CONCERNING the letter of NT Chief Minister Denis Burke (CL 19/3/00) the minister lists the offences of the youth convicted.
There are five charges: entering building with intent, stealing, unlawful entry, stealing, criminal damage. This is unmitigated legalese. The normal description of these offences in ordinary communication would tell us that the youth had entered a building and helped himself to something he felt he needed. The minister’s legalese does not communicate what was stolen or its value, and mandatory sentencing is not interested in such facets of the offence. I have heard it was a packet of biscuits. The final three charges tell us that on the second occasion the youth had again entered a building, helped himself to something (clearly nothing of great value or the minister would have let us know) and did some damage in the process. Again mandatory sentencing is not interested in the level of damage or value of goods stolen.
The minister may have conveniently found some Aboriginal leaders who still think that old tribal ways, where the children’s relationship with tribe, peers and extended family, leaves them less emotionally dependent on parents than is the case with us, remain largely intact. However, this is not the case everywhere, and the youth’s behaviour bears every mark of an immature, lost, directionless person, trying to satisfy needs as they arise albeit in a way that shows low consciousness of property law. If his loss of adult guidance as such, would have been addressed, instead of the property damage to Territorians, we would not have the tragedy on our hands that we have.
While the proportion of Aboriginals among all prison inmates is triple the rest in NT which is about half the proportion in Queensland and a quarter of that in South Australia it must be pointed out that in the NT Aboriginals are more integrated among themselves. This means there is less white contact, and it is the interface with whites that affects the crime rate. Any offences committed against other Aboriginals is not likely to come to white people’s courts.
Territorians’ zeal for law and order, and respect for property rights, might be tempered by the fact that long held Aboriginal tribal lands were murderously seized by whites within living memory. When you take a person’s land without leaving them body space they can call their own, you pressure or destroy their culture, thus leaving them thoroughly disoriented. Ironically you may then have a problem with their lack of respect for your property rights, as respect for the property of others is culturally based.