The Northern Territory Supreme Court has today held that the now repealed Alcohol Protection Order (APO) regime was valid and not in breach of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act.
The case was bought in June 2016 by the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) on behalf of Dennis Munkara. Mr Munkara was issued with an APO in July 2014 after he allegedly stole a bread roll, some sandwich meat and an orange juice, totalling $4.20, from a supermarket while allegedly intoxicated.
An APO prevented a person from possessing or consuming alcohol, or going to licensed premises – which includes a number of supermarkets, restaurants, sporting venues and airport facilities. Police were able to stop, search and arrest people subject to an Order. Breaching an APO was a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.
Aboriginal people constitute close to 30 percent of the NT’s population, yet the NT Police issued over 85 percent of APOs against Aboriginal people. APO laws were introduced by the former Giles Government and repealed by the Gunner Government in 2017.
Priscilla Atkins, CEO of NAAJA, said that while she’s disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision, she’s pleased the Gunner Government had already repealed these draconian laws.
"It’s fantastic that APOs are a thing of the past in the Territory. Too many Aboriginal people are caught in the quicksand of the criminal justice system because of punitive and damaging laws. The Government should be doing everything it can to ensure Aboriginal people are spared the trauma and harm of being locked away behind bars," said Ms Atkins
Ruth Barson, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, who was part of Mr Munkara’s legal team, said that while APOs had been repealed there were a range of heavy handed NT laws that unfairly target Aboriginal people, which the Gunner Government previously promised to abolish.
When in opposition, Michael Gunner called paperless arrests ‘bad laws’ and said, in response to the Coroner’s finding into the death in police custody of Mr Kumanjayi Langdon, who was arrested under paperless arrest laws, that:
"We will repeal paperless arrest laws and we will bring forward a better regime that takes pressure off police."
"Two years on from the Gunner Government’s election, thousands of Aboriginal people are being unfairly locked away in police cells because the Chief Minister has failed to deliver on his promise to bin paperless arrest laws once and for all. The lives and liberty of Aboriginal people are being jeopardised by the Gunner Government’s inaction," said Ms Barson.
Paperless arrest powers allow police to arrest people on the belief that they may commit trivial offences such as undue noise, singing an obscene song or abandoning a refrigerator.
Despite Aboriginal people making up under a third of the NT population, the overwhelming majority (around 70 percent) of people who police detained and released with an infringement notice under paperless arrest laws were Aboriginal.
For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 51