Indigenous commissioner to hear NT victims

By Elise Scott

Child victims of abuse in Northern Territory detention will have their stories heard by both an indigenous leader and former justice after the federal government's first choice for royal commissioner quit.

The government on Monday caved to public pressure and appointed an indigenous Australia as co-commissioner of the inquiry into NT youth prison in place of former NT chief justice Brian Martin.

Hours after Justice Martin announced his resignation, the coalition revealed Mick Gooda would jointly head the commission with former Queensland Supreme Court justice Margaret White.

Justice Martin quit over a perceived conflict of interest involving both his career and that of his daughter.

Given he, "rightly or wrongly", did not have the full confidence of sections of the indigenous community, the inquiry was likely to be compromised from the outset, he said.

"I am not prepared to proceed in the face of this risk," he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

It gave the government an opportunity to fill the vacancy with an indigenous Australian - which had been called for by several groups including the federal opposition.

Attorney-General George Brandis said Mr Gooda had the respect of both sides of politics and was an obvious candidate for the role.

"We've heard and heeded the many indigenous voices who have asked for the representation of an indigenous person on the royal commission," he told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.

"Mr Gooda name was prominent among those recommended."

The prominent indigenous Australian is currently the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission.

He'll add an indigenous perspective to that of Justice White, who served for more than two decades on the Supreme Court of Queensland.

Senator Brandis said she was well known, highly regarded and eminently well qualified to conduct the royal commission.

Neither commissioner comes from the NT.

Questions had surfaced over Justice Martin's impartiality in potential dealings with child victims given he may have sentenced some of them while working in the territory.

His daughter was also an adviser to former NT attorney-general Delia Lawrie during the period the commission would investigate.

Justice Martin advised Senator Brandis about his daughter's job prior to his appointment and both agreed there was not a conflict of interest.

The government has been criticised for rushing the terms of reference and choice of commissioner and not consulting widely with indigenous Australia.

Federal Labor praised Justice Martin for "honourably" stepping down while slamming Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the avoidable error.

"This is what happens when you rush and you bungle, you create confusion, you create problems and put people into corners," Bill Shorten told reporters in Darwin.

The prime minster insisted the government consulted indigenous leaders before releasing the details of the commission and again over the weekend.

The terms of reference had been widely welcomed, he said.

"To see those scenes of mistreatment was so shocking, I believe Australians expected their government move swiftly and decisively to get to the bottom of it," Mr Turnbull told ABC radio on Monday.

While the commission won't be national, Mr Turnbull promised to put youth detention on the agenda for the next COAG meeting of state and territory heads.

Mr Gooda admitted there could have been more consultation but excused the rush on the urgency incited by the brutality shown in footage aired by the ABC last week.

The commission is due to report on March 31.