There has been a strong response from many sectors of the Australian community. For example, the Change the Record Coalition published this petition, calling on people to use ‘your voice to call on the Northern Territory Government to abandon this political, knee-jerk response and stay the course on implementing the NT Royal Commission recommendations to keep children and young people out of prison’.
Speakers will also talk about the harmful impacts of the Intervention. When the Intervention (now so-called “Stronger Futures”) was introduced in 2007 it was supposed to protect children. However the draconian police powers, disbanding of community control and abolition of CDEP community programs led to disempowerment and an exacerbation of the complex problems that lead youth to interact with the justice system. Royal commissions have all recommended in detail positive measures needed to address the factors that affect the journey of at-risk youths into adulthood. Factors such as intergenerational trauma, poverty, social disadvantage have been addressed with some programs, for example Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation (WYDAC) which aims to promote positive and meaningful future pathways for all young Warlpiri people or the Justice reinvestment program in Bourke NSW.
The ‘Stronger Futures’ laws mean First Nations children born in 2007 will spend their first fifteen years officially being singled out for discrimination endured by no other group in Australia. Children of the Northern Territory are living in communities where leaders have been disempowered, where control over land has been coercively transferred to Government, and where the levels of despair and disillusionment are mounting.
Yingiya Mark Guyula MLA, Member for Mulka, NT, stated in parliament: “The intervention got it wrong and the problems have become worse. Many of our young people have lost their way. I want to know how this government is helping communities to bring them back. How are they helping the grandparents and community leaders to bring them back?… These laws you are creating do not recognise our differences. Solutions must be driven by community, not more gaol time and continuing the never-ending cycle of putting Aboriginal people in gaol and expecting a different outcome… In Maningrida, the ABC reported that elders had taken kids onto country for three weeks to work with them and teach them discipline, respect, hunting et cetera. But they need more resources and time with those children. This what the community is calling for…We must work together to engage kids in schools and teach our way through raypirri—respect for community and country. The knowledge systems that are already there have been taken away by CDP programs… If we can have real local decision-making across the Northern Territory, we will get better outcomes.’
In 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended 14 years as the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Amnesty’s youth justice campaign also supports community-led programs and joins a chorus of calls to support raising the age to at least 14. You can find Amnesty’s petition at https://action.amnesty.org.au/act-now/raise-the-age.
In this forum panel, First Nations speakers will address the above issues and respond to the Northern Territory’s proposed criminal justice changes.