Black and White Justice

On Thursday last week two men from the Northern Territory appeared in court.

In Darwin, a 58-year-old man who goes by the name of Joe pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography.

Over the border in Mount Isa, 48-year-old Marshall pleaded guilty to a driving offence.

Joe had been caught in possession of eight videos containing child pornography, with two rated as category one, and the other six as category two. The first category includes depictions of "torture, cruelty or abuse of children", while category two includes "penetrative sexual activity between adults and children".

One police investigator described the videos as the worst example of child abuse material they had ever seen. Joe had downloaded other files that had been deleted from his hard drive and could not be recovered by police.

Marshall had been caught driving without a licence.

Joe’s lawyer told the court that he had viewed the child abuse material in an attempt to seek "emotional respite". They claimed Joe, a former firefighter, had been diagnosed with high levels of PFOS (a potentially hazardous chemical previously used in firefighting foam) and was also affected by a fatal accident that occurred between an aviation firetruck and a car which occurred on his watch as commander.

Marshall’s lawyer provided evidence to the court saying he was unfit for custody because he had liver cancer and had been given six to nine months to live by doctors.

The judge in Joe’s case dismissed the argument made by his lawyer but took into account the fact that Joe had not paid for the videos, had a low amount of them, had deleted them after watching them and had stopped accessing them at the time of his arrest. The Judge also acknowledge that the shame, embarrassment and public humiliation Joe had experienced would also act as a deterrent.

Joe was given a sentence of 12 months which was reduced to nine months for cooperating with investigations and pleading guilty at an early stage. The nine-month sentence was then fully suspended.

Marshall was given a sentence of 15 months. He will be incarcerated in the prison ward of the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. Marshall’s family are unable to afford to stay in Brisbane, leaving him with no one to visit.

Joe is white.

Marshall is Indigenous.

The judges in both cases were white.

The Premier of Queensland, and her Justice Minister - who have both ruled out intervening in Marshall’s case - are also white. So are Nigel Scullion, Jenny Macklin and Mal Brough – the last three Federal Ministers for Indigenous Affairs - under whose watch Indigenous incarceration rates have increase by 52% over the last decade.

The Government of Western Australia, which incarcerates Indigenous people at nine times the rate of Apartheid South Africa, is predominantly white. So is the government of the Northern Territory which incarcerates Indigenous children at three times the rate of other Australian States.

Three percent of Australia’s population are Indigenous. So are 28 percent of our prison population, 35 percent of all incarcerated women and 48 percent of all juveniles incarcerated in Australia.

Before either Joe or Marshall set foot in court, Marshall was 15 times more likely than Joe, to be incarcerated.

That’s Australian justice in black and white.

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