FACTS and evidence-based policy are always the first casualty of emotion, outrage, and sensationalist media. But the damage done by the NT government’s new ‘youth crime’ measures is almost too comprehensive to detail. Punitive responses don’t work. Repeating the errors of the past will not make the community safer. No one wins. And worse, it entrenches the problems for the future. Sitting with government right now, awaiting delivery in the budget, is the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. This document holds the wisdom of 160 community consultations. These were held across the Territory and were well attended by communities. It represents three years of work, offering 23 strong evidence-based responses to crime that engage and support Aboriginal leadership and will reduce offending and imprisonment rates for Territorians. It reflects a partnership between Aboriginal people and the Northern Territory government – a partnership to genuinely reduce crime. But instead of partnership, this week the government chose punishment. They have the data, they know the facts. Every report and the Royal Commission have all told them the same thing – to address youth crime, kids need programs that keep them connected to family, culture and community. But they chose the headline. Evidence shows that early intervention and prevention programs are working. Programs including diversion and bail support programs are getting results. Eighty per cent of kids who have done a program on country have not gone on to reoffend. But they need a greater investment – of time, work and money. Evidence shows that pre-sentence restorative youth justice conferencing is working. It allows for victims to be heard, seeks to repair the harm and address the underlying drivers of offending behaviour. But it needs to be made more available. There are a raft of initiatives that result in less crime. They cost a lot less than detention. They make sense, but not news. The government chose not to lead this week. They chose to breach the fragile trust built with the Aboriginal communities who have worked so hard on the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. If they now choose to delay the Aboriginal Justice Agreement, and fail to fund it adequately in the budget, then we will know that facts, Aboriginal people, the safety of our community, and the future of the NT, all of it, are the casualties in this game of gutter politics.
DEBORAH DI NATALE & DAVID WOODROFFE ARE CO-CHAIRS OF THE ABORIGINAL JUSTICE AGREEMENT