NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale speaks to Jo Laverty on ABC Darwin about the signing of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement

Years in the making, the Agreement is an Aboriginal-led roadmap to safer communities and reduced incarceration. 

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale speaks to Jo Laverty on ABC Darwin about the signing of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement

TRANSCRIPT : ABC DARWIN WEDNESDAY 11 AUGUST 2021 – Please see full transcript below




ABC Darwin : Jo Laverty – As we’ve been talking about, on Monday it was the launch of the seven year Aboriginal Justice Agreement, which has these three key aims. And listen to this, because I’m sure that anybody, any common sense thinking person would go, this is actually going to make a really big difference. So the three key aims. Reduce reoffending and imprisonment rates, engage and support Aboriginal leadership and improve justice responses and services for Aboriginal Territorians.

This has been an endeavour that is years and years in the making, five years of consultation, getting it just right, refining, going from community to community to community throughout the Northern Territory, which is a very big undertaking to come up with the Aboriginal Justice Agreement in its current form.

There was no funding, however, in the last Territory budget, even though it was bound and delivered to the minister responsible. There was no funding in the last Territory government Budget – this year that changed, sorry this week that changed.

Deborah Di Natale is the co-chair of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement Reference Group. I’ll just keep saying, A.J.A from now on and Deborah, last time we spoke, you were pretty cross because there was no funding in the Territory budget for the AJA. So how do you feel now that there is?

NTCOSS : Deborah Di Natale – I feel extremely relieved and confident. We’ve got 4.52 million committed by the Northern Territory government. The reason I was pretty cross is that there’s been over three years of consultations, in fact, 160 of them across 121 communities in the Northern Territory. And we heard from the Attorney-General herself that this has been the most ambitious consultation in any document that the government has undertaken so that we know that the responses in that document needed to be funded. So how am I feeling now? The word would be relieved and confident that we’re going to get some good work done.

Jo Laverty – It’s only one year, though, that’s been funded and it’s a seven year endeavor. What difference does it make to have one year funded?

Deborah Di Natale – We obviously would prefer to have a seven year commitment, but we understand that the government can’t make commitments beyond its term. What I’m confident about is that the Aboriginal Justice Unit that’s being led by Leanne Liddle and supported by Warren Jackson and others will be able to make some instrumental change with this 4.52 million over the next eight months, the government will be able to see all of those incredible outcomes that will be achieved and will continue to fund it.

We’ve got, in principle, support from the Northern Territory government to ensure that all of the aims of this agreement are met.

Jo Laverty – So what exactly can you get done in 12 months? I mean, that’s usually how long it takes to set up the office, get the letterhead, get the business cards, get the furniture. One year is not a lot of time. So what are you hoping to get done?

Deborah Di Natale – It’s not a lot of time, but just for all the listeners, it’s worth noting that at the moment in terms of over incarceration rates for Aboriginal Territorians, that is something that by any objective measure, we would say that we have failed miserably.

Doesn’t matter which side of politics you’re on when you realize that an Aboriginal person is not twice as likely, not three times as likely, but depending on your gender, 14 or 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than a non Aboriginal person, you have to say any measure we can implement across the Territory to change the record is a positive thing.

One of the things one of the initial things that the reference group will get together to talk about are law and justice groups. So what we will be doing is looking across the Territory to develop two, three, maybe four of those. And that will enable Aboriginal leadership into the justice system and we will get better outcomes for people. One of the other things that we’re looking at, too, is the alternative to custody model out in Groote. And I want to thank the Anindilyakwa Land Council for providing 4 million dollars to get that up and running.

And as you say, we may not be able to get instrumental change in eight months time, but we will be able to show some very positive outcomes that are getting us in the right direction

Jo Laverty – Whenever we talk about indigenous incarceration. And you’ve just said up to 15 times more than than white people, we always get messages like you do the crime, you do the time”. So how do you respond to that, that the the inflated numbers are just representative for because of bad behaviour and criminal activity?

Deborah Di Natale – How I respond to that is that the facts don’t bear that out. What the facts tell us is, that if you have an Aboriginal Territorian who doesn’t have steady income, in fact, doesn’t have stable housing, they are more likely to be treated in a way that incarcerates them compared to somebody who is able to have housing, have a job, have income. And the Attorney General herself said this needs to change.

We need to have, we need to not be punishing people for poverty and structural inequality.

Jo Laverty – Deborah Di Natale is the co-chair of the AJA Reference Group. And there’s more than just looking directly at the incarceration of indigenous Territorians, it’s going really back to the roots, isn’t it? It is a very ambitious agenda that is being put forth and you’re looking right in infancy, how you might be able to change what we see today. Cast your mind forward into the perfect world where everything’s worked out well, the philanthropist has paid for everything and more, it’s all worked. What will the new world look like?

Deborah Di Natale – The new world will actually have equality, which means in whatever part of the Territory you live and whatever your income is, you will have equal access to services.

And if I can just tell you a story of one of the consults out in remote community, I had a roomful of Aboriginal men and women who had lived there for significant periods of time, and they told us their stories of outright racism. Not one person in that room had heard of the anti-discrimination commissioner. Not one person in that room had heard of the children’s commissioner, and not one person in that room had heard of the ombudsman or any other complaint systems. Having all of these funded complaint systems are great, but they’re of no use to anyone if they can’t be accessed or people don’t know about them.

So first and foremost, the ideal world would be we’ve got all of these systems and anybody across the Territory knows about them, firstly, and secondly can access them.

Jo Laverty – And I was listening to PM yesterday and they were talking about an app which is being used which can help translate Indigenous language to legalise. So when there’s a legal dilemma and if you’re talking to someone who knows five different languages and but not English and you’re trying to talk to them in legal speak, it doesn’t always work out that well, as you can imagine. So this app actually works to communicate properly so that people know what their rights are. I mean, even just that’s a pretty basic thing, isn’t it? Being able to communicate what somebody’s rights are,

Deborah Di Natale – That’s absolutely essential. But one of the other essential things is providing, having the services there that are working. So when I was out in the Barkly, I met a grandmother who had four children, four grandchildren in her care. And she said to me, I have to pay for food out of my pension for these kids. And I said, you’ve got the Centrelink office here, the Social Security office, you should be using that. And she said they’re never here. They don’t come here. I’m on the phone for four hours to get some type of response.

So you’re absolutely right. People need to know their rights firstly. But secondly, the systems that are there need to be working. And they need people who are present that can provide, in language, what is needed so people can access what is rightly theirs and they don’t continue in this perpetual cycle of poverty.

Jo Laverty – An interesting aspect of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement is putting much more power back into communities. Could you elaborate on that?

Deborah Di Natale – So there are a number of measures in relation to that. Obviously, one of them is the law and justice groups, and NAAJA is doing some of that work at the moment.

And what we are hoping to see there is people that will, we’ve we’ve actually already heard people in community come and say we want to participate in the outcome here. What we have now is we send our kids to court, we don’t know what the outcome is, and we’re not even in a position where we can show the support that this particular kid has in the community.

And I have to say, I heard and felt great shame when I was in those consultations and I heard the community tell us the impact that they feel when one of their kids ends up in Don Dale because they know what the cascading effect of that is.

So firstly, what we need to do is, we need to say what’s going to work for you in your community? What do the kids here need and what do adults, grandmothers, carers in here need to make this work for you.

We have spent so much money out there and every government has tried. And by any objective measure, we would say we need to get this right. And this justice agreement is a road map to get us to where we need to be.

What about where the intersection between traditional ways of raising children and and the law as we know it here in Australia.

For example, there was that report on AM just before where indigenous leaders in the Kimberley would like to have more control over how they raise their children, which could include corporal punishment, so hitting and so on, because that’s a way that they think is quite effective, and lots of people do, not just indigenous leaders in the Kimberley. But what about that? Would you would you allow that kind of control in a community, even if it doesn’t quite marry up with what expectations are outside of the community.

Deborah Di Natale – I haven’t seen or heard of that report to be honest but what I have seen, having worked in family law in a number of remote communities in the Top End is that human rights are front and centre. And I have seen families care for their children in ways that reflect very much my Italian heritage. I’ve seen grandmothers come to the fore when their children need some help to get back on to the right track and they come in and they get those kids to school. One of the grandmothers was making seven lunches one morning. So I don’t really you know, I don’t really buy into this idea that some of the practices are so different to ours. In fact, I think what we see is care and love, and that’s universal in any culture, including the Aboriginal one.

Jo Laverty – It’s good to speak with you on this. Let’s catch up again before 12 months is up. But, you know, it will be interesting to reflect on 12 months from now.

Before I let you go, any idea who the mystery donor is? Who’s going to be supporting the AJA? And how do you feel about that, that it’s not fully funded by the Northern Territory government, that they’re relying on a philanthropic donor?

Deborah Di Natale – I think anyone who can come and participate and be part of the solution is welcome. And Jo, I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling the fun. I want you to keep going and guessing who the donor is.

Jo Laverty – What? Do you know?

Deborah Di Natale – Well, what I do know is that everybody will know because at the launch in Alice Springs in a couple of weeks time, they will be talking about why they’re supporting it and exactly what sort of outcomes they’re wanting to see. And what I say about that is if people want to participate and be part of the solution, they’re welcome.

Jo Laverty – I’m going to say some organisations and I’m going to read you read your face like one of those magicians that you see on stage.

Deborah Di Natale – Go for it.

Jo Laverty – Patty Mills. Oh, you’re very good at this, I guess. It’s definitely Patty Mills. OK, no I’m going to say the Minderoo Foundation. The Yothu Yindi Foundation. The Turf club, well, you blinked then. What does that mean? All right. No, actually, I’m terrible at this. All right. Well, that’s very exciting to know. Thank you very much. We’ll be watching this space.

This is ABC Radio, Darwin. That is Deborah Di Natale, co-chair of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement Reference Group, know-er of the philanthropic donor.

Well, just before you go, let me just one more question on this. So in finding the philanthropic donor, did you have to, did you do work to try and get them on board to fund this? Or was that a government thing that did the work behind the scenes or did they come forward and say, hey, we’ve got all this money, how about we work together,

Deborah Di Natale – The ins and outs in terms of how they came to communicate with the Northern Territory government, I’m not sure about that.

But what I do know is that we are incredibly confident that the donor is sophisticated in justice matters across the country and we welcome their support and really look forward to working with them.

Jo Laverty – All right. You did that very, very well. I’m still none the wiser, but I’ve got a few key words now that I can work with to try and do some digging around. Thank you. That is Deborah Di Natale.