Northern Territory: January to June 2003
Carment, David, The Australian Journal of Politics and History
A variety of issues emerged during the period under review. Of particular consequence were those associated with law and order, economic management, Northern Territory national parks, the Northern Territory Public Service, Territory representation in the Commonwealth parliament, education, indigenous affairs, the Territory parliament, statehood for the Territory and leadership of the Country Liberal Party (CLP) Opposition. As Nicholas Rothwell observed at the end of the period, "Halfway through her first four-year term in office, Clare Martin, the controlled, elegant Northern Territory Chief Minister, radiates all the calm of a discreet revolutionist who knows her program is on track. The conservative opposition is conveniently tearing itself apart in a protracted leadership struggle. The big economic projects Martin inherited and invigorated are coming to spectacular fruition" (The Weekend Australian, 28-29 June 2003). There were, however, at least some serious difficulties for her Labor administration.
Law and Order
On 3 January a prominent Darwin lawyer, Colin Macdonald QC, called for the introduction of a monitoring body to oversee the Territory's new drug house legislation. He said owners and tenants of drug houses had no rights under the laws to test the evidence before a drug house sign was posted at the premises. The legislation also came under fire from the Leader of the Opposition, Denis Burke, who on 7 February said Territorians should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not they smoked marijuana.
The Chief Minister on 11 January argued that the population profile was one factor in Territory's high level of violence, but admitted that the figures were unacceptable. She said that her government was trying a range of strategies to try and bring violence levels down. "But don't forget", she continued, "We've got a younger population. And we've got, with all due respect to the men in the room, more males in the Territory, so there are factors that influence that" (ABC News, Northern Territory, 11 January 2003, www.http://abc.net.au/).
Denis Burke on 22 January committed a future CLP government to doubling the number of operational police in the Territory. Burke, who recently returned from a five-day tour with the New York Police Department, said an increase in police numbers was essential to reducing crime. This had, he argued, happened in New York. The Acting Minister for Police, Syd Stirling, dismissed the call as "empty". "After [...] a taxpayer funded junket, he is now trying to justify the expense", he asserted (Northern Territory News, 23 January 2003).
Less than two per cent of property offences, Burked maintained on 13 March, were being brought to court. But the Minister for Justice, Peter Toyne, said Burke had misread the figures and was not accounting for multiple offences. About thirty Alice Springs residents demonstrated on 1 May accusing the CLP of scare mongering about crime. The Chief Minister claimed on the same day that statistics showed there had been a significant drop in crime compared with the last year of the CLP government.
On 2 May the Chief Justice of the Northern Territory since 1993, Brian Martin, announced his retirement later in the year. There was almost immediate speculation regarding his successor but the government seemed in no hurry to announce who this would be.
It was revealed on 5 May that the Northern Territory Government would consider a radical plan to force serial drunken offenders to quit alcohol. Under the plan, a magistrate could order offenders to spend periods in detoxification centres as part of their treatment. The announcement followed parliamentary debates in which the government was criticised for alcohol-related violent crimes across the Northern Territory.
The North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service argued on 26 May that a "particularly harsh sentencing regime" was causing overcrowding at Darwin Prison (Northern Territory News, 27 May 2003). …