This is the text of a speech delivered by NT Opposition Leader, Michael Gunner at the Garma Festival at Gulkula, north-east Arnhem Land earlier today.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of these magnificent lands — this place Gulkula — is a wonderful place.
It is a privilege to be welcomed here to Yolngu country and to be invited to speak by the Yothu Yindu Foundation.
I thank the elders, I thank them for their wisdom, for their strong culture, for the sense of balance the elders bring — to how we behave and how we live — the deep knowledge of the system of life — both Dhuwa and Yirritja.
Originally today I wanted to talk about respect and trust and how we need more decisions to be made by local people.
On Monday morning I stood on the beach at Maningrida with traditional owners and made a significant announcement about how we want to work with remote Territorians and how we trust them to have control of the decisions that affect their lives.
On Monday night I watched ABCs 4 Corners from a donga on the Tiwi Islands.
The program showed the nation gut wrenching, distressing footage of many Aboriginal children being cruelly mistreated while being held in the Don Dale centre in Darwin.
Grief, anger and shame has dominated conversation in our nation in the days since and I feel compelled to address it today.
Repeated Northern Territory Governments have failed in their duty towards the children in our care.
For that I say sorry to you all.
When children are in government’s care — we are their parents. As a parent there is a clear relationship — of love, of care, of trust. Yothu Yindu — child and mother — that’s the proper way.
As the leader of the Labor Party in the NT I accept our share of the responsibility.
As the leader of the Labor Party in the NT I want to be part of the solution.
We must fix this terrible situation because it is simply wrong. Very wrong. No matter that these kids have done, nobody deserves to be treated like this.
This does not break the cycle of offending. It breaks kids.
We will talk carefully in a respectful and considerate way with Territorians about how we fix the Youth Justice system.
But I cannot do this alone — I cannot walk in front of you, I cannot walk behind you, I must walk with you to do this.
We must walk and work together. In one common direction.
To borrow a wonderful Yolgnu metaphor, we are in the lipa lipa — in the canoe — and we have to row together.
I give you this commitment. If Labor is elected we will fix the Youth Justice system so that it works properly.
We will remove bad laws like paperless arrests, alcohol protection orders, we will abolish the current mandatory alcohol treatment and we will stop the Government using that chair that restrains children that was on television.
Many of these laws unfairly impact Aboriginal people — and that is something we will not accept.
This is about more than youth justice we must get it right for all our kids from the very beginning.
On Wednesday I returned to the Tiwi Islands.
One of the first people I met was a high school girl at the college. She got up early before school Tuesday morning to watch 4 Corners on iView. The program left her first in fear for herself, then in terror for her younger brother 11.
We have to have to invest in and provide hope for our next generation of kids.
We have to do this together and we have to trust each other.
So let us return to the issue of trust – trust has been lost. I know we will have to work hard to gain your trust.
Actions not words.
Along with Lynne Walker — my great deputy and who is the member for Nhulunbuy and east Arnhem Land — we will work hard — we will work for all of you – we will work in full partnership with you.
I give that undertaking and I ask for your wisdom and experience to work with us.
From the past … in the present … for the future.