No government politicians came to face their critics at today's grog issues rally in Alice Springs. Russell Goldflam, speaking as President of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory, said the government was "hell bent on jamming as many of its citizens in the slammer as they can". Particularly in his sights were the proposed new "Alcohol Protection Orders" (APOs) that Minister for Business Dave Tollner announced on Friday. Mr Tollner said the orders will further strengthen the tools available to NT Police in responding to alcohol-related offences. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Donna Ah Chee, Congress CEO, addresses the rally of around 80 people.
The Northern Territory Government’s proposal to radically expand mandatory sentencing is unfair, unprincipled, unworkable, unnecessary and unaffordable, writes Russell Goldflam, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory.
For the first time this week some detail emerged about what allegedly happened at Ilpurla Outstation last year that led to Barry Abbott (pictured), former Senior Territorian of the Year, facing charges of aggravated assault and deprivation of liberty.
Mr Abbott and his four co-accused, all members of his family, pleaded not guilty to all charges in the Alice Springs Magistrates Court on Monday. Their hearing is set down for December but defence lawyer Russell Goldflam had asked for a hearing to deal with legal argument.
How could this happen without some factual context, Magistrate John Neill wanted to know. So the briefest outline of agreed facts was presented on Tuesday afternoon. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
It's about heavier not fairer punishments and it does not deter offenders, they say.
Mandatory sentencing is strongly associated with the dying phase of the last Country Liberal Government. In many ways Terry Mills leads a different CLP into this election campaign, but it seems the leopard can't lose this particular spot – a 'lock 'em up reflex.
Earlier this month, responding to concern over attacks on taxi drivers Mr Mills announced what looks to be a one strike mandatory sentencing policy for assaults on anyone serving the public, not only taxi drivers but including "bus drivers, public servants, bank tellers, retail and hospitality workers".
An assault on this broad category of victim – including, for example, bouncers at night clubs – will be defined as "aggravated" and attract a minimum sentence of three months. This beefs up the party's existing two strike policy statement (see their website) for assault: as a second offence, any assault will attract a minimum of one month; an aggravated assault, a minimum of three months; and causing serious harm, a minimum of one year.
The core problem with this approach – whether to property crime as in the old CLP regime or violent offending – lies with its failure to take account of an almost infinite variety of circumstances and human responses to them.
KIERAN FINNANE discusses the issues with Russell Goldflam, President of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the NT .
The hearing of charges against Barry Abbott, former NT Senior Australian of the Year, and four others was again put off today because the prosecution had still not received a full briefing from police.
There are aggravated assault charges against Mr Abbott, 67, and two counts of depriving a person of personal liberty.
He is best known for looking after young people in trouble with the justice system and particularly petrol sniffers on his outstation at Ilpurla. Over the decades he has helped rehabilitate hundreds of youths.
He was arrested last October after a youth ran away from the outstation and came to the attention of police in Alice Springs. Police subsequently removed a further six teenagers and another from a nearby community and placed them in FACS care.
Mr Abbott's co-accused – two younger men and two younger women – are facing multiple counts of deprivation of liberty as well as other charges. There are also aggravated assault charges against the men.
The matters had been listed for hearing on February 2 but postponed till today, again because the prosecution was not ready to proceed.
Magistrate David Bamber expressed some impatience from the bench, however as the missing prosecution material includes medical reports relating to the alleged victims of "serious harm", it was not possible for the defence to object to the adjournment. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Mr Abbott outside the Alice Springs courthouse today.
"The Intervention’s new alcohol measures are steps, but they’re just small steps, when what we urgently need are big steps," says newly elected President of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory, Russell Goldflam.
The latest measures announced under the Intervention involve compulsory income management for people with alcohol-related problems and ministerial approval of local alcohol management plans under guidelines yet to be announced.
The "big steps" that Mr Goldflam and CLANT want are a floor price and volumetric tax. Measures such as these would have a chance of making inroads on the NT's appalling levels of domestic violence, fueled by alcohol.
"Let’s have a minimum price on grog so that nothing alcoholic is cheaper than the current price of beer. And let’s have a tax based on how much actual alcohol is in the product, to wipe out the ridiculously unfair advantage cheap and nasty cask wine producers have over all their competitors.
"Do that, and we’ll see an immediate, substantial and sustained reduction in grog-fuelled violence," says the senior Alice Springs legal aid lawyer who has represented hundreds of clients charged with assaulting their partner or other family members.