AAP Sydney Morning Herald 29th June 2012
Aboriginal leaders have declared a day of mourning after federal parliament passed legislation to continue the Northern Territory intervention for another decade.
Labor and the opposition teamed up to pass the controversial laws in the Senate in the early hours of Friday morning after a marathon debate, which started early Thursday evening.
The laws were amended to reduce the review period from seven to three years.
Attempts by the Greens to heavily amend the laws, including cutting the sunset clause from 10 to five years, were defeated.
The Greens accused the government of sneaking the laws through in the shadow of the media storm over asylum seekers on the final day before parliament's winter break.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said Labor was trashing its proud history in indigenous affairs, particularly the goodwill from former prime minister Kevin Rudd's apology and Paul Keating's Redfern speech.
Labor NT senator Trish Crossin, a former school teacher in remote communities, praised the controversial SEAM program that would work with families to get kids to attend school, with cutting welfare payments only as a last resort.
But she was scathing of provisions that stop a court taking into account customary law or cultural practices.
"We are making a very big mistake ... this is a backwards step," she said, adding she was considering referring this issue to a Senate inquiry.
Liberal senator Marise Payne said Labor had dropped the ball on overcoming indigenous disadvantage since the original intervention.
"The government is more focused on process rather than outcomes," she said.
Indigenous leader Dr Djiniyini Gondarra from East Arnhem Land and Rosalie Kunoth Monks from Central Australia have jointly declared a day of mourning for Aboriginal people following the passing of the laws.
"For those of us living in the Northern Territory the anguish of the past five years of intervention has been almost unbearable," Dr Djiniyini told AAP.
The package also expands income management for people on welfare to five trial sites outside the Top End. These are in Bankstown in NSW, Playford, South Australia, Shepparton, Victoria, and Rockhampton and Logan in Queensland. The program begins on July 1.
The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Amnesty International and indigenous leaders have raised concerns the laws breach Australia's international obligations.
The measures have been widely opposed by NT Aboriginal communities, which say they are racist and that they weren't consulted properly.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin released a human rights assessment of the laws on Thursday.
"The policy objectives of the bills are compatible with human rights because they advance some rights and to the extent they may limit any rights those limitation are reasonable, necessary and proportionate," she said.
Former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson said the government's use of special measures could fail a High Court challenge.
He said Ms Macklin's response was "entirely predictable" and maintained the consultation process had been a "travesty".
"They speak about these wonderful consultations, I guess if you say that often enough it sounds good, but in fact it isn't," he told AAP.
National Congress of Australia's First People spokeswoman Jody Broun was disappointed the government did not allow a parliamentary committee to subject the laws to a human rights test.
Australian Lawyers Alliance national president Greg Barns said the Stronger Futures laws were further disenfranchising indigenous communities.
This letter was sent to all senators and the PM at around 4:00pm yesterday (28th June 2012) and was read out in full at the onset of the debate last night when the bill was passed.
I never thought I would be so affected by this statement from Rosalie and Djiniyini. It is like having everything I dreamed of disappearing from my sight. (see their media release that is also attached).
I am so upset at this happening to us and after all the hard work we have put into trying to stop the Stolen Futures Legislation getting passed in Parliament and becoming Law.
I don't know yet if it has been voted on in the Senate, but when I think of politicians in Canberra, who never bothered to get to know First Nations People or understand our Culture and simply don't care that we are human beings as they are, it makes me very sad and my heart aches for all those who have never known freedom in their lives and the deaths of the children who saw nothing but despair in their future lives and ended it with a rope or other form of suicide, I can only cry from the pain they felt and the hopelessness they looked forward to.
I can only ask those politicians who don't care for their fellow human beings;
"Do you feel good about what you are doing to the First Nations People today?"
"Does this power you have over our lives make you a better person?"?
But most importantly, "Will you tell your grandchildren, what you did to the First Nations People this day and how you destroyed the lives of so many First Nations People and caused their deaths prematurely?"
"Will you have the guts to admit what you have done, to your granchildren, or will you hide this truth from them when they ask you, that question of curiosity".
"Who were the First Australians in this Land?"
"Will you feel the shame of Generations of First Nations People being trampled underfoot by your political policy of Racism and Discrimination and greed and how you used your power to keep them forcibly shackled to a yard or fenced in area away from their Country and Communities, all because you wanted their wealth in their Land ownership?"
That wealth you will never know!
I wonder how you will tell your grandchildren these atrocities you did to the First Nations People.
If you will tell the truth to them.
If you will finally say you are sorry for what you did and mean it.
If you will shed a tear for the People who only wanted to live their old age in freedom on their Traditional Lands and teach THEIR grandchildren the wealth of knowledge they had.
These beautiful People are no longer with us now. They died of broken hearts and Stolen Dreams by politicians who never cared to treat us like human beings.
You will have to look into your grandchild's eyes and see the emptiness they feel of losing such a wonderful Heritage and Culture forever, for your greed.
Traditional Owner of Uluru
Patricia Karvelas The Australian June 28, 2012
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has refused to subject Labor's 10-year extension of the radical Northern Territory intervention to her own, newly-created human rights parliamentary committee, angering the Greens and indigenous groups.
Greens senator Rachel Siewert has received a letter from Nicola Roxon, obtained by The Australian Online, which says the bill has already been subjected to extensive inquiry.
"I have considered your request but believe on balance that I should not refer the Stronger Futures legislation to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights," she writes.
Ms Roxon writes that the Minister for Indigenous Affairs is providing the chair of the committee, former Speaker Harry Jenkins, with "further information" on how the federal government has given "consideration to human rights in relation to the preparation of the bills."
Senator Siewert said the Attorney-General's decision not to refer the legislation is very disappointing "as is the government's decision to bring this bill on for debate at the last minute, hours before the Senate is due to adjourn for the winter break".
"This legislation is too important to be treated with such scant regard. This is mismanagement of legislation that has the potential to adversely on impact people across the NT and around the whole country through the expansion of income management," the Greens senator said.
"The Senate inquiry into Stronger Futures received substantial evidence around the inadequacy of this legislation and the way in which it was developed. A range of individuals and organisations have questioned the effect this bill will have on the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
"Given the strong concerns, a referral to the joint committee should be a minimum standard.
"To compound matters, neither the Senate nor the committee has had time to examine the Stronger Futures compatibility statement provided by Minister (Jenny) Macklin," Senator Siewert told The Australian Online.