• NT wants to introduce a bill that will make it harder for youths to be given the presumption of bail. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Lawyers say NT Chief Minister Adam Giles is playing politics with vulnerable Aboriginal children as he plans to introduce tougher bail measures targeting 'rogue youths'.
Laura Murphy-Oates

The Point
18 May 2016 - 7:48 PM  UPDATED 18 May 2016 - 8:21 PM

Top legal experts have lambasted Mr Giles’ plan to make it harder for people who have repeatedly committed property crimes, such as breaking into homes or smashing cars, to get bail.

The bill, to be introduced to the legislative assembly next week, is specifically targeted at what Mr Giles calls “bad youths”.

“Rogue youths” are given “every chance but they still break into our homes, smash up our cars and cause trouble”, Mr Giles posted to Facebook.

This legislation will make sure “bad youths are no longer given the presumption of bail,” he added.

Indigenous youth incarceration jails ‘regular kids’: Briggs
Regular children in extraordinary circumstances – that’s how respected rap artist Briggs wants Australians to understand Indigenous youths who have been locked up.

Ruth Barson, senior lawyer for the Human Rights Law Centre, says she believes the announcement is “largely the Chief Minister playing politics with Aboriginal children” before the upcoming Northern Territory elections.

“The NT government is using one of the oldest tricks in the books, which is to beat the law and order drum using harsher policies, but we know they don’t work,” she says. 

An official statement from Mr Giles and the Northern Territory Attorney General John Elferink says that those with multiple prior convictions will either be held in prison on remand or monitored electronically if released on bail.

The move comes as latest statistics from the NT police show that since last financial year, property crimes in the Territory fell by 4.8 per cent. That includes a drop of at least 8 per cent for both commercial and home break-ins, and a 12.7 per cent drop in motor vehicle theft.

Legal advocates are concerned the bill will merely increase incarceration rates of Indigenous children, who already comprise more than 95 per cent of the youth detention population, according to government data.

A generation lost if Indigenous youth incarceration rate continues: Amnesty
Amnesty International says an entire generation will be lost if Indigenous youth continue to be incarcerated at 24 times the rate than non-Indigenous youth.

“The majority of kids before the youth court are Indigenous,” says Shahleena Musk, youth justice lawyer at North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency.

“And …the majority of offences before the youth court are these types of offences, including unlawful entry, unlawful damage, unlawful use of vehicles.”

She says the reasons Indigenous kids commit these crimes are complex and that the majority of the children she works with come from out-of-home care and suffer from trauma and neglect.

"The NT has got a template for what works but instead they're going in the opposite direction."

“They’ve never had a stable home so they’ve never had boundaries, so for people to just crack down on them, it doesn’t work,” she says. “They’re not going to get the services they need in remand.”

Ms Barson says Northern Territory is seen as a “pariah jurisdiction” in comparison to other states and territories, which are investing in preventative measures.

She points to the Blueprint for Youth Justice in the ACT report that shows investment in early intervention, prevention and diversion has seen rates of young people in detention decrease by 35 per cent and arrests of young people down by 20 per cent in just two years.

“The NT has got a template for what works but instead they're going in the opposite direction.”

Colleen Gwynne, the Children’s Commissioner for the Northern Territory, says this legislation goes against years of expert reports on youth incarceration in the Northern Territory.

“The Jodeen Carney review, the VITA review, they’re all saying that punitive measures are not the answer and we need to get smarter,” Ms Gwynne says.

“I’m concerned that we’re building a bit of hysteria around young people and it’s not the response we need.”