Stronger Futures legislation attracts widespread opposition

19 March 2012 | SNAICC NEWS

The Australian Government's proposed Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory legislation, which will extend key elements of the intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities beyond 30 June 2012, passed the lower house in late February.

The package of bills and the consultation process have attracted a lot of media coverage and strong opposition from various sections of the community.

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) has joined forces with Our Generation and is supporting a new campaign against the Government's plans to extend the intervention for another 10 years. The Stand for Freedom Campaign aims to build a mass public movement against the legislation.

To read more about the campaign on the Stand For Freedom website.

On 1 March the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda gave the opening statement to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the NTER (Stronger Futures) Bills.

Mr Gooda argued the cultural competency of governments and the governance and capacity of Aboriginal communities have to be improved thoroughly if the new measures are to meet their objectives.

He strongly criticised the inadequacy of the consultation process, saying the six-week timeline was too short, some were held in inappropriate venues and interpreters were not always available. Mr Gooda emphasised the importance of consultation with and engagement of Aboriginal communities prior to the implementation of measures in order to develop solutions that will work in the longer term.

Read the opening statement on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said the testimony provided to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee has affirmed its concerns regarding the role of the new laws to continue the intervention in the Northern Territory.

Congress co-chair Les Malezer said the bills had not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny regarding their compatibility with human rights obligations.

“We called for a Statement of Compatibility in accordance with the new Parliamentary Scrutiny (Human Rights) Act which came into effect in January this year,” said Mr Malezer. See Communities now subject to 15 years of intervention - National Congress website.

The committee received 454 submissions - Senate Committee Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011, most of which were critical of the legislation and opposed its continuation.

SNAICC’s submission to the Stronger Futures package called for the bills to be scrapped and redeveloped in accordance with international human rights laws to which Australia is bound.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) was another peak body to make a submission. It called on the Government “not to extend the flawed and unproven Northern Territory Intervention model, and instead to engage with local communities to put in place lasting solutions.”

Chief Executive of the St Vincent de Paul charity, John Falzon, also called for the laws to be scrapped, saying they treated Aboriginal people as if they were nothing.

A report on the Stronger Futures Legislation was launched in Melbourne on 8 March by former prime minister Malcolm Fraser. The report, called Listening but not Hearing — A response to the NTER Stronger Futures Consultations June to August 2011, was released by Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney.

It found that the intervention remains racially discriminatory with 'flawed' consultation processes — and continues to breach Australia's human rights obligations.

The report estimated that the Stronger Futures consultation process was wholly inadequate since it excluded Indigenous people from the design of the consultation process, ignored previous criticisms of Intervention measures, failed to consider community led initiatives and aspirations and covered too many themes, which made in-depth discussions impossible.

According to the report, the Special Measures contained in the Amending Bills not only limit and take away human rights and but are also implemented within an arbitrary timeframe. The Bills include no measurements to prevent this timeframe from being extended by future governments, which renders them far from temporary.

Mr Fraser accused the Gillard Government of ''old fashioned white paternalism at its very worst'' and called on the Labor government to scrap the proposed next phase of the intervention, arguing it ignores the wishes of Aboriginal people. Read the report:  A response to the NTER Stronger Futures Consultations June to August 2011.

Mr Fraser was one of 27 prominent Australians, including well-known academics, authors and filmmakers, to write an open letter expressing their anger over plans to extend the Northern Territory Intervention and highlighting “unsavoury elements” of the proposed legislation.

The letter, prepared by former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson, was sent to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Greens Leader Bob Brown on 13 March.

They say the Government had failed to cooperate with Indigenous communities in drafting this legislation which breaches the Racial Discrimination Act, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people.

The letter can be read on the website of Concerned Australians, which has run an active campaign against the legislation.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has continually defended the Government’s consultation process with Aboriginal communities in the NT.

“Between the end of June and mid-August 2011, wide-ranging consultations were held with Aboriginal people and other Territorians on new approaches and new ideas for the future beyond the Northern Territory Emergency Response. This built on conversations and consultations the Australian Government has been conducting over the past four years,” Minister Macklin wrote in a Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Policy Statement.

“There were more than 470 consultation meetings in over 100 hundred towns and
communities. A discussion paper, Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory, outlined eight priority areas for the future and provided a starting point for discussion…

“In the consultations, people made it clear that they do want changes. They want to work with government to make these changes.”

Minister Macklin told ABC Radio that problems in Aboriginal communities were so entrenched a 10-year extension of the Northern Territory intervention was needed.

Senate Committee tables report

The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee tabled its report on the legislation in Parliament on 14 March.

In the report, the committee “notes with serious concern the degree of confusion, and frustration expressed in relation to the Stronger Futures consultations.”

The report makes 11 recommendations, including that the Government use the framework provided by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the knowledge and expertise of Land Councils when conducting further consultation in relation to Stronger Futures.

However, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has accused the committee of ignoring and disrespecting “much of the detailed content of many submissions” — particularly on the issue of community control — and failing to adequately address the human rights criticisms levelled at the legislation.

See the National Congress media release - Response to Senate Committee report on new NT laws.

For more information and news coverage on Stronger Futures visit:

Alternatives to the legislation are presented on the UTS Jumbunna website

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