NT intervention like Apartheid: Lawyers Alliance

Greg Burns
President Lawyers Alliance

Lisa Martin Nine News Mar 14 2012

Plans to extend the NT intervention in remote Aboriginal communities for another decade are akin to Apartheid in South Africa, a lawyers alliance warns.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance says the Gillard government's Stronger Futures legislation should be scrapped because it is racist and does not comply with Australia's international law obligations.

Their warning came as a Senate inquiry tabled its report on Wednesday giving the draft laws the nod of approval but made 11 recommendations.

The Stronger Futures law, which continues the former Howard coalition government's NT intervention that begun in 2007, passed the lower house on the day of Labor leadership ballot.

The draft laws include 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).

Lawyers Alliance national president Greg Barns predicted the laws may well end up being the subject of an early high court challenge.

"This legislation is racist, oppressive and the product of poorly conducted consultations," he told AAP.

"You can't just say that a law is a special measure, you need to prove it - otherwise laws like Apartheid in South Africa or segregation in the US could have been simply described as a special measure," he said.

Apartheid was a system of racial segregation in South Africa from 1948-1994.

Mr Barns is concerned about bipartisan acceptance of a policy that was in breach of international best practice.

The Senate Community Affairs committee recommended in its report allowing infringement notices to be issued for minor alcohol offences and the possession and supply of liquor rather than jail terms.

It called for restricting agencies who can make income management referral to only those with internal and external review and appeal processes.

The committee said the Commonwealth and NT governments should provide greater clarity regarding SEAM and the Every Child, Every Day measures, how they interact and will operate in parallel together.

It recommended SEAM evaluation reports be released in a timely manner.

The government also needs to work closely with the Australian Human Rights Commission to build a "culturally competent workforce".

The Senate committee spent a week in the Northern Territory for its inquiry where it heard repeated evidence that government consultations in Aboriginal communities had been "deeply flawed".

The government and coalition senators recommended future consultations use Australian Human Rights Commission's framework for meaningful and effective consultation processes.

The committee said Land Councils were also a valuable resource that could be tapped into for consultations.

Last week, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser joined Aboriginal leaders and welfare organisations in condemning the laws as racist and the consultation process as "fraudulent".

Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert penned a dissenting report with 16 recommendations including scrapping the bill altogether or decreasing the bill's sunset clause to five years.

She said the draft laws need substantial amendments.

"There is no substantive evidence to show that the intervention has had a positive effect on the lives of Aboriginal people in the NT," Senator Siewert said.

"Rather, Aboriginal people, their representative organisations, and the community sector have made it clear that the top-down, punitive nature of the intervention is actually undermining and disempowering Aboriginal people and communities."

Senator Siewert said the poor quality of consultation undermines any claim that these initiatives can be classed as "special measures" under the Racial Discrimination Act.

Prominent Aussies slam indigenous bill

Malcolm Fraser
Past Prime Minister

AAP Adelaide Advertiser March 13, 2012

The government's Stronger Futures legislation, which will extend the indigenous intervention begun by the Howard government in 2007, passed the lower house late last month.

A Senate committee is expected to deliver its report into the draft laws today.

A statement prepared by former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson and signed by prominent Australians such as former prime minister Malcolm Fraser and well-known academics, authors and film makers aims to highlight a number of the bill's "unsavoury elements".

They say it breaches the Racial Discrimination Act, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people.

Mr Fraser said the government had failed to cooperate with indigenous communities in drafting the legislation.

"They must remember they are not the masters of Aboriginal people, they are meant to serve the Aboriginal people and the rest of the Australian community," he said.

'Concerned Australians sent Statement to Canberra

pdf Concerned Australians Statement

Supporters of the statement from 13 March 2012

Professor Jon Altman - Professor of Anthropology and an ARC Australian Professorial Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), Research School of Social Sciences, the Australian National University

Sr Annette Arnold - Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph

Professor Larissa Behrendt - Director of Research at the University of Technology Sydney

Hon Sally Brown AM - former Family Court Justice and former Chief Magistrate of Victoria

Robert Connolly - Filmmaker, Writer, Director, Producer - Balibo, Romulus My Father

Bishop Emeritus Hilton Deakin DD PhD AM

Rev Dr Denis Edwards OAM - Theologian, Author

Dr John Falzon - CEO St, Vincent de Paul National Council of Australia

Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser AC CH GCL PC - Former Prime Minister of Australia

Rev Dr Djinyini Gondarra OAM - Galiwin’ku Elder

Carmel Heagerty RSM - Institute Justice Coordinator

Kerry Heysen-Hicks - Film Producer

Nicholas Jose - Author

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM - Utopia Elder and Mayor of Barkly Shire, NT

Berneice Loch RSM - President of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea

Philip Lynch - Executive Director Human Rights Law Centre Victoria

Ass. Professor Sarah Maddison - University of New South Wales

Alistair Macrae - President of the Uniting Church

Dr Jeff McMullen AM - CEO (Honorary) Ian Thorpe's Fountain for Youth Foundation

Graeme Mundine - Concerned Australian

Hon. Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC

Adj. Professor Peter Norden - RMIT University

Elder Dr Alitja Rigney - Educator South Australia

Brother Paul Smith fsc AM - CEO Lasallian Foundation

Rev Ken Sumner - Chairperson, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress

Hon Ian Viner AO QC - Former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs

Brian Walters SC - Immediate Past President and Board Member, Liberty Victoria

Dr Irene Watson - Aboriginal Lawyer, International Law Advocate, Academic and Writer