CLP drew up 'draconian' youth crime policy

Lucy Hughes Jones

The Northern Territory politician who was sacked over the tear gassing of boys in detention drafted a list of "draconian" youth crime policies designed to help his government get re-elected, a juvenile justice inquiry has heard.

John Elferink was fired as corrections minister last year after shocking 2014 footage of young offenders being tear gassed, spithooded and shackled at Don Dale Detention Centre was aired on national television.

While discussing the ousted Country Liberals government's "tough on crime" regime, Mr Elferink couldn't identify any evidence proving harsh sentences reduce reoffending but admitted a soft approach would be a vote loser.

There had been 35 escapes from youth prisons in 18 months during his tenure and an election was approaching in 2016.

Before the CLP was wiped out at the August poll, Mr Elferink prepared a list of policy ideas for former chief minister Adam Giles that included a "substantially enhanced juvenile squad to target ratbag families".

Other measures included "destroy hoon cars", "shakedown powers" for police to arbitrarily search the homes of reputed criminals, and greater restraint powers for prison guards.

"There would probably have been a number of more draconian policies that I could have added," Mr Elferink told the juvenile justice royal commission on Thursday.

He denied an email sent to him by his chief of staff declaring "it is time the public knew what little c**** these kids are" following an escape in 2015 reflected a government culture that promoted the demonisation of teen criminals.

Senior counsel assisting the inquiry Peter Morrissey SC asked Mr Elferink why he labelled the Don Dale boys who were tear gassed in the press as "the worst of the worst" when he knew they were held in appalling conditions.

"Don't you think it was irresponsible to so describe them when you knew ... the (Behavioural Management Unit) was a disgracefully unfit centre staffed by people who are ill trained and behaving poorly?" he asked.

"Don Dale had its challenges and was not capable of dealing with these highly violent and often dangerous young offenders," Mr Elferink replied.

"Their conduct I suspect had as much effect on their demonisation as what I said."

He attacked the ABC's Four Corners program, which sparked the inquiry, as an unbalanced, sensationalist "hatchet job".

Mr Elferink's written criticisms were only released after lengthy legal debate and the inquiry heard the ABC objected to them being tendered.

The ABC claimed Mr Elferink's complaints were irrelevant to the investigation and is considering whether to respond to his evidence.

Mr Elferink also questioned the need for national action on Aboriginal incarceration rates.

He said the federal government's controversial "$10 billion" 2007 NT Intervention hasn't addressed high levels of indigenous disadvantage and crime.

"We as governments have tried to support in all ways outcomes for people who live in remote and regional areas and the result has been nil," he said.

"In fact ... the problems have been exacerbated because the levels of dependence are amplified beyond what they have ever been."


- Substantially enhanced juvenile squad to target ratbag families

- Shakedown powers for police to arbitrarily search reputed criminals in the streets and their homes

- Destroy hoon cars and vehicles of repeat drink drivers

- Change laws to remove taking kids into custody as a last resort, and instead prioritise community safety

- Strengthen parental responsibility orders to force parents to attend court with "thief kids" and start seizing TVs

- Mandatory sentencing for property crimes and escaping lawful custody, and a review into mandatory sentencing for violent youth

- Greater restraint powers in juvenile jails

- Increase property seizure powers to compensate victims of crime.