Northern Territory: Taking a Rights-Scrutiny Leap Forward and then Sliding Backwards’
Grenfell, ‘Northern Territory: Taking a Rights-Scrutiny Leap Forward and then Sliding Backwards’ in Debeljak and Grenfell (eds) Law Making and Human Rights: Executive and Parliamentary Scrutiny across Australian Jurisdictions (2020 Thomson Reuters) 561-596
39 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2020
Date Written: August 24, 2020
Since 2016, when the NT made international headlines through documentary footage being aired of human rights incidents taking place in one of its youth detention centres, the NT Assembly has commenced a transformation of its law-making processes. It has introduced a system of Statements of Compatibility and a system of parliamentary rights scrutiny for legislation introduced into the Assembly. In instituting these reforms, the NT Assembly has looked to the rights-scrutiny processes used by other unicameral Parliaments, in particular the Qld Parliament, and adopted the FLPs as a framework for its scrutiny committees.
The chapter maps the introduction of these law-making reforms into the NT. To examine the operation and impact of these rights-scrutiny reforms, the chapter focuses on criminal law-making – in particular the pre-introduction and post-introduction stages of six Bills introduced between 2016 and 2019. These six criminal law Bills flow predominantly from recommendations made by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT and they have a disproportionate impact on a marginalised section of the NT population, namely Aboriginal youth.
The chapter argues that whilst the NT’s rights-scrutiny reforms offer much promise, so far the reforms have had mixed results for a number of reasons. One reason is that the executive has shown an inconsistent commitment to becoming more transparent. A second reason is the NT government’s inclination to circumvent scrutiny so as to push through legislation, a tendency facilitated by a unicameral Parliament dominated by the executive. One illustration of these mixed results is the fact that in a very short time period the NT government has had to backflip on some of its human rights enhancing legislation. The chapter argues that this is possibly because of powerful actors within the executive who appear reluctant to engage publicly with the NT’s new rights-scrutiny mechanisms. It argues that their actions are helping to undermine the new rights-scrutiny reforms and the pre-eminent role of Parliament as lawmaker.
Keywords: Human Rights, youth detention, Human Rights Scrutiny ,Executive and Parliamentary Scrutiny , Law-making and Scrutiny, Law-making and Human Rights
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation