The wind dropped in Canberra this morning – just as well for the small demonstration following the La Perouse community’s Aboriginal flag up the hill to Parliament House. A mixture of the Green Left, the young, and many grey and white-haired people with long experience in Indigenous communities. The main message was – tell Australians that the NT National Emergency Response legislation won’t stop child abuse, that it may make matters worse, not better. Far too many Australians believe that the proposed legislation is Doing Something About Child Abuse. They don’t know that it may well be Doing Something Bad About Child Abuse.
When I got back, I found an e-mail from GetUp! who are running a campaign for signatures to delay or modify or vote against the bills – before this Tuesday (14th August) when the Senate votes on it.
Did you know that receiving an e-mail publicising a demonstration could be illegal on public computers in most Aboriginal communities in the NT once the legislation is passed? (And as for porn – if their spam filter doesn’t work, they’re stuffed). Sloppy drafting.
Part 3 of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 imposes requirements in relation to the use of publicly funded computers in prescribed areas. Section 28 requires a “responsible person” for a publicly funded computer to develop a policy for acceptable usage. Subsection 28(3) provides that the policy must prohibit use for communications containing material that, among other things, would incite a contravention of any law, and communications “designed to annoy or torment.” It is possible that an email publicising a political demonstration would fall within the ambit of s 28(3). (Jumbunna House of Indigenous Learning, submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 & Related Bills [.pdf]
Well if you are to convince others that the laws actually won’t stop child abuse, you have to be better informed than I am. So I browsed the seventy submissions to the Senate Inquiry (transcript of hearing not yet available). It deeply impressed me how many people had managed to come up with submissions in the very very short time-frame. Roughly half were from individuals, and the rest were from institutions or groups. All but 4 either opposed the legislation on many fronts, or had serious concerns about some fronts. Of the remainder, one submission supported the abolition of permits. Two (Festival of Light and the Australian Christian lobby) wanted to extend control of pornography to all Australia. One (from Woolworths) was concerned about how checkout operators could add up the alcohol content of 1300 different types of alcohol to see if a customer was over the limit. (How much pure alcohol adds up to the alcohol content of 3 cartons?)
Long, careful and detailed submissions came in from Laynhapuy Homelands Association, Milingimbi Community Council, Oxfam Australia, the Law Council of Australia, HREOC, Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, World Vision Australia, Amnesty International Australia, Welfare Rights Centre, Australian Council of Trades Unions. [all .pdf]
Some common themes were:
• This legislation is too important to be rushed.
The Law Council condemns the timetable for considering this proposed legislation as disgracefully inadequate and an affront to fundamental democratic principles. (Law Council of Australia [.pdf])
• The recommendations of the Wild-Anderson report, and of the combined Aboriginal organisations proposal, should be followed, not ignored.
The Prime Minister said the report upset him so much he decided to act quickly to do something about the problems it described. Yet what the Prime Minister is actually doing is exactly the opposite of what the report said should be done. The report’s recommendations don’t mention the army, or land permits, but they do stress that consultation with the communities themselves is essential to the success of any intervention. The Prime Minister says he hasn’t got time for consultation. How could it be that the actions he wants to put into place are so completely different to what the experts say is needed? (Cecilia Conolly, consultant psychologist, submission [.pdf]
• There must be consultation with Indigenous people if the intervention is not to do more harm than good.
Not only has this consultation not happened, there is also provision to set it aside.
51 of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 will suspend the operation of the future act regime of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) in relation to lands acquired under ss 31 and 47. The future act regime is triggered by acts that affect native title and in some cases, affords valuable procedural rights to native title holders, such as the right to negotiate. Further clarification is necessary in order to determine whether native title holders would still exercise the right to negotiate in the event that a mining lease was granted over land subject to s 51. (Jumbunna House of Indigenous Learning [.pdf])
• The permit system does not cause child abuse or make it easier.
Self evident really.
• The Racial Discrimination Act is too important to be set aside.
The Law Council considers the inclusion in legislation proposed to be enacted by the Australian Parliament in 2007 of a provision specifically excluding the operation of the RDA to be utterly unacceptable. Such an extraordinary development places Australia in direct and unashamed contravention of its obligations under relevant international instruments.. (Law Council of Australia submission [.pdf])
The only justification for setting aside the RDA is if the actions are special measures for the benefit of the group that is singled out.
it is not apparent how the Northern Territory “income management” of welfare payments (or “quarantining”) would qualify as a “special measure” – it is far from self-evident how external micro-management of a child’s parent’s expenditure would help that child in the many cases where no previous problem existed. Nor is it clear how removing the right to appeal to the established Social Security Appeals Tribunal will assist relevant Northern Territory Indigenous people to a greater – rather than diminished – enjoyment of their rights. …. (Catholic Social Services). [.pdf]
So not only are Aborigines under these laws subject to more controls on how they spend their money, they also, unlike other Australian on welfare, would lose the right to appeal decisions beyond the Centrelink internal review process – as the Welfare Rights Centre [.pdf] pointed out. And, what’s more, there’re no clear criteria for the Centrelink staff to use. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Alliance says that it cannot support the proposal that Centerlink will decide who will and will not receive welfare without knowing what criteria will be applied in making these value judgments. However, if this proposal is enacted, it should be applied equally to all Australians in receipt of welfare. The selective application of this policy is discriminatory. (World Vision submission). [.pdf]
Oh, and Job Futures [.pdf] (who work with Indigenous organisations in the NT to find jobs for people) say that the new guidelines require them to refer people to Work-for-the-Dole, regardless of whether they are assessed as having mental health problems, domestic violence, substance abuse problems, or are homeless. So the guidelines set these vulnerable people up to fail by breaching the Work-for-the-Dole conditions, and so then losing their welfare payments.
And can you trust the income managers and business managers and Centrelink people? (Side-note: employing them, implementing and administering the new system will take nearly half the half-billion budget. So much for the nice new houses Jenny says people think they’re getting). Well, here’s what the Laynhapuy Homelands Association said, among many other things:
the general lack of competence of Government to tackle these very real and difficult problems across the so many locations. Our experience with the ICC structure, government programs, and knowledge of COAG trials, provides no basis for comfort or confidence whatsoever regarding Government’s capacity. ( Laynhapuy Homelands Association) [.pdf].
The workability of the legislation is questioned by the Police Federation of Australia [.pdf] – who note severe problems for police with the abolition of permits, and the proposed new liquor laws. They say the present laws are strong and what’s needed is more resources for policing.
We seek constructive dialogue that is respectful of who we are as Yolgnu people. We seek a partnership and not paternalism. We seek improved outcomes and improved life chances for our children both now and well into the future. (Milingimbi Community Council)