Indigenous child walking through a red-dirt and scrub landscape.

New youth justice laws set NT back decades in addressing Indigenous rights

Amnesty International Australia condemned the Northern Territory parliament’s decision to pass retrograde youth justice amendments which will wind back reforms and increase the number of Indigenous people in Australia’s prisons.

A last minute-amendment was added which allows the granting of bail in “exceptional circumstances”, however it is breathtaking that this legislation was created and passed by the same government which admitted shame at the treatment of children in the Territory’s justice system in the wake of the 2017 royal commission. 

“The Gunner government claims they’re making the community safer, but I can tell you now these laws will make kids much less safe from the systemic racism which means our kids are imprisoned at 25 times the rate of their non-Indigenous peers,” Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Lead, Nolan Hunter, said.

“In fact, under the Gunner government’s leadership, almost 100% of children detained in the Territory’s prisons are Indigenous.

“It does raise the question if a law which almost exclusively applies to Indigenous kids is in fact discriminatory? 

“It’s especially galling that the Northern Territory Police released data earlier this month which showed that kids who go through diversion programs didn’t reoffend – these laws will mean that kids will be refused bail, and therefore access to the very diversion programs that are effective.

“The laws were introduced in a knee-jerk reaction to an entirely confected “crime wave” in a story on A Current Affair which gave the impression of youth out of control in Alice Springs, when in fact, all the data shows that crime is going down in the Territory.

The laws were introduced in a knee-jerk reaction to an entirely confected “crime wave” in a story on A Current Affair which gave the impression of youth out of control in Alice Springs, when in fact, all the data shows that crime is going down in the Territory.

Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Lead, Nolan Hunter.

“Concerningly, we also heard on our recent trip to the Territory that these irresponsible media reports were leading to vigilantism against Indigenous kids.” 

BACKGROUND

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that there were 693 offenders aged between 10 and 17 years, a decrease of 9% from 2018–19. 

Despite requests from Amnesty International Australia, the Gunner government has failed to produce evidence that these amendments will address recidivism, nor has it provided evidence for the problem this legislation is trying to address. Amnesty International Australia has written to A Current Affair’s producers and Nine CEO Mike Sneesby to express concern that they have breached the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance with their distorted reporting which will lead directly to children’s lives being harmed by contact with the criminal justice system. We have not received a response.

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