Northern Territory

By Carment, David | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, December 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Northern Territory


Carment, David, The Australian Journal of Politics and History


January to June 2000

Introduction

A national and international debate over the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing legislation dominated the period under review. There were, however, other important political issues that received attention. These included a cabinet reshuffle, urban planning, the creation of two House of Representatives electorates in the Northern Territory, finance, Aboriginal affairs, gambling, local government elections, statehood, relations with East Timor, the resignation from parliament of a former Chief Minister and freedom of information.

Mandatory Sentencing

Very early in the year the Northern Territory government reaffirmed its commitment to mandatory sentencing, despite claims from the Labor Opposition that the controversial policy had failed to reduce crime. Mandatory sentencing legislation, introduced in March 1997, meant that adults convicted of property crimes faced a minimum of fourteen days' imprisonment for a first offence. On 4 January the Acting Chief Minister, Mike Reed, asserted that mandatory sentencing was intended as a punishment and not as a deterrent.

As the year went on, criticism of the legislation mounted. During late January and early February a Senate heating into proposed federal legislation that would override the Territory's laws received a flood of submissions that the laws were racist and contravened basic human fights. On 2 February the Chief Minister, Denis Burke, said the Northern Territory would make "justice for the victim a priority" and mandatory sentencing would stay (Northern Territory News, 3 February 2000).

Senior politicians, lawyers and Aboriginal leaders all expressed outrage over the death in custody on 10 February of a fifteen-year old Aboriginal boy. They called for a repeal of mandatory sentencing. The President of the Northern Territory Law Society, Jon Tippett, argued that the laws breached international conventions. He went on to claim that the boy's death "can be laid squarely at the feet of the NT's mandatory sentencing laws" (Northern Territory News, 11 February 2000). Chief Minister Burke, however, remained defiant, rejecting any suggestion that his government was responsible for the boy's death. On 11 February the Commonwealth Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, said he would consider the recommendations of a Senate inquiry into mandatory sentencing in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The inquiry's findings, he continued, would now be examined in light of the recent death in custody. On the same day three hundred mourners, including legal and church representatives, held a minute's silence outside the Darwin Magistrates' Court for the boy's death.

On 13 February the Tasmanian Greens Senator, Dr Bob Brown, vowed that the Territory legislation would be overturned. He also warned of an economic backlash if the Territory did not reverse the law, saying that "informal sanctions" could cost the Territory millions of lost tourism dollars (Northern Territory News, 14 February 2000).

Pressure on the Territory government to revise its stance came from a variety of sources, including the Leader of the Commonwealth Opposition, Kim Beazley, the Law Council of Australia, the Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), Geoff Clark, and the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr. More than a thousand Darwin residents during early February signed a petition calling for mandatory sentencing to be abolished. In the federal parliament, Liberal members were deeply divided on the issue, with some demanding federal intervention to overturn mandatory sentencing laws for juveniles.

On 16 February a twenty-one-year old Groote Eylandt man, Jamie Wurramurra, was jailed for a year after being found guilty of stealing a bottle of cordial and some biscuits from a work site on Christmas Day 1998. It was his third property offence and under the mandatory sentencing legislation the magistrate had no option other than to impose a year's imprisonment.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Northern Territory
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?