Moral Panics and Misgivings over Indigenous Punishment: Sentencing Cultural Crimes in Australia's Northern Territory

Publisher:
Committee of the Cambrian Law Review, Department of Law and Criminology, Aberystwyth University
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Cambrian Law Review, 2011, 42 pp. 91 - 112
Issue Date:
2011-01
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Misgivings about Indigenous culture and customary law have emerged in criminal sentencing of Australian Indigenous offenders. In the late twentieth century courts idealised Indigenous culture in remote communities of the Northern Territory. Over the last decade culture has been re-imagined by the courts as a threat to mainstream legal norms and has attracted harsher punishment. Alongside judicial misgivings there has been a moral panic in the media and government circles over Indigenous culture and punishment. The Indigenous criminal has been put forward as a symbol of cultural backwardness and the failed Indigenous community. The moral panic culminated in prohibitive sentencing legislation and restrictive controls over Northern Territory Indigenous communities in 2007. By drawing on Stanley Cohen's and Emile Durkheim's notions of moral panics and Ghassan Hage' s view of Australian nationalism, this article argues that the moral panic over Indigenous criminality as a culture manifestation cemented nationalist aspirations for an exclusively white space. Finally, the paper imagines an alternative legal pluralism where Indigenous communities are engaged in punishment and crime prevention.
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