge for the Federal and Northern Territory (NT) Governments.

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (the Royal Commission) handed down its findings this week and in doing so, has shown itself to have done a thorough job. It has consulted widely across the Territory and taken a broad view of reforming the NT’s Youth Justice system.  Most importantly, it clearly stated that early intervention and detention as a last resort should be central principles in the NT’s future approach to Youth Justice.  Global experience demonstrates that this provides an excellent basis for a whole of government reform of the system.

The Royal Commission provided a raft of recommendations around the care and child protection system. This will primarily fall on Territory Families which will require additional resources. This is needed as involvement in the child protection system results in a high likelihood of entry into the Youth Justice system. Strengthening the linkages with other agencies such as Health will also improve the ability to identify and divert children at risk .Indeed, the recommendation to develop a specific tool to identify those at risk, will enable the early targeting of intensive therapeutic interventions to children at most risk. While finding the funding to strengthen the front end of the system will be a challenge, evidence shows that it will pay dividends for not only the Treasury but the NT community as a whole.

There is no surprise that the Commissioners recommended the closing of the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.  It is not fit for purpose and does not support the rehabilitation of detainees. In seeking to replace it, the NT should look at the Australian Capital Territory’s Bimberi Youth Justice Centre.  As a Human Rights compliant facility it makes an excellent model for the NT. While the bricks and mortar can be done relatively quickly, there is an urgent need to develop a trained workforce for both the new centre and the wider diversion system (including the 20 Family Support Centres). While not a specific recommendation, there is a definite need to develop a strategic workforce plan to assemble and grow the needed people to implement the requirements of the new system.

Once government has decided on the recommendations it will agree to implement, preparing a plan to action this will be a key task which requires careful consideration. Making sure the plan is coherent, actionable (given the capacity constraints of the NT) and provides a continuum of diversion and support, will be crucial to overall success. Sensibly, the Royal Commission has recommended that establishing specific evaluation plans be a mandatory component of policy and program development. Through developing and resourcing a plan based on the Royal Commission’s well considered recommendations, and subsequently adjusting the plan based on learning, will mean that the terrible events exposed by the Royal Commission will never be repeated.

Peter Murphy is a Director and co-founder of Noetic Group. Contact him at