Reinstating the Racial Discrimination Act and other election promises

With an election called it soon won’t be long before the list of election promises start filling screens and printed pages around the country. Promises from the last election will be brought up and assessed as to whether they’ve been broken, kept or whether they’re in progress. The adjective ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ may be resurrected. A volley of statements will be bandied about and decisions will be made on which statements to believe more than others.

With all that in mind, I can’t help but think of one promise from the last election that the Rudd Government made: the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory. The Act was suspended when Howard and Brough rolled out the Northern Territory Emergency Response in 2007.

On 21 June this year, after months of stalling, and even more of planning and writing, the federal Senate passed legislation which they say reinstates the Racial Discrimination Act. The emphasis is on ‘they say’, for as Jayne Weepers, Senior Policy Officer with the CLC, pointed out in an email sent to Jenny Macklin’s office and published on the Stop the Intervention website:

Leaving aside the complexities of income management for the moment, there is one fundamental problem with the Government Bill – it does not meet the Government’s commitment to reinstate the RDA. The Bill fails to provide for a full reinstatement of the RDA, and at best, achieves only a partial reinstatement of the RDA.

What is at issue here, Weepers continues, is that there is no ‘notwithstanding clause’ that would mean the Racial Discrimination Act is powerful legislation. Instead, as the Australian Human Rights Commission wrote in their submission to the Senate inquiry into the Social Welfare Reform Bill, you have a case where:

If the NTER legislation cannot be read so as to be consistent with the RDA, the NTER legislation, being the later legislation, will prevail. In other words, if NTER measures remain discriminatory, they will not be altered by the ‘reinstatement’ of the RDA.

In short, the so-called reinstatement will not change the blanket approach. Sure, now that welfare has been expanded to include the rest of the NT there will be non-Indigenous people placed on it, but in those cases it appears that Centrelink will assess, via interviews, whether or not that person should be on Income Management.

Three years ago a blanket was thrown over prescribed areas in what some have labelled ‘an election gamble’; despite numerous reports, reviews and promises to the contrary, in those 73 communities, that blanket intervention still exists.

Scott Foyster

Scott Foyster lives in Mpartnwe/Alice Springs where he writes and collects stories to share. He is one of the editors of Wai, an independent quarterly national newspaper on social jusice and environmental issues around the country/region, and is also one half of Black Kite Press, an independent press that is currently working on it's first publication.

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