Stronger Futures is the same intervention: Amnesty

BY AMY MCQUIRENOVEMBER 23, 2011

Originally published in Tracker Magazine.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin and Member for Lingiari and Minister for Indigenous Health, Warren Snowdon launching the Stronger Futures report earlier this year.

NATIONAL: An international human rights group has called on the Gillard government to move on from the mistakes of the past, warning its Stronger Futures legislation is just a re-badged NT intervention.

Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin introduced the package of bills to federal parliament this morning.

It upholds many of the controversial aspects of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), but will also roll out the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM), which links welfare payments to school attendance.

It follows a six-week period of consultations over the Stronger Futures discussion paper earlier this year. The consultations have been criticised for focusing on pre-determinedtopics, and only running over a short time frame.

Ms Macklin today told parliament that Aboriginal communities believe “more needs to be done to achieve… change”.

“People in the Northern Territory want for their children what each of us, right across the country, want for our children,” Ms Macklin said.

“That they will grow up healthy and safe and get a good education… that they will be strong people, proud of who they are.”

The NT intervention will conclude in August 2012.

Stronger Futures is intended to continue that work and has a 10-year sunset clause.

But Amnesty International is concerned Labor hasn’t done enough to remove the discriminatory aspects of the intervention in the new legislation.

“The 2007 intervention was rolled out without any consultation and left many Aboriginal people traumatised when heavily armed army and police personnel were deployed to their communities,” Amnesty International’s Campaign Co-ordinator on Indigenous Rights Sarah Marland said.

“The Australian Government has an opportunity to re-set the relationship with Aboriginal Territorians and engage in free, prior and informed consent as international human rights law dictates.”

Ms Macklin claims that all of the measures under the new Stronger Futures laws will comply with the RDA.

But the “special measures”, like alcohol and porn bans, will continue under the new legislation.

Special measures are intended to positively discriminate in favour of the people affected.

But Ms Marland says these measures cannot be classed as special measures, and is in “breach of international law” because the impacts remain discriminatory.

There are also concernsover the decision to expand SEAM.

“There is no evidence to suggest that threatening to withdraw income support creates behavioural change in children’s attendance at school,” Ms Marland said.

“Nor is there evidence to suggest that school attendance correlates with increased performance or improved levels of numeracy and literacy.”

She says the Stronger Futures proposal also ignores Aboriginal people living in homeland communities.

Amnesty International has been a vocal opponent of NT government plans to re-direct funding away from the small outstation and homelands communities, and into 20 “growth towns”.

There are concerns this could force people off their traditional lands.

For more information on what’s in the Stronger Future legislation, please click here.

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