By NEDA VANOVAC
The Northern Territory's attorney-general says taxpayers should not foot an exorbitant bill to keep a sex offender under 24-hour community supervision if prison is an option.
Under the NT's new Serious Sex Offender Act, the government can apply to the Supreme Court to keep sex offenders in prison indefinitely beyond their sentence in order to protect the community.
Attorney-General John Elferink says the act can be justified on grounds of both cost and community safety but, in the Supreme Court on Monday, Justice Jenny Blokland ruled that a 34-year-old man from central Australia should not be detained but put under 24-hour supervision for five years.
Mr Elferink says the government does not want to ask Territorians to pay high costs when the best place to keep an eye on someone is in custody.
It costs $214 per day to keep a person in prison, but 24-hour supervision for the offender in Monday's ruling runs to more than $1600 per day.
"The Territory taxpayer is a finite resource and my primary concern is making sure that potential rapists don't rape," he said.
"There's always going to be a bill attached to keeping a person in custody, but to ask us to pay multiple times that amount is not what I would consider an effective outcome for the community."
Mr Elferink said there appeared to be a focus on the offender's prospects of rehabilitation by the court, which he said was secondary to the safety of the wider population.
He said he would seek legal advice to revisit how the legislation operates if judges continued to rule against indefinite detention for serious sex offenders.
"If a person is declared to be a serious risk to the community, then it might be the case that how that person is managed is left to government," he said.
The man, who cannot be named, had completed a one-year jail term for sexually assaulting a nine-year-old girl at Hermannsburg near Alice Springs and exposing children to pornography in July 2012.
He had previously been jailed for sex offences and has assault convictions.
He has been living in a caravan since July on the grounds of Darwin's Berrimah jail on an interim supervision order until the new act was tested in court.
"The client had a background that justified a view that he was a serious danger to the community, though he wouldn't have been so recognised if the legislation hadn't been framed in a particular way," defence counsel Rex Wild QC told AAP on Tuesday.
"He's not the worst sex offender you've ever heard of."
Mr Wild said the NT is following the knee-jerk reactions of other jurisdictions in implementing the legislation.
"The political view is always `lock `em up for as long as you can and the community will reward you for it'," he said.
"Politicians are in a place where they can't lose on this, because nobody cares about an Aboriginal offender who's already committed one or two offences."
Justice Blokland said in her ruling the act raised questions of civil liberty, and that evidence suggested the offender's likelihood of assimilating back into the community would shrink if he spent an extended period in prison.
"In the longer term, a supervision order supports the primary object of protection under the act and is preferable to detention," she said.
"It is reasonable in my opinion that a form of intensive supervision be ordered, even if that will mean a readjustment of resource distribution within Correctional Services."