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Nov 3, 2009

Intervention lets Territory grog runners walk free

Canberra is weak as piss on grog in the Northern Territory, and several NT Magistrates are angry that their sentencing options for grog-runners have been seriously compromised by the Intervention.

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Anti-alcohol provisions introduced under the Northern Territory intervention have copped a stern dressing down from a Territory magistrate in a recent grog-running case.

For some time, Crikey has been aware that several NT Magistrates have been less than pleased that their sentencing options with regard to grog-running — particularly for serious and repeat offenders — have been seriously compromised by the supposedly tougher regime instituted under the Northern Territory National Emergency Response by Howard minister Mal Brough and maintained by current incumbent Jenny Macklin.

Three weeks ago defendant Marie Nudjulu stood before court at the troubled community of Wadeye charged with several “prescribed area” alcohol offences.

According to evidence documented in the transcript of proceedings against Nudjulu:

… the defendant’s vehicle was stopped by police … the search of the vehicle apprehended nine bottles of spirits and 29 unopened 375 ml of cans of Victoria Beer on the floor at the defendant’s feet.

When asked who owned the unopened 29 cans of 375ml of beer the defendant replied, “The VB is mine, I bought it for myself”.

Nudjulu had previous convictions for possession of alcohol contrary to the Liquor Act and was subject to a suspended sentence. This meant that, in ordinary circumstances under the previous regime, she would be a prime candidate for a custodial sentence.

But, as Magistrate Melanie Little told the court:

… this just demonstrates how this legislation is not completely — look at this lady’s record, it’s inevitable she would have gone to jail for this offence, absolutely inevitable, $2200 maximum penalty now. I wonder — I don’t understand Canberra, it just totally bewilders me …

Look at the record, look at it. How many, look, one, two — this is now her fourth bring liquor and she was on a suspended sentence. I wonder — it just — it seems to have accelerated and the message is out, isn’t it, there’s absolutely no deterrence any more.

And in sentencing Nudjulu, Magistrate Little made her views on the practical effects of the NTNER Act modifications to the NT Liquor Act clear as possible:

We used to call them restricted areas and the penalties were very significant, Ms Nudjulu, and as I mentioned had they been — under the old penalties and old regime you would be looking at a period of imprisonment today. The maximum penalty today is $2200 and I take that into account … This offence is not punishable by imprisonment so it’s not a breaching offence. I take into account that this now the fourth bring liquor, plus you’ve got other offences on your record. So it’s clear to me that you’re not taking any notice whatsoever of the rules, Ms Nudjulu.

The primary anti-grog measures introduced by minister Brough were contained in section 12 of the NTNER Act — which replaced the previous regime in section 75 of the NT’s Liquor Act of offences and penalties relating to “restricted areas” with a regime relating to “prescribed areas”. Brough’s “prescribed areas” expanded the area subject to the alcohol bans by several orders of magnitude to include all Aboriginal freehold land in the NT — about 42% of the Territory landmass.

Before September 2007 a prison sentence was available as a sentencing option for a Magistrate dealing with a person convicted of a basic “restricted area” offence under the Liquor Act — an option increasingly attractive in respect of repeat or particularly serious offenders.

Since then, under the “prescribed area” provisions of the NTNER-modified Liquor Act, the maximum penalty available is a fine.

A prison sentence can now only be imposed for an aggravated version of the basic offence that relates to “transporting” more than 1350 millilitres of pure alcohol with the intention to supply.

The pre-existing NT legislation, at section 124A, always allowed (and still does) for police officers to state or “aver” that seized grog was alcohol. But there is no equivalent averment provision in the NTNER Act in respect of the 1350 millilitres of pure alcohol situation.

The consequence of this is that if police seize enough grog to trigger an aggravated offence and charge accordingly, they will have to chemically analyse each item if the defendant opts to take the case to a hearing.

Crikey understands that the NT police forensic lab in Darwin is not geared to conducting such testing, and would have to send the seized alcohol interstate for testing.

The practical result of this snafu is that the vast majority of charges — including those that would clearly be classed as aggravated “grog-running” offences — are now processed by the courts as basic “prescribed area” offences, and the only sentencing option is a fine.

Canberra — weak as piss on grog and grog runners in the NT.

Bob Gosford — Editor of The Northern Myth

Bob Gosford

Editor of The Northern Myth

Darwin-based journalist and The Northern Myth blogger

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15 thoughts on “Intervention lets Territory grog runners walk free

  1. Bob Gosford

    Good to hear that Bob D and I can agree on something – though I’ve no idea how he proposes, other than (maybe) semi-permanent roadblocks to give effect to “…legislation applying to illegal transport and dealing of other psycho-active substances (cannabis, kava, speed etc) in prescribed areas also needs tightening.” – as Dr John Howard (surely not!!) said at the ABC News report here (http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/11/03/2731642.htm) earlier today:

    Dr John Howard from the National Cannabis Prevention Centre is one of the speakers at a national drug and alcohol conference being held in Darwin today.

    He says a Federal Government report showing that alcohol and drug incidents in Territory communities have risen since the intervention highlights that simple bans are not dealing with the problem…”But I think that in many places where we allow a sense of hopelessness, or it’s all too hard, to occur, why wouldn’t you want to medicate yourself somehow to get through a day.”

    I talked further about this over at The Northern Myth post earlier today. And as Bob and anyone else with experience in the centre and elsewhere in the NT would know – roadblocks etc can be pretty ineffective in stopping grog, ganja, kava etc

  2. Craig

    I know this woman personally and also know that on many occassions her nephews have loaded her bags on flights with grog and pot and she was been threatened with violence by the family if she did not do it. She is a well respected woman in the community. She is picked out to take the rap because she does do lots of good work, so other family members think she is less lickly to get caught and that she can handle the authorities.

    She cared for her nephew who was very ill. He had downsyndrome and died 18 months ago at the age of 13 from peronititis. Treatemnt had to be withdrawn to allow this boy to die. none of the men in the family would make the decision to stop his suffering, scared they would be seen as responsible for his death. They made her make the decision. She told me she knew what had to be done and knew what would happen to her once he died.

    Thankfully we avoided her having to make the decision as between RDH and other factorsd, he was allowed to pass and she did not have to be seen to have made the call…. Read more

    She also cares for her violent husband who has a mental illness. She is also one of the main people in the community who interprets on court days and is sort after by the police and defence.

    She is not a criminal. She is not a grog runner. She does not sell alcohol in restricted area’s for money. She does not bring alcohol into restricted area’s. She is the scape goat for other family members. I have taken this woman to conferrences in Sydney for national seminars where she was an invited guest, as she cared for a very ill boy in one of the more remote communities in Australia. She represented one of the most marginalised disability carers in the country.

    She has always held down a job and has worked hard in her community and has supported her family and others when others in the community have failed.

    You should remove her from your blog. It is uncalled for and does not represent the true facts about this person or circumstances.

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