Macklin Exposed: NT consultations may face legal challenge

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Indigenous consultations may face legal challenge

Kristy O'Brien ABC News February 15, 2012

A former chief justice of the Family Court of Australia, Alastair Nicholson, says transcripts of Federal Government consultations in Indigenous communities could be used to wage a High Court legal battle.

The group Concerned Australians has released transcripts recorded in the Northern Territory as part of consultations about the Stronger Futures legislation, which will replace laws governing the Emergency Intervention in the Territory in August.

Mr Nicholson is a member of the group.

He says the transcripts could prove the Government breached the Racial Discrimination Act because consultations were not done properly.

Mr Nicholson says the consultations reveal people do not like the new local government super shires model, want the Intervention scrapped and bilingual education brought back to Territory schools.

He says the transcripts show the Government ignored these complaints and did not include them in their reporting.

"This is the only evidence of the consultations," he said.

"If you take this as the only hard evidence of them, there is a lot missing from them.

"Particularly, the strong note of criticism of most of the Government's proposals does not appear in their report."

The Northern Territory Opposition says Indigenous people want to see detailed minutes of the consultation meetings they attended on the Stronger Futures legislation.

The Territory Opposition's Alison Anderson says people in her electorate feel Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin's department may have misrepresented their views.

"They have even asked me to write a letter to Macklin, to Minister Macklin, asking for the minutes of those meetings to be returned for clarification to their communities," she said.

"They were not convinced by the consultation that they would be interpreting the true voice of those people to the Federal Minister."

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NT intervention won't work: ex-justice

AAP Lisa Martin Sydney Morning Herald February 15, 2012

A second round intervention in the Northern Territory would racially discriminate against Aboriginal people and fail any potential High Court challenge, a former chief justice says.

As the federal government prepares for a debate on its Stronger Futures legislation in the House of Representatives in Canberra on Thursday, a rights group has warned that its approach is flawed.

If passed, the legislation will extend measures brought in under the former Howard coalition government's NT intervention policy that targeted Aboriginal communities.

The Labor government plans to continue alcohol restrictions and introduce 18-month jail terms for Aboriginal people caught carrying more than 1.35 litres of alcohol and six-month sentences for possessing booze in certain areas.

There will also be a territory-wide extension of a controversial pilot scheme that links school truancy with cuts to parents welfare payments.

A departmental evaluation released in February found the trial in 14 NT schools and 30 Queensland schools did not improve school attendance.

Former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson, from the group Concerned Australians, believes the proposed measures won't comply with the Racial Discrimination Act.

He predicts they will fail if challenged in the High Court because the government's consultations have failed to seek proper informed consent from Aboriginal communities.

"If a High Court challenge was made there's a fair chance it would get up," he told AAP.

"It's a very expensive and lengthy process and would no doubt require people to work on a pro bono basis and I think the government is relying on the fact that it's complicated to do."

Mr Nicholson also said there was a real danger more people could be incarcerated if the laws passed and that judges would not be allowed to take into account the background and culture of Aboriginal people during sentencing.

Indigenous people already make up a quarter of the Australian prison population.

In Melbourne on Wednesday, Mr Nicholson launched a Concerned Australians' NT Consultations 2011 Report, which contains transcripts of the views of indigenous people gathered during community consultations last year.

Federal indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin and her department have not released any transcripts from the 73 consultations.

But Mr Nicholson said the government's claim there was strong support from Aboriginal communities for its plans appeared "doubtful".

Transcripts seen by AAP show many Aboriginal people from different regions want to see a return of community control.

There were repeated calls to end discrimination against small homeland communities missing out on money for houses in favour of bigger towns, and demands for bilingual education to be reintroduced to NT schools.

"When you are told that you're not allowed to learn in your own [language]... you feel shame," an Aboriginal woman told the Kintore consultation.