NT government prepares for crackdown on longgrassers

August 31, 2005

Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin's election promise to take a harder stance on "anti-social behaviour" moved a step closer to being met with police minister Paul Henderson's announcement on August 22 that new legislation will be in place by the end of the year.

The legislation will explicitly target longgrass people, nearly all homeless Aborigines, living in the parks and reserves in and around Darwin and other NT towns. A key part of NT Labor's platform for the June election was to stamp out public drunkenness and imprison individuals who fail to attend compulsory programs for alcoholism.

In a further criminalisation of homelessness in the NT, the police will take over the function of the community patrols run by Mission Australia. These patrols, undertaken mainly to take drunk people from public places to sobering-up shelters, also provide some other assistance to longgrass people, such as food, first aid and referrals.

While concerns have been expressed about Mission Australia's patrols, handing this function over to the police is a major step backwards. With a chronic shortage of sobering-up shelters or other more appropriate facilities, more and more longrassers will be locked up under "protective custody" in police watch houses and possibly even prisons.

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