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NT Approves New Legislation Allowing Declaration of Snap Curfews

New police powers have been introduced to address unrest, allowing snap curfews to be implemented. However, Aboriginal groups fear that these measures may disproportionately impact youth.

In response to increased anti-social behavior in the Northern Territory, the state government has passed new curfew legislation granting police broader authority to maintain public order, including the ability to declare snap curfews.

Recent months have seen a rise in civil unrest involving youths in Alice Springs, with violent crimes by 12- to 17-year-olds reaching peak levels since 2016.

A curfew was imposed on March 29, restricting all individuals under 18, unless with a valid reason, from the town’s Central Business District between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The Lawler government argued that these new measures, introduced under the Police Legislation Amendment Bill 2024, are essential to combat crime effectively.

Under the legislation, the Police Commissioner has the authority to impose curfews on problematic areas for up to three days, extendable to a week with approval from the Police Minister.

NT Chief Minister Eva Lawler stated that the new powers were prompted by recent disturbances, demonstrating that curfews can help contain disorder caused by young offenders.

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“There has been a lot of talk, over many years, about introducing a curfew in parts of the Territory. It was my government that introduced the Youth Curfew in Alice Springs and it is my government who have now passed new laws to keep Territorians safe,” Ms. Lawler said.

“My government will continue to take strong decisive action when it comes to keeping our communities safe, supporting Territorians with the cost of living, and getting more Territorians working.

“My top priority is to keep Territorians safe and I will continue to make common sense decisions that support our police to do their job.”

Minister for Police Brent Potter emphasized that curfews would be utilized judiciously, only after exhausting all other options.

“Curfews will be used when needed and when serious. We don’t want Territorians living in fear,” he stated.

“Police do an incredible job and this legislation will allow the force to enact their powers quicker and more effectively to keep Territorians safe.”

A view of the town of Alice Springs, which has been plagued by unrest caused by local youth. (Greg Wood/AFP via Getty Images)
A view of the town of Alice Springs, which has been plagued by unrest caused by local youth. (Greg Wood/AFP via Getty Images)

Do the Innovations Disproportionately Target Aboriginals? 

However, not everyone sees the new curfew laws as necessary, and critics argue that additional powers could be an overreach that will deepen the involvement of already vulnerable youth in the criminal justice system.

Aboriginal youth crime in the NT is a complex issue influenced by various systemic socio-economic and cultural factors.

The territory has one of the highest rates of youth offending in Australia, with the majority of youth offenders being Aboriginal, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

To address these challenges, the NT government has raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years in 2023, aiming to reduce the number of very young children entering the criminal justice system.

It has also activated a Youth Justice Review to implement restorative justice reforms.

Concerning the new reforms, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency’s (NAAJA) principal legal officer Jared Sharp expressed that curfews are a “high-risk, no-reward policy.”

“The concern is that curfews tend to drag kids who are already vulnerable deep into the criminal justice system,” he noted.

“The NAAJA believes this curfew legislation, which will give police unprecedented powers to lock down communities and prevent people from going about their business, is an absolute overreach.”

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