Amy McQuire Tracker 29th June 2012
A respected Yolngu leader has slammed both major parties for passing the Stronger Futures laws, stating they have both "stolen the authority and responsibility of Aboriginal people" and started a "war on democracy".
The Stronger Futures laws, which extend and expand many aspects of the NT intervention, were passed in the Senate early this morning, following a marathon debate surrounding the asylum seeker crisis.
The laws have been subject to strong opposition campaign from civil, human rights and Aboriginal organisations.
The Greens were the only party to oppose the legislation.
The laws were amended to reduce the review period from seven to three years. But attempts to cut the sunset clause from 10 years to five were defeated.
Stronger Futures was passed despite calls for the government to refer it to a parliamentary committee on human rights to scrutinize whether it complied with Australia's international rights obligations.
Yolngu leader Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra today slammed the government and opposition, stating both could not be trusted.
He has labeled it a "war on democracy".
"In this country we have a very poor understanding of democracy. Government is supposed to belong to the people and be for the people. But Aboriginal people will always be seen as second class citizens in this country," Rev Gondarra told Tracker.
"The government has stolen the authority and responsibility from us. They've taken it from us without properly sitting down with us.
"They've taken away the leadership and responsibility just in the same way as at the time of invasion, when they stole our sovereignty."
Rev Gondarra says today is a day of mourning and that both parties have lost the trust of Aboriginal people.
"There will be a lot of angry people, and not just Aboriginal people, but those who have fought for justice," Rev Gondarra said.
"Aboriginal people will always oppose anything that comes from these two parties. We will not listen to them. Aboriginal people will not take and enter into negotiations with these two parties ... we will only work with the independents and the Greens."
Rev Gondarra said the Greens should be congratulated for standing up for the rights of Aboriginal people.
He says the fight will continue.
"I want to say thank you to the many Australians, black and white, those from the different sectors in government and in the church as well as the individuals that have walked with us.
"In my heart I say thank you for being with us. I encourage them to continue to fight with us, not to give up.
"Because this is very important. Democracy in this country must be seen as an authority. It must be practiced for all people, regardless fo whetehr we are black or white."
The laws have also been condemned by the Executive Director of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, Sydney Archdiocese Graeme Mundine.
"This is a sad day for all Aboriginal people in Australia and it is a sad day for democracy," Mr Mundine said.
"The Stronger Futures legislation has now passed through both Houses of Parliament despite comprehensive opposition from Northern Territory Aboriginal Nations, community groups, Churches, welfare groups and others.
"More than 43,000 people have signed a petition and more than 450 submissions were made to the Senate inquiry. International Human Rights bodies have criticized the legislation and countless letters have been sent to Parliamentarians.
"Most importantly, Aboriginal people have made it clear that issues can be better addressed through respectful partnerships rather than through racist and discriminatory legislation.
"Civil society has played its part in our democratic process, but Government and Opposition Parliamentarians have failed in their responsibilities.
"They have ignored the voice of the people and pushed their own ill-informed and racist agenda.
Amnesty International says the laws show the Gillard government's "blatant disregard" for its human rights obligations.
"Rather than genuinely listening to and working with the communities affected, the government has simply pushed through laws that extend some of the punitive aspects of the Intervention, such as linking school attendance with welfare payments," Monica Morgan, Manager of Amnesty International's Indigenous Rights Program said.
"It is difficult to imagine how these policies can work when there are such strong feelings of continued mistrust amongst the affected communities.
"Aboriginal Peoples in remote communities deserve the same respect, safety and protection as does any Australian - but this will not be achieved in a sustained manner under Stronger Futures.
"By not subjecting the Bills to scrutiny under the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, the government has missed its opportunity to respect the rights of Aboriginal Peoples in the NT, leaving the people who will bear the brunt of these policies under continued Government control for the next decade."
SBS News 29th June 2012
The federal government has a blatant disregard for human rights and is engaging in the empowerment of indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory, Amnesty International said a day after federal parliament passed legislation to continue the Northern Territory intervention for another decade.
Earlier, Aboriginal leaders have declared 'a day of mourning.'
Labor and the opposition teamed up to pass the controversial 'Stronger Futures' 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. "Aboriginal communities in the NT have told us time and again that top-down decisions imposed upon them are the wrong approach for tackling the challenges they face,” said Monica Morgan, Manager of Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Program.
Amnesty accused the government of not properly listening to indigenous territorians.
“The Government has regrettably ignored the massive public outcry from Aboriginal communities and advocates opposing these laws, including the Yolngu Nations Assembly, Alyawarr communities in Central Australia, and the Gurindji People of Daguragu and Kalkaringi.
GREENS FAIL TO AMEND LAWS
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.