The Senate is due to debate the so-called ‘Stronger Futures’ legislation this afternoon in Parliament.
I am going to (attempt to) watch the debate from the public gallery on behalf of my Yolŋu family. This is – along with the initial NT Intervention legislation – the most racist, punitive, disempowering piece of legislation to come before Parliament in my adult life. How or why politicians presume they have the right, I’ll never know. I recently wrote a summary overview of recent Government attacks on the rights of Indigenous people living in remote NT, which you can find here.
I have written previously about the farce that was the Stronger Futures ‘consultation process.’ Below are a few facts about the ‘Stronger Futures’ legislation and what it means for Indigenous people and Indigenous communities in the NT. This information was sourced from the Stand For Freedom website.
Please take the time to read about the proposed legislation below and imagine if it were you – your family, friends and community – to be thus affected.
The Stronger Futures legislation consists of three bills introduced by Indigenous affairs Minister Jenny Macklin on 23 November 2011. They are: Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Bill 2011; Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011; Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2011.
The Stronger Futures legislation plans to replace the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (otherwise known as the “Northern Territory Intervention”), which was due to expire in August 2012.
The Northern Territory Intervention has attracted national and international condemnation for its racial discrimination against Aboriginal people and their culture. However, the new legislation plans to maintain many elements of the Northern Territory Intervention for a further 10 years, and will further increase Government control over Aboriginal people and their lands.
These measures include:
1. Prohibition of consideration of Aboriginal customary law and cultural practice in criminal sentencing. This makes Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory the only group of people in Australia for whom the court cannot consider the cultural circumstances of an offence.
2. Blanket bans on alcohol on Aboriginal Land, despite consistent opposition from the Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the NT (APO NT) who have said, “The decision regarding alcohol restrictions should be for relevant residents to make… The principal effect of these widely flouted laws has been to further criminalise and alienate many residents”.
3. Increases in penalties for possession of alcohol on Aboriginal Land, including 6 months potential jail time for a single can of beer and 18 months for more than 1.35L of alcohol.
4. “Star Chamber” powers by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) for investigations in Aboriginal communities, including removal of the right to silence.
5. Special powers that allow police to enter houses and vehicles in Aboriginal communities without a warrant, on ‘suspicion’ of possession of alcohol.
6. Makes laws allowing for information to be transferred about an individual, to any Federal, State or Territory government department or agency, without an individual’s knowledge or consent.
7. Blanket bans on “sexually explicit or very violent material” on Aboriginal Land. These restrictions serve no purpose other than the stigmatisation of Aboriginal men.
8. Complete Commonwealth control over regulations in Community Living Areas and town camps.
9. Continued suspension of the permit system in Aboriginal townships, in direct contradiction of APO NT who have said that: “communities on Aboriginal Land feel as though they have lost control… the flow on effects are overwhelmingly seen as negative and counterproductive to community safety”.
10. An expansion of the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM) means parents whose children miss school more than 5 times over 2 terms will have their welfare payments cut. This comes despite consistent concerns raised by Aboriginal families of inappropriate education in Aboriginal schools that is failing to engage their children.
11. Excessive licensing requirements on local grocery stores operating in Aboriginal communities, so strict that they could force store closure.
12. The Stronger Futures “jobs package” includes 50 new ranger positions and 100 “traineeships”. But this will not compensate for the more than 2000 remaining waged Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) positions that the Government will cut by April 2012; the final attack on a vibrant program which was the lifeblood of many communities, employing upwards of 7500 people before the NT Intervention.
13. Proposed amendments to the Social Security Act will see further attacks on the rights of welfare recipients. These measures will initially be targeted at Aboriginal people in the NT, but have national implications, especially in areas such as Bankstown or Shepparton where Income Management is being rolled out from July 2012.
An injustice to one – (!)