The Guardian March 8, 2000


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mandatory sentencing laws were repealed.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."

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For more info about the Coalition ph: Lou Schetzer 041 7141 769 or Kilty O'Gorman 02 9281 5100

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