• The changes will most likely affect Aboriginal communities living in the Northern Territory due to the large overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in detention (AAP)Source: AAP
All Indigenous people taken into police custody in the NT will receive wellbeing support and legal assistance under new laws that will come into effect in March.
20 Nov 2018 - 10:17 AM  UPDATED 20 Nov 2018 - 10:30 AM

Whenever an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is arrested in the Northern Territory police will be legally required to notify a new welfare hotline under new laws.

A key aim of the Custody Notification Service (CNS) is to be a legal safeguard to prevent needless deaths in custody and was first recommended in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody three decades ago as well as the recent commission into NT children in detention.

NT Police currently lay criminal charges against more than 13,000 Indigenous people a year on average with police admitting it was an extraordinary number in a jurisdiction with less than 250,000 people.

More Indigenous people are arrested and not charged.

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The new 24-hour, seven days a week CNS will mean a sharp jump in the workload for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) that has been contracted to run it from next March.

NAAJA has previously focused on providing legal representation to Indigenous people that have got into trouble with the law.

"The vulnerabilities of Aboriginal people and children in situations of arrest and detention are well recognised by our service," NAAJA principal legal officer David Woodroffe said.

"Those issues include language, health mental health and a lack of support."

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COMMENT | It's time for the government to put their money where their mouth is and properly fund – for the long term - services that have a proven record in saving Aboriginal lives.

NAAJA CNS staff will deal with an arrested person's anxiety about their family among other things and refer them to health, interpreters and legal assistance that is culturally-appropriate and organise transport for them "back to country".

The commonwealth will provide $2.25 million over the first three years to NAAJA before the NT government takes over funding.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has offered every state and territory to pay for their CNS for the first three years, with WA saying it will introduce one after it was recommended as part of a coronial inquest into the death in custody of Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu.

NSW has had a CNS for 15 years.

Police assistant commissioner Travis Wurst said there would be challenges with the new system he hoped it would ultimately mean less Aboriginal people being arrested and charged.

"That number of upwards of 13,000 on average is extraordinary," he told reporters.

"We'll work with our partners: NAAJA, the other support agencies that will support those people in custody and ensure that their experience is one that is safe."


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