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Law and Justice

Customary Law

APO NT has urged the Government to urgently reconsider the customary law provisions contained in the Stronger Futures legislation, which limit consideration of matters of customary law in relation to bail hearings and sentencing of Aboriginal people before the courts.

A briefing paper prepared by APO NT on the relevant issues in relation to customary law can be viewed here: 120625 – APO NT – Briefing Paper Customary Law

The briefing paper notes that customary law has never been a defence to violent crimes and is rarely relied upon in court proceedings. Importantly, there has been no case in which the court has accepted such evidence as justification or excuse for violent or abusive behaviour.

On the other hand, the customary law provisions of the NTER and as proposed in the Stronger Futures legislation have caused deep hurt and insult to Aboriginal people in the NT and send a message that customary law is not valued or respected by the Government.

APO NT has urged that removing these provisions from the legislation would demonstrate that the Government is genuine about working with Aboriginal people in the NT in a respectful manner. It would also remove a significant source of discrimination in the treatment of Aboriginal people before the courts.


Family Violence
Family violence is one of the biggest issues affecting the Northern Territory. It not only affects the immediate victim, but it also damages the family and the community. There are many underlying and interrelated factors causing this increase in violence across the Northern Territory, including substance abuse, loss of parental and role models, poverty, low self-esteem, anger, stress, depression and, in some cases, learned behaviour from children watching those around them.

For Aboriginal people, historical circumstances, the loss of land and traditional culture, the dis-empowerment of traditional elders, breakdown of community kinship systems and Aboriginal law, entrenched poverty, alcohol abuse, institutionalisation, incarceration, alienation, substandard or inadequate housing; limited access to societal resources and services; emotionally damaged family members, and racism are additional factors underlying the use of violence

Evidence suggests that the most effective approaches to combat Aboriginal family violence avoid punitive measure; rather, effective approaches seek to address underlying factors that greatly affect these families, whilst also seeking to offer support to both the victim, the perpetrator and the children, if involved.

Northern Territory Government New Domestic and Family Violence Strategy

APO NT supports evidence based approaches and community controlled and owned approaches to address family violence, rather than criminal justice responses.

On 11 February 2014, APO NT made a submission to the Northern Territory Government on a new Domestic and Family Violence Strategy which proposed 18 recommendations. The APO NT submission  can be viewed here: 20140211 – APO NT Submission – Domestic and Family Violence Strategy – NTG


The NT has the highest imprisonment rate in Australia, more than 4.5 times higher than the national average. Over the last decade, our imprisonment rate has grown by about 60% and the NT Government predicts that it will keep growing at an enormous social and financial cost to taxpayers.

APO NT’s recent media release on the need for a smarter and fairer criminal system can be found here: 141124 – APO NT Media Release – High Imprisonment Rates – NT

Youth Suicide

The rate of suicide in the Northern Territory (NT), especially youth suicide, is simply unacceptable.

Between 2005 and 2009, the NT had the highest rate of suicides compared to other Australian states and territories. For this reason alone, suicide is a significant concern in the Northern Territory, particularly amongst Aboriginal people. But it goes much further than this: Aboriginal youth suicide is a cancer in our communities.

Data from Central Australia alone, between 2001 and 2011, demonstrates that 75 per cent of suicides in Central Australia involved Aboriginal people. This is despite the fact that only approximately 21,000 of the 45,000 total population of Central Australia is Aboriginal. Males are also clearly overrepresented in suicides and, in the last 12 months, nearly all suicides in the region have involved young people under 25 years of age.

In fact, it is difficult to comprehend a jurisdiction in Australia that is more conducive to our young people taking their lives.

Our young people are subject to lives of poverty and disenfranchisement that—on any measure—are among the worst in the nation. The overwhelming evidence is that each of these social factors—in public health terms, social determinants, are strong predictors of risk taking and suicidal behaviour amongst our young people.

Briefly: the social determinants of early childhood development, health, employment, housing, education, and access to justice and social control, are reflected in a social gradient of powerless and ill health. The dice is loaded against our people from before birth, let alone before they grow up. One of the absolute consequences of Aboriginal people’s position on that social gradient is that our young people take their lives.

The grief that drives our young people to take such tragic steps both reflects and adds to the grief so many of our people experience. It touches all our lives.

It simply goes against nature for parents to bury their children and to mourn for the loss of a future for our people.

APO NT does not pretend that the solutions are in any way straightforward. Youth suicide is both a cause and consequence of much that bedevils our families and communities. What we do know is that just as the causes are multifactorial, the solutions must be likewise. Solutions lie within our families and communities, but it goes beyond that. There also needs to be a social response. There must be research and action at a local level and responsibilities also lie with the national government in responding to this ongoing tragedy.

APO NT Submission to the NT Legislative Assembly

In October 2011 APO NT made a submission to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory Inquiry into Youth Suicide in the Northern Territory. In our submission APO NT discussed some factors that can contribute to suicidal behaviours.

APO NT also proposes recommendations to address those factors to reduce the risk of associated suicides amongst young Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. In particular, the submission considers the contextual and underlying risk factors for suicide and ways in which they may be managed to reduce the risk of suicide: measures relating to education and employment; the use of multi systemic therapy to address numerous concerns that together elevate risk of suicide; the importance of cultural continuity and community control; the need for community development approaches to address suicide; need to tackle alcohol and other drug (AOD) use, including the the benefits of integrating alcohol and other drug and mental health care into primary health care (PHC); and the impact of over policing and the justice system on youth suicide.

Click here for more information on the 111008 – APO NT Youth Suicide Submission_Oct 2011