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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3083

Question No. 461

Senator Chipp asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 2 November 1983:

(1) Is the Attorney-General aware that citizens in the Northern Territory, and particularly Aboriginal people, would have their legal rights curtailed by many provisions contained in the Northern Territory Criminal Code Act, such as: (a) the abolition of the unsworn statement; (b) the reversal of the onus of proof in certain cases; (c) the payment of costs and imprisonment until such costs are paid even though the accused has been acquitted; and (d) by making attempted suicide punishable by imprisonment for one year.

(2) Is the Attorney-General aware that the substantive right Aborigines have not to be sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment for murder, and to have their customary law taken into account, has been abolished and that no provision has been made to take account of Aboriginal customary law.

(3) Is the Attorney-General aware of the provisions in the proposed Act which severely limit the political rights of people under the guise of anti-terrorist measures by enabling the Executive Council to proscribe an organisation and then : (a) prohibit any meetings of that organisation including a meeting which might be called for the purpose of challenging the proscription; (b) prohibit wearing a dress or displaying a sign of the proscribed organisation; and (c) punish offenders by imprisonment.

(4) Does the Governor-General, acting on advice of the Executive Council and under the provisions of the Northern Territory Self Government Act 1976, have power to disallow this legislation, even though it has received the assent of the Northern Territory Administration.

(5) Has this legislation been considered by the Executive Council or by Cabinet ; if so, what action, if any, does the Government intend to take.

(6) Could the Attorney-General give consideration to a reply within seven days in view of the urgency of this matter.

Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) I am aware that the Northern Territory Criminal Code Act:

(a) abolishes the right of an accused to make an unsworn statement from the dock;

(b) reverses the onus of proof in relation to intent in cases where the accused is intoxicated at the time of the offence;

(c) permits, where an accused person is acquitted by reason of voluntary intoxication, a court to order the payment by that person of:

(i) the cost of bringing the charge including the costs of the investigations,

(ii) the cost of the committal hearing;

(iii) an amount of compensation or restitution and further permits the court to ;

(iv) order the imprisonment or release on bail of the person pending the assessment of costs or compensation; and

(v) order the imprisonment of the person for failure to comply with any order made.

(d) makes attempted suicide an offence punishable by imprisonment for one year.

(2) I am also aware that under the existing law, the Northern Territory Supreme Court has a sentencing discretion in relation to Aboriginal persons convicted of murder and that the Code abolishes this and replaces it with a mandatory life sentence upon conviction of murder, regardless of the race of the convicted person. The Code makes no express provision to take account of Aboriginal customary law in determining criminal liability, although the Northern Territory Administration claims that in murder cases the defence of coercion produces the same result. The Australian Law Reform Commission has provisionally expressed doubts about this interpretation.

(3) The Code permits the Executive Council to proscribe organisations subject to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory approving this proscription within 14 days. It is an offence to arrange, to assist in the arrangement, to manage or to address any meeting of 3 or more persons knowing that the meeting is to support or to further the activities of a proscribed organisation. It is also an offence to be similarly involved in any such meeting which is to be addressed by any person who belongs or professes to belong to a proscribed organisation. These offences carry a maximum period of imprisonment of two years. The wearing in public of an item of dress or the wearing, carrying or displaying of any sign or article from which it can reasonably be inferred that the wearer is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation are also made offences, carrying a maximum period of imprisonment of six months.

(4) Yes.

(5) Following considering by the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the Minister for Territories and Local Government and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Prime Minister wrote to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory on 17 November, 1983 requesting reconsideration and appropriate amendment of a number of provisions in the Code in respect of which widespread concern is evident.