Following the announcement that she is the 2022 NT Australian of the Year, Leanne Liddle is ecstatic - but it is because of the changes she believes are imminent, not the accolade she has just received.
As director of the Aboriginal Justice Unit, Ms Liddle has travelled thousands of kilometres to meet and listen to Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory as part of her role in founding the Northern Territory Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA).
"I can't wait - the Aboriginal community want this, and they wanted this yesterday," Ms Liddle said.
"They don't want their families to be victims, and offenders, and witnesses of what goes on in community. Who doesn't want to live in a safe community? Who doesn't want to have access to services that will support you?
"The Aboriginal people are so ready for this. Anyone who thinks that they don't want to improve their communities, their own wellbeing. the crime rates, the domestic violence rates, and the suicide rates - they're in denial because Aboriginal people are ready for this, and they want to do this."
The NT Government has committed $4.52 million for the first year of the AJA's operations, and the Paul Ramsay Foundation has given $2 million.
"We've got enough money to do what needs to get done in the first 12 months," Ms Liddle said.
"And I think it takes courage, but I think the NT Attorney-General Selena Uibo's level of empathy and her commitment to this is undeniably there.
"I just feel that we are ready for change, and I've never been so excited about doing something since I was riding my first horse as a child."
While she is surprised (and delighted) to be named NT Australian of the Year, the most probable reason for it is recognition of her team's vital work, Ms Liddle believes.
"Change is underway to reform the justice system, and people are seeing that change happen," Ms Liddle said.
"I think people are aware that what we're currently doing in the justice space isn't really working to stop offenders offending, and see we need to identify what works and what doesn't work.
We fill the courts and the prisons and the hospitals at rates that are incredibly high as Aboriginal people. We want to fill the schools and the universities and the offices at the same rate.
"But we need to be mature enough to acknowledge that we need to do things quite differently. And I think once we do that, then we'll have moved on to have a different relationship as Aboriginal people with Australians."
While consulting with more than 160 communities, Ms Liddle has heard many tales of injustice - much of which seem obvious and seemingly simple to fix.
Such as the fate of those who face rehabilitation orders in Katherine.
"We have to explore options for an alternative to custody facility and look at therapeutic programs being delivered out of Katherine in 2023, and we are already working on that to see what is possible," Ms Liddle said.
"That will go a long way to ensure offenders don't return to the justice system."
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At the moment, Ms Liddle said, most people have to travel to Darwin to access programs to stop their offending.
"That's very difficult," she said.
"It's costly, and they're away from their support people. Difficulties of language barriers and lack of accommodation are also significant reasons why people won't come to Darwin for those programs. And quite often, Darwin is where they got into trouble in the first place and struggled to get back to Katherine, and we are asking them to go back there.
"So making these programs available locally is really critical in making Katherine a safer place."
But offenders in other parts of the Territory can face even bigger challenges, Ms Liddle said.
"In Alice Springs, some people have to travel four to five hours to get to a court hearing - let alone if they're ordered to do a program," she said.
"It could be expensive getting a plane ticket from, say Lake Nash to Alice Springs. It would cost at least a fortnight's pension each way."
The injustices are across the Territory Ms Liddle said, particularly in remote areas where there is no internet, and no mobile phone coverage and support is often only available via a 1300 number which is either a local call from a landline or charged at standard mobile rates.
"Why do you provide a 1300 number when you know that there's a great need for people from your remote and regional areas?," Ms Liddle said.
"I don't want people to have to make a choice as to whether they put food on the table tonight for their kids or whether they use their phone to make a phone call to get support for a kid at risk of suicide."
And the standard of cultural competency in translation services is problematic, Ms Liddle said.
She cites one example, which she said was not uncommon, of the case of a family who called a support line for counselling in the lead-up to the funeral of a child because they were not coping. They were sent a gift card to cater for the funeral guests for use at a Coles supermarket 800 kilometres away - and the card arrived after the funeral. They received no counselling.
"Often, the people staffing these services are interstate, and they have no idea of the circumstances and of how our people live and what is possible," Ms Liddle said.
"We know the Territory is full of Aboriginal people who speak English as a second language and who live in remote areas."
Ms Liddle and her team have identified these apparent flaws in the system, and she says they are prepared for the battle ahead.
"That's going to be a hard message for people to swallow," Ms Liddle said.
"To recognize that what we've been doing hasn't worked and to continue supporting what is working in partnership with Aboriginal people is going to be the key to making life a lot better."
With a background in policing, law, and international diplomacy Ms Liddle is ideally placed to lead the charge for Aboriginal justice.
She was South Australia's first Aboriginal policewoman, and during her decade of service, she experienced racism and abuse, which she fought.
After completing a law degree, she worked for the United Nations and in several high-profile government roles before joining the Aboriginal Justice Unit in 2017.
"No one could have written a job description up to fit me better," said Ms Liddle of her current role.
I think I've got the most amazing job.
"I loved the police force, but while I had power and privilege as a police officer, I needed to have skills to influence policy and reform, and that's what the law degree helped me do.
"And I couldn't ask for more than to be in this space now, with this skill set, to do what we do and be the change agent."
The support Ms Liddle has received from her family has given her the strength to achieve she said.
Both her parents are Aboriginal, and her mother was part of the stolen generation (as was her uncle and both grandmothers), while her father is from a well-known and large NT Aboriginal family.
The couple always impressed upon their children to use their abilities to support those less fortunate than themselves.
And those abilities were abundant looking at the siblings' careers.
Ms Liddle's brother is a captain with Cathay Pacific and has been living in Hong Kong for 20 years, one of her sisters has a Ph.D. in Science, another is an executive living in South Australia, and another sister excelled in music and spoke fluent German before she was tragically killed in a domestic violence attack in Tennant Creek.
Ms Liddle said after her team, her parents were the ones she was most excited for when she received her NT Australian of the Year Award this week.
"My parents - they've just been amazing," she said.
"They are just incredible people, and I think they were very proud of me this week, knowing that as a family, we have tackled some of these difficult issues all our lives, and it looks like we are making gains. And yes, that has taken courage from the government but also from members of the public to come along this journey with us.
"And I've got this really skilled team that is willing to have those hard conversations with everybody. Their attitude and abilities are second to none in being able to deliver on this."
While her passion, commitment, and ability to change the fate of Aboriginal people in the Territory is evident - what initially sent her down this path is not.
What would possess a young Aboriginal woman to join the police force three decades ago?
"I watched so many injustices growing up as a child in Alice Springs," Ms Liddle said.
"There were lots of examples of injustices from discrimination, and I believed at the time that I could change that narrative - but it was a much bigger task than I thought it was."
Everyone has a story to tell and I like to help them do it.
Everyone has a story to tell and I like to help them do it.
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