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Issue #1556      18 July 2012

Ten more years of government intervention

Aboriginal people living in prescribed communities across the Northern Territory face another ten years of government intervention in their lives. The Stronger Futures bills were passed by the Senate the week before last, and then ratified by the House of Representatives.

Labor and the Opposition joined together to pass the laws with minor amendments, despite attempts by the Greens to have the laws thrown out, or heavily altered.

The laws include tough alcohol restrictions, and a program that cuts the welfare payments of parents whose kids skip school, known as the Students Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM), and prohibit cultural considerations being taken into account in sentencing.

The package also expands income management for people on welfare to five trial sites outside the NT – in Bankstown, NSW, Playford, SA, Shepparton, Victoria, and Rockhampton and Logan in Queensland from July 1.

Logan Indigenous Community Justice Centre chairman Terry Stedman said people were concerned there was no way to evaluate a decision to refer people on to income management, and about the lack of an appeals process.

“Instead of punishing people the government should be spending this money on ensuring enough support services for these families – such as more mental health services for children and adults, more advocacy services (particularly for migrant families), domestic violence perpetrators’ programs, drug and alcohol diversion facilities and others – which are sorely missing or lacking in Logan,” he said.

“Local businesses are worried too about the impact this will have, especially when you consider that there was no economic impact statement done in our community.

“I fear where this is all going when we start to treat people differently like this.

“We’d like to see a Families Responsibility Commission (FRC)set up in Logan so we don’t have bad decisions and so targeted individuals and families have some sort of recourse.

“This seems to work well in North Queensland where the FRC can properly assist people and even be critical of government where support services for our society’s most vulnerable families are simply inadequate.”

Meanwhile, Aboriginal leaders Dr Djiniyini Gondarra, from Arnhem Land, and Rosalie Kunoth Monks, from Central Australia, declared a day of mourning, while others vowed to step up the fight to have the laws examined for potential human rights breaches.

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chairs Jody Broun and Les Malezer said even though the laws had passed they should still be examined by a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

“While we are disappointed at the outcome, we will ensure Aboriginal people are aware of the available complaints mechanisms, if needed,” they said in a statement.

“We will continue to work with government, communities and relevant authorities to find acceptable solutions to overcome disadvantage and to generate development, wellbeing and equality for the people of the Northern Territory.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, a fierce opponent of the laws, said their passage was a sad day for Aboriginal people in the NT.

“The continued commitment to the interventionist approach in the Northern Territory is a commitment to punitive and largely unproven measures, developed on the back of a flawed consultation process,” she said.

Senator Siewert vowed to continue the fight against the legislation.

“The Greens will not (let) a day pass without closely scrutinising the operation of this legislation and we will continue talking to communities about how best to deliver the outcomes they want,” she said.

Meanwhile, another critic, Graeme Mundine, head of the Sydney Archdiocese of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, also described it as a sad day for all Aboriginal people in Australia, and a sad day for democracy.

He said more than 43,000 people had signed a petition against the laws, and the vast majority of more than 450 submissions to a parliamentary committee examining the laws had been against them.

“Civil society has played its part in our democratic process, but government and opposition parliamentarians have failed in their responsibilities,” Mr Mundine said.

“They have ignored the voice of the people and pushed their own ill-informed and racist agenda.”

Amnesty International said the passing of the laws represented the government’s blatant disregard for its human rights obligations.

Amnesty Indigenous Rights Program spokesperson Monica Morgan said the government had ignored a massive outcry from Aboriginal communities and advocates opposed to the laws, including the Yolngu Nations Assembly, Alyawarr communities in Central Australia, and the Gurindji people of Daguragu and Kalkaringi.

“Rather than genuinely listening to and working with the communities affected, the government has simply pushed through laws that extend some of the punitive aspects of the Intervention, such as linking school attendance with welfare payments,” Ms Morgan said.

“It is difficult to imagine how these policies can work when there are such strong feelings of continued mistrust amongst the affected communities.

“Aboriginal peoples in remote communities deserve the same respect, safety and protection as does any Australian – but this will not be achieved in a sustained manner under Stronger Futures.”

Koori Mail   

Next article – CSL members in Victoria strike for rights at work

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