Territory Stories

Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 17 February 1999



Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 17 February 1999

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Parliamentary Record 14


Debates for 8th Assembly 1997 - 2001; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 8th Assembly 1997 - 2001




Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory





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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES - Wednesday 17 February 1999 become more effective at committing crime! Of course, Mr Speaker, the advantage for the Country Liberal Party government in maintaining the present policy is that it keeps them in a win/win position. Their own policies ensure that they will create further offenders and more offences that they can further beat the law and order drum on. And it is similar to their past 20 years in ignoring alcohol induced antisocial behaviour, because it was always handy to make sure it was around at the next election to have another bash at it, certainly in the lead up to an election. There have been, and will continue to be, numbers of juveniles in prison for trivial matters that make the policy applied in its general terms as it is now, look absolutely stupid. On this point the former minister for Correctional Services, the member for Araluen, Eric Poole, in the NT News I think, under a heading that read, Sad to see some jailed, said the government regretted the odd incidents when its tough mandatory sentencing laws resulted in people imprisoned who should not be sent to jail. Well might the minister express government regret at the odd incident as he refers to them, but I wonder what he did do in Cabinet, or anywhere else, to put the counter view that it is not enough to regret these incidents when the system should be changed. The former ministers own son, I think, is still before the courts on a charge which, if found guilty, will see him sent to prison under these very laws for 28 days - 14 for unlawful entry and 14 for stealing. In an April 1998 NT News the heading reads Youth jailed for stealing lighter. The article reads: Garry O'Brien was sentenced to 14 days ja il for stealing a $2.50 lighter. Magistrate Alisdair McGregor said: Here is a case where I dont believe many experienced magistrates would send at once to jail. But for stealing and receiving he must be imprisoned. Mr McGregor told O Brien: Do your time, keep your head down, keep your back to the wall ... and dont let me see you again . The magistrate would well know that sentencing OBrien to prison made it much more likely in fact that OBrien would appear again before the courts. In my own electorate a young man was imprisoned for 14 days for jumping and smashing a fluorescent light tube outside a hotel. He later apologised and made restitution but was charged, found guilty, and did his 14 days. I dont condone for a minute the damage he did, but it was minor, he is of good character, was most unlikely ever to offend again, and should have coped a fine or at worst a bond. Employed he may be as an apprentice, but he now has a prison record for ever which he will have to carry with him and have to explain every time he applies for a job, for a loan, for accommodation, virtually anything at all in the future requiring character references. Others have been imprisoned for stealing $9 worth of fuel and in another case a juvenile was gaoled for stealing yoyos and computer games. Other jurisdictions do not imprison juveniles at the second offence. Early in the new year I spent some time with Mr Johan Top, the manager of the Juvenile Justice Section in Victoria, located not within Correctional Services, but within the Department of Human Services. Victoria takes a far different approach to juvenile justice than the Country Liberal Party does here. In Victoria, every effort is made to keep juveniles out of detention. A young offender with minor offences is likely to be cautioned in the first place, given a bond, a community service order or a combination of measures before detention is considered. This approach fits well with the statistical probability that 7 out of every 10 juvenile offenders do not reappear before the courts on a second proven criminal matter, if they are not sent to detention. Of the 30% of juvenile offenders who re-offend, around one half return to court only once. Again, these findings were published in the New South Wales Department of Juvenile Justice study into recidivism of juvenile offenders by Michael Cain in 1996 - not that far back. Instead of imprisoning young offenders on then- second offence, Victoria gives them a number of chances. Moreover, when a juvenile is detained in Victoria, they are segregated into strict age groups: 10 to 14; 15 and 16 year-olds; and 17 to 20. In the Northern Territory, the Country Liberal Party sends 17-year-olds straight off to the adult prison with a warning from the magistrate to keep your back to the wall. Most surprising is the fact that, given this enlightened approach to juvenile justice, Victoria is not gripped by a wave of frenzied juvenile crime. There is no escalating crime spree. Even more significant is the fact that no one runs around calling the former Chief Ministers mate, Jeff Kennett, soft on crime. There has been a bipartisan approach to juvenile crime in Victoria for more than a decade, and one gets the impression that these matters are dealt with within an atmosphere of far greater sensitivity and maturity than would seem possible in the Northern Territory under the Country Liberal Party. 2805