A month on from the Gunner Labor Party’s successful tilt at re-election, former Education and Workplace Training Minister Selena Uibo wants to do things differently as the Northern Territory’s first Indigenous Attorney-General.

Minister Uibo’s mother is a Nunggubuyu woman from Numbulwar, and Wanindilyakwa from Groote Eylandt, and her father a white Australian from Sydney. With a background in teaching, Minister Uibo was elected to Parliament in 2016.

At 35, Minister Uibo currently holds four portfolios as the Territory’s Attorney-General and Minister for Justice; Treaty and Local Decision Making; Aboriginal Affairs; and Parks and Rangers.

She said local decision-making and extensive consultation will be at the forefront of her approach to justice, with the draft Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA) to be finalised by the end of the year.

“It’s quite an exciting space where we’re talking about looking [at] issues through a local lens and being solutions-based, having input from our communities and particularly Aboriginal Territorians who are mainly affected by these horrible numbers and statistics of incarceration,” she said.

The Territory Attorney-General said reducing reoffending and looking at alternatives to custodial sentencing are the key to reducing sky-high rates of incarceration in the Territory.

“We need to really look at doing things in a different way, looking at those social, cultural, and economic factors that can impact justice in the Northern Territory around Aboriginal people and incarceration, and looking at how we can be successful in locally driven justice agreements.”

One of the major tools Minister Uibo hopes to use to bring down rates of incarceration is the draft Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA), which aims to reduce reoffending and imprisonment rates with the reintroduction of community courts, plus a raft of alternatives to custodial sentencing.

Critics of the AJA have raised concerns it will be another well-intentioned document that will prove ultimately unenforceable. Minister Uibo sees the AJA as an opportunity to make generational change, but said it needs to tackle the issue of disadvantage holistically.

“It’s a big challenge, but the opportunity is to make a big difference, and [doing] it from a social, cultural and economic point of view will be the driving force for the AJA to be successful,” she said.

In 2018, the Territory Government signed the Groote Archipelago Local Decision-Making Agreement with the Anindilyakwa Land Council in Groote Eylandt, giving control of education, justice, health and governance over to the local community.

Minister Uibo said it was crucial the Territory Government supported the agreement financially, providing resources for the non-government sector to support the community on Groote Eylandt. She said similar financial commitments will be required for the AJA to be effective.

Minister Uibo expects the document to be finalised by the end of 2020.

“We can’t keep doing things in the same way. We really do need to have innovation around how we can, not just think about things differently, but make them happen on the ground in a different way.”

Regarding Treaty in the Territory, Minister Uibo said there needs to be processes of truth-telling and reflection as part of the Government and not-for profit sector’s work.

“Government sort of just moves on and rolls on, but having those reflective points built into the work that we do when we’re talking about recognising what’s happened in the Territory—the difference of place, the difference of families, difference of success for families—I think is really important,” she said.

“I think we’ve got some more work to do as government but there will be opportunities in that space to do it sooner than later.”

By Sarah Smit