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Word Count: 471
No degree of persecution complex on the part of the Northern Territory Chief Minister Mr Denis Burke can change the fact that the death of a 15-year old Aboriginal Johnno Warramarrba is a result of the territorys draconian sentencing laws People will rub their hands with glee and say Burkes got blood on his hands because of mandatory sentencing Mr Burke said It was the lowest of the low to suggest that Mr Warramarrba had died because of mandatory sentencing he complained Mr Burke is wrong on both counts No one is rubbing their hands over the death of the youth who did not have enough command of the English language to understand the system that jailed him whose parents were dead and whose guardian his grandmother was ill in hospital and the tragedy has everything to do with laws that put people in jail for trivial offences in this case the theft of 90 worth of pens pencils and paint If it were not for mandatory sentencing which allows magistrates and judges no discretion it is most unlikely that this boy would have been in prison Since it introduced mandatory sentencing laws which are also in force in Western Australia the NT government has consistently ignored criticisms by human rights groups that the laws are too inflexible unnecessarily harsh and racially discriminatory Although the Federal Government has the power to veto territory laws the Prime Minister Mr Howard has so far refused to intervene in order to overturn them If any good at all can come from such a tragedy it might be that the outrage of this boys death could force a change of heart The laws put Australia in breach of two United Nations conventions The nations judges legal organisations and child welfare groups are urging the Federal Government to overturn the laws The Government should intervene without delay It should also look at whether its obligation to international human rights conventions
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