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Legality of Mparntwe/Alice Springs curfew called into question

Dechlan Brennan -

The legality of the curfew in Mparntwe/Alice Springs has been called into question, with the Northern Territory police union reportedly advising its members the action by the Territory government last week may be unlawful.

Last week, the NT government imposed a two-week curfew in the town, banning everyone under 18 from the Mparntwe/Alice Springs CBD between 6pm and 6am unless they have a valid reason.

Chief Minister Eva Lawler declared an "emergency situation" in the town, with the Emergency Management Act 2013 allegedly granting authorised officers special provisions and powers to enact the curfew.

However, on Tuesday, the ABC reported the NT Police Association's (NTPA) president Nathan Finn had advised members the declaration may not be lawful, throwing the validity of the curfew into doubt.

The ABC reported legal advice given to the NTPA had been distributed to its members. Mr Finn said he had raised these concerns with Police Commissioner Michael Murphy, however, he noted, "concerning the emergency declaration…he [Commissioner Murphy] does not share those same concerns".

Section 4 of the act states: This Act does not authorise a person to do, or make preparations to do, any of the following: (a) engage in armed combat; (b) put down a riot or other civil disturbance; (c)end a strike or lockout.

Legal advice given to the NTPA reportedly said the "declaration is unlawful," and noted police acting in accordance with the act could be doing so "unlawfully".

It was reported legal groups, including the NT Criminal Lawyers Association, doubted if the threshold for the government to declare an emergency had been met.

On Monday, Chief Minister Lawler said she welcomed any legal challenge, telling reporters: "bring it on".

"I'm more than happy to have a legal challenge around that," she said.

Chief Minister Lawler said the curfew could be extended beyond the two-week timeframe, arguing anecdotal evidence was that Mparntwe/Alice Springs residents were "absolutely overjoyed".

"Anecdotally the evidence is that the town is so much more quieter ... there has been a reduction of crime in the areas outside of the CBD," she said.

"The police have done an amazing job to get the curfew in place."

The curfew was enacted after hundreds of people were involved in a series of violent confrontations in Mparntwe/Alice Springs.

Tensions surrounding the death of an 18-year-old in a car accident erupted last Tuesday - the day of his funeral - leading to dozens attacking a local tavern and police reporting an estimated 150 people in Hidden Valley community, outside the city, "going armed in public and engaging in violent conduct".

Opinions have been divided on the necessity of the curfew, with some groups and politicians arguing it will act as a much-needed circuit breaker for the embattled town, whilst others - such as Amnesty International Australia, NATSILS and NAAJA have all criticised the decision as "knee-jerk" and unlikely to help the issue of youth crime.

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