“Passage of NTER Amendments a step in the right direction”

Australian Human Rights Commission

Commissioner Innes, and Commissioner Gooda, said passage of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of Racial Discrimination Act) Bill 2009 yesterday would go some way to lifting the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) and state and territory anti-discrimination laws in the Northern Territory.

Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes said the passage of the amendments will end much of the uncertainty, misinformation and conflict that communities have endured in relation to their rights.

“It is imperative that the government now provides clear and comprehensive information about these changes to the people in affected communities,” said Commissioner Innes. “People need information about their rights and protections – some of which were suspended during the course of the intervention – and they need to know what will be available to them again.”

Noting that the amendments do not completely reinstate the RDA, Commissioner Innes and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, emphasised that the passing of this legislation should only be seen as a first step in the restoration of full protections for the affected communities.

The Commissioners said they were particularly concerned about:

* continuation of the compulsory five-year lease arrangements and their exclusion from the protections against discrimination under the RDA;
* potential characterisation of some measures as ‘special measures’ under the RDA;
* the broad reach of some categories of the new income management measure, particularly where they could result in a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people being unnecessarily income-managed, and
* continuation of unnecessary and unreasonable business management areas powers.

Commissioner Gooda said the focus should now be on getting services delivered on the ground. “There is a continued need for services in these communities, particularly in relation to housing, health and education,” Commissioner Gooda said. “The government must engage with affected communities to ensure that funding is correctly targeted and that services are delivered and developed appropriately.”

The Commissioners said that long-term, sustainable success would now be dependant on ensuring the involvement of Indigenous people and affected communities to:

* develop community-driven processes to address issues like unhealthy drinking patterns and pornography; and
* develop the delegated instruments that are non-discriminatory and consistent with human rights obligations, on which much of the implementation of the Northern Territory Emergency Response will now be dependent.

Commissioner Innes said it was vital that the next steps for improvement to the Northern Territory Emergency Response include the gathering of relevant baseline data and development of monitoring and evaluation tools, followed by further steps to ensure the full reinstatement of the RDA.