Stronger Futures referred to committee; closing date after Christmas

BY AMY MCQUIREDECEMBER 2, 2011

Originally published in Tracker Magazine.

NORTHERN TERRITORY: The controversial Stronger Futures legislation has been referred to parliamentary committee, with the submissions due after Christmas, and before the next Parliamentary sitting.

The bill was introduced by the Gillard government in November and is designed to takeover from the NT Emergency Response (NTER) when those laws expire next year.

If passed it will have a sunset clause of 10 years, with a review after the first seven years.

The Senate has now referred Stronger Futures to the Community Affairs committee. Submissions close by 12th January, 2012. The reporting date is 29th January.

But there has been some concerns that opening the consultation process over the Christmas holidays, and closing the submission date before Parliament sits could hurt the ability of Aboriginal organisations and other concerned groups to make submissions.

Stronger Futures has already attracted strong criticism from many who see it as a continuation of the NTER. The package of legislation upholds many of the controversial aspects of the intervention, but it will also roll out the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM) which links welfare payments to school attendance.

Compulsory income management will continue.

The alcohol bans will also stay in place under the new legislation and the bill cracks down on grog runners by including six months imprisonment in penalties for liquor offences under 1350 millilitres, while strengthening provisions surrounding alcohol management plans.

Restrictions on porn will also stay in place in “prohibited material areas”, and the legislation will continue to prevent customary law and cultural practice from being considered in sentencing and bail decisions.

It is proposed that customary law and cultural practice be included in sentencing and bail decisions when relating to cultural heritage offences. The legislation does not extend the five-year compulsory leases over townships but voluntary long-term leases will still be negotiated with communities.

The package will also commit $19.1 million to fund new ranger positions over the next four years. The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) will keep its powers under the existing legislation, allowing the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to perform the functions of NT police in relation to violence and child protection.

The Gillard government still claims that all the measures in the Stronger Futures will be consistent with the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), although there is concern the NT intervention’s “special measures”, upheld under the new legislation, are still discriminatory.

The original NT intervention laws by-passed the RDA, and were passed in 2007 with virtually no consultation with Aboriginal people affected. Four years on, it is still the subject of heated debate.

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