Territory Chief Minister presenting NT Australian of the Year Award to Leanne Liddle. Courtesy of Katherine Times (Salty Dingo), 2021.
Central Arrernte woman and Director of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Justice Unit, Leanne Liddle, has been awarded as the NT Australian of the Year for 2022. At the awards ceremony in Darwin in November, Liddle was commended for her decade of service as South Australia’s first Aboriginal Police woman and her role in the Northern Territory Aboriginal Justice Agreement (Australian of the Year, 2021). In Liddle’s acceptance speech at the awards, she said she wants to use the platform to bring attention to First Nations peoples suffering under the current justice system:
"I want people to know that we don't live in a fair and just system, where everything is equal.
I want people to know that behind those statistics that we see with the imprisonment rates, with the domestic and family violence rates, with children and child protection, are people. And those people are the people that I've been charged to help with the Justice Agreement."
Born and raised in Alice Springs, the presence of racism and prejudice in Liddle’s hometown was inescapable, especially from that of law enforcement. Despite this, Liddle has always had a passion for justice and equality, which Liddle says comes “on the back of the wisdom of my grandmother” and her grandfather who was a World War Two veteran and an “Aboriginal champion” (Australian of the Year, 2021).
“My grandmother once said to me, “you can be ordinary or extraordinary,” and I chose to be extraordinary. And that’s why I became South Australia’s first Aboriginal Police woman,” she said in a press statement for the awards.
Leanne Liddle, first SA Police woman pictured on the left. Courtesy of ABC News (SA Police), 2021.
During Liddle’s decade of service in the SA Police Force as a Senior Constable in remote and Adelaide police stations, she experienced racism and abuse and was treated differently to other officers. In an interview with the National Indigenous Times (2021), Liddle expressed how this experience left her wondering if anything had changed since her childhood in Alice Springs.
“It was very hard to shift people’s biases once they’ve made decisions on whether you as a non-Aboriginal person got dropped off at home, or you as an Aboriginal person went to a police cell…[the police] almost convinced themselves that the best place for an Aboriginal person was in the cells at the end of the day, and I didn’t like that,” Liddle told NIT.
After leaving the police force, Liddle went on to attain a law degree and spent some time working for the United Nations in several high-profile government roles in the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights. With this newfound experience in the justice arena, she went onto joining the Aboriginal Justice Unit in 2017. In her role as Director for the Aboriginal Justice Unit, she travelled thousands of kilometres to meet and listen to Aboriginal elders and communities across the Northern Territory in order to deliver the Northern Territory Aboriginal Justice Agreement. Liddle believes that the Agreement is the change Aboriginal Territorians need, as it aims to increase leadership, reduce imprisonment rates and improve their justice outcomes (Australian of the Year, 2021).
We congratulate Leanne Liddle on this incredible achievement, and we hope that she takes out the national award for Australian of the Year in Canberra, January 2022. Whether Liddle wins or not, her achievements are absolutely remarkable and she will continue to empower Aboriginal Territorians with justice solutions that are realistic and will work where other systems have failed.