NT Royal Commission response: the big picture must be wholesale reform for children

Statement from Tony Stuart, CEO of UNICEF Australia
SYDNEY, Friday 9 February 2018
“UNICEF Australia cautions that the responses of Australian governments to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, should first and foremost prioritise the rights and needs of vulnerable children, rather than risk paralysis over jurisdictional funding and responsibilities.
Across all states and territories, there have now been over 13 separate reviews into practices and conditions in youth detention – it is time for urgent and long overdue nationwide action.
We have such glaring and widespread evidence of the need for all governments to step up to change this story for vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people, yet we are running the risk of sacrificing effective action to technical arguments about the division of responsibility for implementing each recommendation.
The Commonwealth government’s announcement of its commitment to actioning a number of recommendations is to be commended.
Yet, as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has also shown, we need nation-wide improvements in our child protection systems, made all the more necessary by the endemic failures revealed by both these investigations.
Significant concerns about the wellbeing of children in detention span across our nation, so it is undeniable that we need improvements in our child protection systems to take place nationwide.
There is no space here for partisan politics or state and federal stalemates.
UNICEF Australia calls upon the Commonwealth government to reinforce its initial commitments through putting the best interests of children in Australia first by: making an unequivocal commitment to ensuring all recommendations from the NT Royal Commission are fulfilled; providing additional funding where necessary’ and modelling national leadership and coordination through COAG. (This could include, for example, raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility).
We are at a turning point as a nation, where we have the opportunity to deliver a brighter future for all children in Australia, including those in the Northern Territory, who are now looking for leadership and action.
History will judge us very poorly if we fail to rally with unified vision and in a spirit of cooperation.”