SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into Northern Territory juvenile justice system; Indigenous recognition; Labor win in Herbert

KIERAN GILBERT: Let's go to Labor frontbencher now, Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Communications Minister. I want to get your thoughts on this report as brought to us this morning by Matt Cunningham, that the royal commissioner reconsidering his position over this possible conflict of interest, Michelle?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Kieran, Labor has always taken a bipartisan approach to this issue and when these revelations came to light we said from the outset we would be prepared to work with the Government. Labor wasn't consulted on these matters and it's clear that consultation hadn't taken place with key indigenous people either. But we are very keen for this to work, we are very keen to ensure that there is proper Indigenous input and I back fervently what Senator Dodson has said. The terms of reference make it very clear that issues such as cultural management issues such as human rights issues and the likely possibility of there being issues of racism as well really need that Indigenous perspective from the inquisitorial level. So I think it's imperative that we do have Indigenous input as at least one commissioner.

GILBERT: This particular commissioner looks like, well, there are questions being asked already about the commissioner as we said, in terms of the role that his daughter played previously in the Northern Territory government. Should he stand aside now as he reconsiders his position?

ROWLAND: Again I would quote Senator Dodson on this point. Justice needs to be done but it also needs to be seen to be done. So we are very keen to make this work. That is for the government and that is for this individual who has been appointed as the commissioner. But I think the government would be well placed to listen to the very sound advice that is being given by people such as Senator Dodson and reconsider its position on the issue of commissioners.

GILBERT: And in terms of the terms of reference, do you agree at least to the extent that the Prime Minister has been saying it's better if it is narrower in its focus therefore it can be, we can have a response more quickly or are you of the school of thought that believes this should be done right across the nation in terms of the juvenile justice system?

ROWLAND: Well we know that there are serious issues with Indigenous incarceration and black deaths in custody, the inquiry that we had a quarter of a century ago actually didn't focus on young people so I think that it's imperative that we recognise that this is an issue that is not only existing in the Northern Territory although obviously we do have evidence of that at this stage, but also the terms of reference aren't looking at the causes and what we can actually do to lessen the amount of incarceration taking place so I would have thought if we're going to spend this time, and admittedly it's a short time because the inquiry is due to be delivered by March next year, we should be looking at the reasons for these failures, so unless we have that broader more holistic approach I fear that we are not going to end up achieving very much in the long term.

GILBERT: And talk about not achieving much, in terms of the issue of indigenous recognition in the Constitution, if we can turn our attention to that. The Australian front page today suggests that the Opposition Leader's imperilled the Indigenous recognition referendum by supporting Noel Pearson's idea which includes a path towards a treaty. By having a more ambitious program here by the Opposition Leader endorsing a more ambitious process, is he in turn imperilling the first aim here which is Indigenous recognition in the Constitution.

ROWLAND: Kieran, I note the word imperilled in that article and as I read through it I couldn't see the evidence pointing to the way in which this has been in fact imperilled. I would make two points, firstly Bill Shorten has been absolutely consistent that we can't approach Indigenous recognition in our constitution as merely the end point. We can't say that just by having this referendum and a referendum succeeding but that is going to be the cure for all ills that we have with the way in which the gap has not been closed between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The second point I'll make is that Bill Shorten has been absolutely consistent all along saying that you can have symbolic recognition but it must be accompanied by something practical. And I would put forward the argument that I think most Australians would think that mere symbolism is not enough, we need practical solutions. We need to ensure that cases that we've seen in the Northern Territory for example are actually ameliorated and I again, Patrick Dodson has been very clear that you can't just assume that symbolic and practical recognition should be seen as mutually exclusive.

GILBERT: And do you accept the argument that you could make support for recognition less likely by having a more ambitious agenda, that's the bottom line here. Are you worried that that might be the flow on effect?

ROWLAND: I know the Reconciliation Council is taking submissions at the moment on the way in which that recognition should be posed but I would argue this Kieran, I think at this stage in Australia we see what is going on with the gap not being closed on key issues such as Indigenous health and key issues such as Indigenous incarceration rates. I think the Australian people are crying out for something different and you know, once upon a time I think a lot of Australians thought that there was a man in this country, a leader that could stand up and make those arguments and put them forward forcefully and convince people of their views, and that person was Malcolm Turnbull. I don't think that person exists anymore so we need people like Patrick Dodson, we need people like Bill Shorten to make these arguments because I think that's what Australians are crying out for, some practical solutions.

GILBERT: The final seat to be declared, the seat of Herbert, around Townsville in North Queensland. It's gone to Labor by 37 votes, Cathy O'Toole to join the Labor caucus. It looks like unless there is a legal challenge to the court of disputed returns, if the LNP is concerned that some people were disenfranchised as part of this process, it's fair enough they take legal action isn't it?

ROWLAND: It's up to them to demonstrate that there are grounds on which a petition should be brought forward and the court of disputed returns should sit and listen to the arguments but that's for them to bring forward. Cathy O'Toole ran a magnificent campaign, I'm so happy for her and her team. She only needed one vote, she got more than she needed, but let's not forget that it was something like two weeks ago that Malcolm Turnbull claimed victory in this seat and if the Liberal Party want to contest this I think that the people of Herbert and the people of Australia generally would want them to have very good grounds for doing so after one of the longest campaigns in living memory.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, we're out of time. Thank you.