Samantha Donovan from ABC online:
A new report accuses the Federal Government of deliberately ignoring the views of Aboriginal people on the Northern Territory Intervention.
It concludes that the Government’s “consultation” sessions were a sham, which offered the communities no choice on the intervention’s future.
Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser launched the report which is co-authored by former chief justice of the Family Court Professor Alastair Nicholson.
The “Will They Be Heard” report has been put together by a community group called Concerned Australians.
Professor Nicholson says he and his fellow researchers reached their conclusions after watching video footage of three government consultations in the Northern Territory that took place in the communities of Utopia, Bagot and Ampilatwatja.
“What you see is extremely articulate Aboriginal people who are expressing enormous concerns about the fact that they’re being singled out as alcoholics, pornographers and so on and they’re saying ‘look, what about the problems in the rest of the white community? Why are we being singled out in this way?’,” he said.
Professor Nicholson says the meetings cannot be called genuine consultations.
“I’m not thereby saying that the people trying to conduct them were not genuine, they were public servants and I think that in itself’s a problem,” he said.
“I think there should have been independent consultants brought in to do this rather than public servants who really are not independent of government.
“But the fact is that they were very inept consultations. There was very limited facilities for interpreters.
“[In] one I recall the interpreter was supposed to come and didn’t and some young person was asked to do it and here they are talking about quite complicated subjects like the Racial Discrimination Act and special measures.”
This week the Federal Government is introducing legislation to reinstate the Commonwealth’s Racial Discrimination Act in the relevant areas of the Northern Territory.
Professor Nicholson says this would normally lead to the abolition of the more controversial aspects of the intervention.
But the Government’s consultation process is an attempt to get support from the communities for the retention of some features of the intervention which would be designated “special measures”.
But he says given the flaws he and his colleagues have identified in the consultation process, the meetings cannot be considered evidence of consent to special measures under the Act.
“I think that if anything they prove the opposite,” Professor Nicholson said.
“It’s fair to say of course that we only saw three out of many consultations because they were the only ones that we were able to get film of, and as well as that we did see that the Government prepared summaries of all their consultations.
“They are interesting also because they really bring the point out that the strong opposition amongst the people to income management and in fact on compulsory income management the Government really didn’t give the people a choice at all.
“What it said was, well, you can either keep the present compulsory system, or we’ll introduce a system where individuals can apply to Centrelink to be excused from it.
“And of course that was met with a fair degree of derision by most of the people that I heard speaking about it because they said that the chances of them being able to persuade some official in Centrelink that they were responsible financial managers was negligible.
“It’s what’s omitted that’s also significant. For example, the intervention legislation changed the method of sentencing and granting bail so that you are not allowed to take into account Aboriginal law and culture. Now that wasn’t even mentioned in these consultations, yet that was a clear breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“So it’s very difficult to me to see how these consultations could be used for any useful purpose whatever.”
Professor Nicholson strongly supports the reintroduction of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory but says it will not fix all the problems outlined in the report.
“What the Government needs to do is in effect start again,” he said.
“To work on such positives that have emerged from spending on education, health and so on, but above all to really sit down and consult with the communities and involve them as well in the decision making process.
“And if they were to do that, I think they’d get a much better response from these people and I think overall the activity would be much more effective.”