The Supreme Court in Alice Springs sees a ‘seemingly never-ending stream of violence’
By KIERAN FINNANE
Chief Justice of the Northern Territory Trevor Riley (pictured) today added his voice to the recent calls for more to be done to “restrict the flow of alcohol to those who abuse it”. He made his comments when sentencing 41 year old Errol Nelson for a violent assault on his wife in March this year. The couple had been together for about a year, were living at Areyonga but had come in to Alice Springs. Both had been drinking.
Ever harsher sentences would do nothing to stem the “seemingly never-ending stream of violence” coming before the Supreme Court in Alice Springs, said the Chief Justice – “other measures must be taken”.
“There is one violent case after another and each case bears a remarkable and disturbing similarity to the one that preceded it. In this case, as in many others, a drunken Aboriginal man has assaulted his drunken Aboriginal wife, in circumstances where there has been no real reason for the attack. The assault is violent in nature and the level of violence is out of all proportion to the surrounding circumstances. In nearly all cases, the violence includes the use of a weapon which, generally speaking, is whatever happens to be at hand. In your case it was a knife.
“On each occasion, the court makes the same or similar observations. Experience has made it plain that the answer to the problem is not in the courts imposing ever-increasing sentences. The sentences imposed are already significant. The courts must continue to impose sentences designed to deter but it would serve no purpose to make those sentences even harsher.
“Other measures must be taken to address the underlying causes. Given that the abuse of alcohol is almost inevitably a factor in such offending, it seems to me an obvious starting point is to endeavour to restrict the flow of alcohol to those who abuse it.
“Your case is an example where a relationship can survive quite satisfactorily until alcohol is introduced into the equation. Had you not had the access to alcohol which has been available to you here in Alice Springs, I am confident you would not have offended.”
Following a verbal argument, the victim was stabbed in the abdomen and in the left thigh, injuries constituting “serious harm” and for which she had to undergo surgery.
Further, the attack contravened a domestic violence order, and Mr Nelson was in breach of bail conditions which required him not to come to Alice Springs and not to drink alcohol. His criminal history consists largely of alcohol-related offending, including driving offences. He was also sentenced in May to two months’ imprisonment for a subsequent aggravated assault upon his wife, hitting her with a stick and punching her.
After he was arrested for the March assault he told police he had stabbed his wife “to get her attention”. He acknowledged that when he drinks too much he gets angry and that he needed anger management. When there’s no alcohol around his relationship with his wife is not violent.
Mr Nelson was raised in Yuendumu, went to school until Year 9, reads and writes English quite well and speaks five other languages. He aspires to be an interpreter – a goal which the Chief Justice encouraged him to pursue when he’s released from gaol. He has had a reasonable work history, including working as a Centrelink officer. He was also a principal actor on the second series of Bush Mechanics.
He moved away from Yuendumu in 2010 when there was trouble there, living in Katherine where he worked on the CDEP and also spending time in Western Australia.
Mr Nelson was sentenced to three years with a non-parole period of 20 months. He received a discount of one year for entering a guilty plea at the first available opportunity.
The Chief Justice told him that his prospects for rehabilitation will depend on him addressing his alcohol, cannabis and anger management problems: “It really is up to you to address those problems although help will be available in the prison and I am sure that the Parole Board will impose conditions to encourage you to address those problems when you are released.”