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Issue #1548      23 May 2012

Senators adjourn debate until June

Spotlight on Stronger Futures legislation

The Senate has adjourned its debate on the controversial NT Stronger Futures legislation, which would extend the Northern Territory intervention for up to another ten years.


Members of the Yolngu Nations Assembly have written to the Prime Minister, enclosing signatures from all over East Arnhem Land, calling for the Stronger Futures legislation to be scrapped. (Photo: Koori Mail)

The legislation was listed for debate but has now been deferred until at least June 18 after being overshadowed by the Federal Budget, which has earmarked more the $3.4 billion over 10 years to fund health, education, justice and homelands services in the NT.

The deferral of the legislation follows intense lobbying in recent weeks from Indigenous groups and opponents of the legislation. Despite that opposition, opponents are fearful that the legislation will have bipartisan support, albeit with possible amendments from the Coalition and the Greens, when it next comes up.

The legislation includes alcohol restrictions and a controversial program that cuts the welfare payments of parents whose kids skip school, known as the student enrolment and attendance measure (SEAM).

The bills also include an expansion of income management for people on welfare, with trial sites in Bankstown, NSW, Playford in South Australia, Shepparton in Victoria, and Rockhampton and Logan in Queensland.

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said it would continue to oppose the proposed laws because they had not been tested for human rights violations, and were opposed by Aboriginal people across the NT.

Congress co-chairs Jody Broun and Les Malezer said more and more Aboriginal people were calling for the laws to be scrapped, most recently the Yolgnu Nations Assembly, which represents 8,000 traditional owners in west, central and east Arnhem Land.

“Here is another significant group of our peoples, directly affected by the laws, who are actually calling this legislation ‘racist’ in their letter to the Prime Minister,” Mr Malezer said.

Ms Broun said that while there had always been support for the government’s commitment to additional services and infrastructure, the Congress would use domestic and international human rights forums to apply further pressure.

The Congress has established an electronic letter campaign to encourage Australians to protest federal government plans to extend the NT Intervention for a decade. The campaign (at www.nationalcongress.com.au) encourages people to write to their local federal parliamentarian to do what they can to have the bills withdrawn and Aboriginal people consulted properly.

Meanwhile, in the letter to the Prime Minister and other party leaders, the Yolngu Nations Assembly (YNA) warned that unless the laws were dumped they would refuse “participation in land lease negotiations with the federal government and approval for any exploration licences”.

Signed by YNA spokesperson Reverend Djiniyini Gondarra, the letter also called for a review of the relationship between land councils and government, and reform of local government to provide a more locally based and accessible form of government.

They called for homelands to be recognised as equal to communities that were former missions and government settlements, and for the scrapping of the NT government’s compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of the day policy.

They also called on other NT Aboriginal leaders to adopt the same tactic of refusing to negotiate leases, and approve exploration licences.

Mathew Dhulumburrk, a Gupapuyngu Elder from Ramingining, was part of the Yolngu Makarr Dhuni, YNA, which issued the statement against Stronger Futures.

“We do not want another decade of discrimination here at Ramingining,” he said. “After five years, it feels like the water level has climbed up to our neck. Another ten years will bring it way over our heads.

“The government is drowning us slowly and wonders why twice as many of our young people are attempting suicide. There is no valid reason to discriminate against Yolngu in this way.”

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser, the Catholic Church and the Uniting Church have also backed the Elder’s stance, and more than 36,000 people have signed the Stand for Freedom campaign petition against the laws.

Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Sydney Diocese executive director Graeme Mundine said the statement by the YNA could not be any clearer.

“The Yolngu have consistently asked for partnership and self-determination, not intervention and discrimination,” he said. “The Yolngu peoples do not want disempowering relationships with government.”

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) also called on the government to listen to the concerns of the YNA.

PHAA vice-president Vanessa Lee said the lack of negotiations and the tight timeframe of community consultations demonstrated a lack of community ownership and a breakdown in government relationships with communities.

“There is no evidence of community ownership in the legislation,” she said.

“This will make it difficult for the Australian government to achieve the Council of Australian Governments’ broader objectives.

“There is also an underlying issue in relation to the ongoing abuse of trust by government services which continues to undermine community governance and create a sense of disempowerment amongst these people. The PHAA is concerned about the violations of human rights that are inherent in the proposed Stronger Futures legislation.

Strong evidence

“The legislation also contradicts the strong evidence that self-determination – and being fully engaged as partners in decision-making – are critical factors to improving the health of populations.

“In Australia, every major report published in the last decade or more supports this approach. Even the latest Productivity Commission report has as its first finding and recommendation the need for the power to make decisions to be in Aboriginal hands.

“All the key reports have identified the importance of respectful partnerships.

“And there is strong evidence to support the relationship between these partnerships and improved health and well-being outcomes across all fields of social development.”

As well, musicians including Paul Kelly, Archie Roach and Neil Murray rallied against the legislation at a memorial concert for singer Jimmy Little at Sydney’s Opera House. They dedicated the song Blackfella Whitefella to the Stand for Freedom campaign.

Weeks before he died, Mr Little wrote an open letter to the government calling for the legislation to be scrapped.

“It is time for Australia to listen to the wisdom of Aboriginal Elders who best understand the needs of their community,” Mr Little wrote.

He urged the government to go back to the drawing board and develop a respectful plan of action with Indigenous people.

Meanwhile, in Bankstown, the Say No to Government Income Management Campaign Coalition is organising a major seminar on May 26 to discuss strategies for stopping the implementation of income management.

Koori Mail  

Next article – ACTU Congress 2012 Resolutions

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