Two years after the start of the NT intervention. Time to get it right.

Australian Human Rights Commission

Let’s not wait another two years to get it right
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Sunday, 21 June 2009

Open and genuine consultation driven by a desire for trusting, long-term relationships with Aboriginal people must be central to federal government consultations in the 73 prescribed communities affected by the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said today, two years after the intervention was announced.

Commissioner Calma repeated his praise for the government’s moves to introduce legislation later this year to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) in the affected communities but cautioned that any attempts to make compulsory income or alcohol management strategies special measures must be completely understood by the affected communities and must be demonstrably supported by them.

“We know that a consultation process was entirely absent in the introduction of NTER measures and that community views were not considered in the design or delivery of these measures,” Commissioner Calma said.

“Let’s not wait another two years to get it right.

“We know that some of the measures may have had beneficial outcomes to some extent, but we can’t allow such outcomes to be delivered through racially prejudiced means.

“Once we create and allow laws that treat people differently on the basis of their race, it’s a slippery slope downwards to an Australia where the ‘fair go’ no longer counts.”

Commissioner Calma welcomed the appointment of Brian Gleeson to the newly-created position of Coordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services and said he hoped Mr Gleeson could play a role in ensuring the NTER measures could move safely to a sustainable phase in the communities.

He said the Australian Human Rights Commission was finalising guidelines to assist governments in understanding and fulfilling their obligations concerning special measures under the Racial Discrimination Act.

“Child protection and preventing family violence must remain a top priority, however some of the existing NTER measures actually work against this,” Mr Calma said. “The measures make it impossible for mothers, for example, who receive welfare payments to have any decision about their income support reviewed by anyone other than Centrelink – they can’t go to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal for merits review like other Australians,” he said.

“We’ve also known for two years now that quarantining of all welfare payments has created hardship for many safe and healthy families who have been forced at great expense and inconvenience to travel long distances to use a Basics card.”

Commissioner Calma said comprehensive consultations take time and resources and must involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the outset.

“And perhaps most importantly of all, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are immensely diverse. The consultations must take into account that understandings gained from one community are not necessarily the same for another.”