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Senate Committee urged to support Mandatory Bill.

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Media Release

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC)


31 January 2000


Senate Committee urged to support Mandatory Bill

ATSIC’s NT Commissioners today called for the Commonwealth Parliament to support proposed legislation that will in validate State/Territory law that requires courts to impose mandatory detention for offences committed by juveniles. 


“Research conducted by ATSIC concludes that mandatory sentencing regimes are unjust, discriminatory and undermine Aboriginal people’s development of localised and effective community-based diversionary mechanisms,” Commissioner for the NT’s Northern Zone, Mr Gatjil Djerrkura said. 


“What’s more, the negative and overwhelming impact mandatory sentencing has on Indigenous young people and adults, as opposed to non - Indigenous, was foreseeable. It can only be seen as discriminatory and as such our research indicates that, if necessary, a challenge under the Racial Discrimination Act (1995) may be available.”  


Commissioner Djerrkura was speaking on the eve of Territory hearings into mandatory sentencing being conducted by the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee in response to the Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders) Bill 1999. The private member’s bill was put forward by Tasmanian Greens Senator Bob Brown last June. 


Ms Alison Anderson, NT Commissioner for the Central Zone, said a further discriminatory aspect to mandatory sentencing laws is the location of detention centres. 


“In the Territory they are sending juveniles hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away from their families and communities and this particularly affects Indigenous youth as they are most likely to come from a non-urban background,” Commissioner Anderson said. 


“It is also in direct contravention of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and those of the more recent National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families.  


“How many more lives need to be put at risk before a lesson is learnt?” 


The ATSIC submission on mandatory sentencing has already been presented to the Senate inquiry. It was prepared by Mr Chris Cunneen Director of the Institute of Criminology, University of Sydney Law Faculty in association with the Commission. 


The four NT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services and the Aboriginal Justice Advocacy Committee (AJAC) also made submissions to the inquiry and are expected to give oral presenations to the NT hearings. 



For further information: Francine Chinn 0419 819 025 

Denis Maher 0418 246 284 



jy  2000-02-01  13:04