The Northern Territory Labor government will not block a Black Lives Matters protest but has urged people to look at the nearly four years of work it had done trying to reduce indigenous incarceration rates.
The rally planned for Saturday will protest the treatment of Aboriginal people by police and deaths in custody following global action sparked by the death of African American man George Floyd while being arrested in Minneapolis.
There were similar protests around the nation last November over the death of 19-year-old Indigenous man Kumanjayi Walker, who was shot by a policeman in Yuendumu in Central Australia.
Constable Zach Rolfe was charged with murder but is expected to plead not guilty.
Indigenous people make up just three per cent of the Australian population but almost 30 per cent of prisoner numbers.
The Morrison government is reportedly looking to scrap a draft agreement to reduce the rate by up to 19 per cent by 2028 and aim for a greater reduction.
“That is too high, that is unacceptable in modern Australia,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters on Tuesday.
Under the Gunnner government rates have increased, with about 85 per cent of the NT’s prison population indigenous compared to less than 30 per cent of the general population of about 245,000, while the figure for youths is close to 100 per cent.
NT indigenous man and author Thomas Mayor, who has written a book about the Uluru Statement and its call for a “First Nations Voice” in the Constitution, told ABC Radio the answer was to ensure Aboriginal people had a meaningful say in policies that affected them.
He called for a permanent Aboriginal representative body that could not be removed.
Territory Attorney-General Natasha Fyles said she encouraged protesters to “look at the work we are doing” including its Aboriginal Justice Agreement which aims to reduce offending, with Aboriginal leaders involved in sentencing.
The government was committed to implementing the recommendations of the 2017 Royal Commission into youth justice that it has allocated $229.6 million to, she said.
“What it means is that you need to have that early investment, working with women when they’re pregnant, families as first teachers, working with families to raise healthy children,” Ms Fyles told reporters.
“We’ve sought the advice of the Northern Territory Law Reform Committee around
The current work the government was doing would “pay off in decades to come”, she said.
The NT Government has been criticised for not reducing indigenous incarceration, not increasing rehabilitation programs despite promising to do so and for not implementing royal commission recommendations to abolish mandatory sentencing and lift the age of criminal responsibility.
NT opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro said a Country Liberal Party Government would commit $5 million over two years to establish a “Sentenced to a Skill” boot camp in Alice Springs for youths which was a “step between prison and bail”.
“When people do end up in a prison facility you want them coming out better people,” she said.
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