Police power to arrest an adult or child without charge, paperwork or representation

Nova Peris



The Northern Territory government in Australia have passed laws that hand police the power to arrest an adult or child without charge and without any paperwork. Since coming into power, the police have used this power 1,800 times, with at least 70 per cent of those taken into custody being Indigenous people.





The laws empower police to detain people for up to four hours without charge or legal representation.

The Northern Territory (NT) coroner, Greg Cavenagh, has called for these laws to be repealed because they are "manifestly unfair", disproportionately targeting disadvantaged Aboriginal people.


He spoke after an Indigenous Elder, Kumanjayi Langdon, sadly died in custody after police arrested him for drinking in a public space – an offence that normally carries a $74 fine and a $40 victim’s levy. The coroner said Langdon should have been free.

Calling for signatures to an appeal to email NT Attorney-General John Elferink to urgently repeal these laws before they cause more Indigenous deaths in custody, Amnesty International Australia writes:

"The Northern Territory’s paperless arrest laws put adults and children at risk of arbitrary detention by police and unfairly target disadvantaged Indigenous people. If these laws are not repealed, more Indigenous people will be locked up and more unnecessary deaths in custody will follow.”

Speaking on Alice Springs based CAAMA Aboriginal radio, Jonathan Hunyor, the principal legal officer with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency says it’s no surprise that the law is having a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal people.

“Although the law was not intended to be racially selective it was always going to impact heavily on Aboriginal people."

But the Northern Territory government resists calls to ditch paperless arrest laws. The laws are being challenged in a High Court case next week. Opponents of the laws say they’ve created a police state and will lead to more deaths in custody. Meanwhile NT Legal Aid says it can no longer meet the demands of remote communities due to funding issues, sparking concerns Aboriginal people may be forced to represent themselves in court.

The NT's other provider of legal representation in remote areas, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), said it can't represent all clients due to a conflict of interest.

The predicted result: many Aboriginal people will have to go without any legal representation.

NAAJA's principal legal officer Jonathon Hunyor says it's a serious issue, with the funding squeeze on all legal services.


An Aboriginal member of the federal Senate, Nova Peris, commented: "Typically the CLP [the governing Country Liberal Party] always reverts to threatening, punitive action rather than working on real solutions. The royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody recommended avoiding imprisonment wherever possible. The CLP’s paperless arrests are in complete contradiction of that, and have now resulted in the death in custody of a sick and elderly man."


[Background: Justice Reinvestment, Aboriginal imprisonment and Aboriginal deaths in custody]


Other Aboriginal news







Indigenous children 24 times more likely to be imprisoned
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 24 times more like to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous children, according to Amnesty International.


Amnesty's Indigenous peoples rights manager Tammy Solenec presented a submission to a Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee Inquiry in Perth this month.


Her submission highlights the issues of incarceration of children, in breech to the Human Rights Convention of the Rights of a Child.



In response to the inquiry chief Justice Wayne Martin concluded that Aboriginal people consider jail a rite of passage, Tammy Solenec says  justice reinvestment is the key goal for the future.



Another move to freeze Aboriginal welfare

The federal government is thinking of introducing a social benefits card that will bar Aboriginal people from buying things like alcohol. Suggested by a billionaire miner, Twiggy Forrest, who has the ultra-conservative government’s ear, the card will be totally cashless.

How do you sell a policy trial when there is considerable evidence that it is not going to work? The Abbott government is facing this dilemma in its desire to implement Twiggy Forrest’s suggestion for a card restricting welfare recipients’ access to cash.


This is essentially an upgrade of the BasicsCard income management program introduced with the 2007 Intervention in the Northern Territory.

The 2015 budget allocated A$146.7 million to cover both the extension of income management and the introduction of the Forrest version, the cashless welfare card, despite a lack of evidence of the model’s effectiveness.


Eva Cox, Professorial Fellow Jumbunna IHL at University of Technology Sydney wrote in the Conversation:

"Both cards are justified as measures to curb purchasing power and the serious levels of excessive alcohol-fuelled violence in mainly Indigenous communities. The BasicsCard quarantines 50% of ordinary welfare payments. The new card will generally control 80% of payments. Neither card can be used to purchase alcohol.


“There is no evidence in the evaluations of the Northern Territory income management programs that controlling access to cash has reduced alcohol abuse, even in communities covered by the program for up to seven years.

“As the main differences are technicalities of access, it is highly unlikely the new program will be effective as they are very similar, despite [government] claims that the card represents a ‘radical new positive approach to the distribution of welfare’.

“The government appears to be ignoring its funded evaluations that show the NT versions have not worked, particularly for those on compulsory income management. On alcohol-related issues, the evaluation said:

“`There has been a substantial decrease in per capita alcohol consumption from the mid-2000s. However, this decrease started well before the NTER [Northern Territory Emergency Response] and is almost certainly driven by factors other than income management.’

“The number of alcohol-related presentations to emergency departments and admissions to public hospitals by Indigenous people in the Northern Territory has increased dramatically since the mid-2000s.

“Imprisonment rates of the Indigenous population have increased in the Northern Territory since 2002 at a faster rate than amongst the Indigenous population Australia-wide.” http://pixel.wp.com/b.gif?host=nacchocommunique.wordpress.com&blog=33531598&post=11088&subd=nacchocommunique&ref=&email=1&email_o=wpcom


How hearing loss in Aborigines worsens their disadvantage 

Widespread ear disease may be the missing piece of the puzzle in why Aboriginal people are over-represented in Australia’s criminal justice system.

At school, hearing difficulties increase the likelihood of delayed speech, problems learning to read, and isolation from other children. All this contributes to Aboriginal children leaving education early, finding it difficult to find a job, and, ultimately, ending up in trouble with the law.

Samantha Harkus, the Manager of Aboriginal Services at Australian Hearing, cites as typical a case of a 16-year-old Aboriginal boy from the Northern Territory who was diagnosed with hearing loss during childhood, but did not have access to hearing treatment, speech therapy, or special education. He left school and was convicted shortly after for seven offences including car theft and arson.


“If you have difficulty in schooling you’re more likely to disengage,” says Harkus. “Disengaged kids are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour that would bring them into contact with the criminal justice system.”

She says that if hearing loss is not detected early it is more likely to go untreated, because of the difficulty in self-diagnosing hearing loss and the ense of shame attached to it.

Newmatilda.com begins its report on the issue: “When lawyers from the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) come to Darwin Correctional Centre to see an Aboriginal man charged with serious driving offences, they cannot find a way to communicate with him. The man is profoundly deaf, from a remote Aboriginal community, and does not use a sign language they can recognise.

“When this man is asked a question, he nods and seems to agree, even though it is not always clear that he understands. He does not seem to understand his charges and at times becomes quite distressed. The lawyers cannot communicate with him enough to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. He continues to be remanded in prison.” http://pixel.wp.com/b.gif?host=nacchocommunique.wordpress.com&blog=33531598&post=11064&subd=nacchocommunique&ref=&email=1&email_o=wpcom


Aboriginal group reconstitutes to fight Australia’s planned biggest coalmine

The Wangan and Jagalingou people, traditional owners of Queensland’s Galilee Basin, have announced that they have formally reconstituted the group representing their native title claim, “and now stand together stronger than ever” for our imminent fight in the Federal Court to stop Adani’s Carmichael coal mine, the biggest in Australian history.

The mine would pollute the Great Barrier Reef.

“As a people, we have voted down deals with Adani twice now. Our Family Council has continued to oppose Adani’s moves against us. And now our native title claim ‘Applicant’ properly reflects our people and our decisions. We look forward now to moving onto our challenge in the Federal Court, which is set for a directions hearing on 9th September 2015.”

Adrian Burragubba, senior traditional owner and spokesperson, said: "The Federal Court registered our new Applicant, ending the fabricated myth that the majority of Wangan and Jagalingou do not oppose Adani’s mine. This dispels the malicious disinformation spread by Adani, which has always
tried to paint our community as terminally divided.

"In any group, there are a variety of views. But a clear majority of our people said no to the Carmichael mine. Twice. This decision is final."

Representation of the Wangan & Jagalingou People (W&J) explained here. 

The variety of stakeholders opposed to or distanced from mining developments in the Galilee Basin belies the tree-hugging caricature that the Abbott coalition government imagines to be its arch-enemy.

“Earlier this year, 11 international banks ruled out funding for projects in the area. This was followed by an open letter from nine leading Australian scientists urging other companies to do the same or withdraw.

“Are these financiers and professors also conducting sabotage? Wangan, Jagalingou, Juru and Birri traditional owners have challenged the Adani lease.

“Grassroots groups like Reef Defenders – a mix of local business owners, farmers, students, professionals and retirees – have also taken action."

View from the Street: “Lies, damned lies, and mining development approvals. Let's summarise!: We have a situation where the government has failed to do their job in assessing whether an unprofitable mine by a company with a history of environmental breaches should be approved to service a diminishing export market in an increasingly unpopular commodity, in which the banks of the world have also thus far chosen not to invest. And when these things were brought to light not by the government department specifically entrusted with the job of doing so but by dedicated and passionate community groups, the government's response was to attempt to change the law to make it harder for that to happen again." Andrew P Street


Aboriginal pride all-empowering 

Adam Goodes is a star footballer in the game of Australian Rules. And an Aborigine. Every time he plays he is booed and racially vilified since he did an Aboriginal ‘war dance’ to celebrate a win. The issue is getting national attention.

Nova Peris is a member of the federal Senate for the Labor Party, an Aborigine and a fomer Olympic medallist. She was placed in the Senate by former prime minister, Julia Gillard. She focusses on the Goodes case to argue that if Aborigines are proud of their heritage they can achieve anything. 

“The Adam Goodes saga was a watershed moment for me. I’ve seen racism in sport. I’ve lived it, and I’m still living it. But the booing of Adam Goodes showed me just how polarising the issue of race can be. It also showed that race and racism isn’t just about skin colour or stereotypes. It’s also about people’s expectations of race. Everyone expects Adam Goodes to be a great footballer, but not everyone expects him to be a great, proud, outspoken or challenging Aboriginal man.

“The overreaction to Adam’s proud warrior cry reminded me that not all Australians are fully educated about our country’s history, nor do they fully understand it. He showed us that an Aboriginal man can think for himself. It’s easy to forget these things. Adam made sure we didn’t.

“What Adam did most of all was remind me, and I hope the nation, that Aboriginal people can have the best of both worlds. He can achieve at the highest level of his chosen career, while never losing sight that he is a proud Aboriginal man. He can do both.”  



“This is Aboriginal land, and you are welcome too”

“This is a chance to ask who we are as a nation. To remember that we have a dark legacy of denial and injustice, but that our law was bigger than our prejudice. To remind ourselves that when footballer Adam Goodes is taunted as an “ape” that we haven’t yet cleansed ourselves of 18th century notions of Indigenous people as blues, savages and primitives.”