Coalition formed against unjust laws
by Mati English A Sydney meeting held on February 29 involving church, community, social justice and political organisations opposed to mandatory sentencing formed a new coalition to campaign against the laws. This new coalition of groups supports Greens Senator Bob Brown's Bill to ban mandatory sentencing for juveniles. It will also be working to have all mandatory sentencing laws in the NT and WA overturned. The first task of the group, called the Sydney Coalition Against Unjust Sentencing, is to help organise protests against mandatory sentencing in the lead-up to the presentation of the report of the current Federal Senate Committee investigating the laws. "As we celebrate the 10th birthday of our ratification of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child, mandatory sentencing for both children, and their parents, is an obscene and shameful indictment on Australia's human rights record", said Lou Schetzer, Director of the National Children's and Youth Law Centre. Kilty O'Gorman from Justice Action said there was no justification for mandatory sentencing and that the protests would continue until the mandatory sentencing laws were repealed. "The wider Australian community pays for three quarters of prison costs in the Northern Territory alone, so it's everyone's business and right to have a say and to protest", said Ms O'Gorman. "While prison rates are ballooning, there is actually no crime wave occurring for property offences, so there is no justification for mandatory sentencing." Last Sunday, March 5, anti-mandatory sentencing rallies took place in Sydney and Brisbane. The Sydney rally attracted about 500 people who strongly supported the speakers calling for the repeal of mandatory sentencing and for full protection of children's rights. Senator Bob Brown urged those present to take an active part in a grass- roots campaign to abolish the unjust laws. NT Chief Minister Denis Burke continues to cling to his thin defence of the laws. He claims the Federal Government, which has the power go override them, will not do so. Judging by the response from the Howard Government thus far, he can feel secure in that department. Burke also claims that juvenile offenders aged 15 and 16 can "participate in a diversionary program" as an alternative to jail, a claim refuted by the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service. "We service geographically about two-thirds of the Territory", said Kim Kilvington, a lawyer from the Service. "There has never been a juvenile that has been sent to a diversionary program in Central Australia. "This applies not just to us, but to white fella legal aid here as well. Every juvenile in Central Australia who has ever been caught by the mandatory sentencing scheme has gone to jail. There is not a single exception to that."
* * *For more info about the Coalition ph: Lou Schetzer 041 7141 769 or Kilty O'Gorman 02 9281 5100