EDITORIAL OPINION

BY AMY MCQUIREMARCH 19, 2012

 Originally published in Tracker Magazine.

NATIONAL: Last month I attended a small protest outside the front of Parliament House. Fifty people had gathered as rain fell sporadically. The weather reflected the mood. There were only a few to protest a continuation of the NT intervention – the Stronger Futures legislation.

The proposed laws will cement many of the contentious planks of the intervention for the next 10 years. As those few protestors gathered on the lawns across from new Parliament House, there was a sadness in the air.

Despite the rally, the laws had already been through the lower house, and were before the Senate.

Even Greens Senator Rachel Siewert seemed consigned to the fact the laws will pass, but promised to try and push amendments to its most contentious parts.

That means 15 years of intervention for a people who have never been properly consulted, and who have never given their free, prior and informed consent to be discriminated against.

There are many concerns with the Stronger Futures laws. First of all, it is based on very little evidence.

There is hardly any independent research to back up the government’s plans to roll out compulsory income management across the country.

There is little evidence to suggest linking welfare payments to school attendance will do anything to fight truancy in Indigenous communities. And there is little evidence that slapping blanket alcohol bans on communities will do anything but demonise communities that have already been demonised for the past two centuries.

The changes to the Alcohol Management Plans, which ensure community consultation and control, are also concerning given that they must also comply with the guidelines of the minister.

Penalties for alcohol possession will also be toughened, raising concerns that it will only land more Aboriginal people in the Territory’s jails.

Customary law will remain excluded from sentencing and bail decisions, a highly discriminatory provision that only further compounds the already unsteady relationship Aboriginal people have with the criminal justice system.

The pornography bans also leave a black mark on Aboriginal communities. The irony that the policy is formulated in Canberra, the porn capital of Australia, is striking. Those are only a few provisions of Stronger Futures.

The laws are complicated and have been introduced quickly, to be rushed through Parliament with indecent haste, still not fully understood by the people they will affect.

How can the Gillard government commit to promises like constitutional recognition, when it continues to discriminate against Aboriginal people?

If the government, for example, commits to the expert panel’s recommendation to remove the race power from the constitution, how can it still commit to an intervention that has been proven to be discriminatory, and gives little confidence that it will advance the lives and welfare of NT Aboriginal communities?

It’s all very hypocritical. But it is characteristic of the way governments continue to deal with Aboriginal people.

This is the age of the new paternalism, as now Opposition Leader Tony Abbott once called for a couple of years ago.

Control has once again been taken out of the hands of Aboriginal people and placed in the mistrusted grasp of white politicians.

Amy McQuire, editor

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