More on A Decision to Discriminate

Last week, I reviewed A Decision to Discriminate, by Michele Harris, seeking to put its findings and quotes in context. This week, I thought I’d provide a selection of quotes from the book, to give a sense of what it actually shows (with thanks to Michele for her kind permission). I won’t repeat the Scullion quotes, except to stress how important his concession was that ‘Aboriginal people more generally hate the intervention’.

On consultations

Ms Roxanne Kenny, Ntaria
and I am talking on behalf of the people. All they want to know is what is the difference between Stronger Futures and the intervention. That is what they want to know. What are the changes?

Senator Scullion, Response
It is clear that when we came here we made some assumptions that information had been passed to the community about what this legislation was about. The difficulty is that we have arrived here to hear what you think about that but what you are really saying is, ‘Let’s go back to the first stage, because we do not understand what the differences are.’

Mr Paterson, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT)
The Stronger Futures consultation process provides an example. Our officers attended about a dozen of the consultation meetings and judged the process to be inadequate and superficial. Further, our analysis suggests that the resulting Stronger Futures bills do not adequately reflect the issues raised at the meetings. Furthermore, the Stronger Futures response does little to contribute to the essential task of rebuilding community capacity and reestablishing relationships of trust. Rather, it is indicative of a pervasive lack of trust on the part of government.

On self-determination

Dr Gondarra OAM, Dhurili Clan Nation
please do not let us down and say, ‘This is the legislation we are going to deal with, because the Aboriginal people are naughty boys and naughty girls and so we need to look after them and we need to treat them this way.’ No, we do not need that. We are not a puppet on a string. You do not play around with us. We want to be a free people. We want to determine our dignity and pride in being a people. That is the message that we are giving.

Mr Cubillo, NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner
At the moment they [Aboriginal People] do not trust people, particularly governments. There needs to be a change of view. Aboriginal people want to be involved. I hear a lot about making changes, but no-one has actually listened to how Aboriginal people want to do that. What I have heard is fairly similar. It is along the lines of alcohol and violence, but these communities are very complex and the best people to give you advice on it are the people living there themselves. They do not want to have stuff bestowed on them from afar, basically.

Mr Paterson, AMSANT
… there is Canadian research which showed that first nation communities in Canada with the lowest levels of youth suicide were those with significant elements of community control and cultural empowerment. The Stronger Futures bills, by comparison, in failing to abandon an intervention approach, will further undermine the control and empowerment of individuals and communities and will enhance factors associated with social exclusion and racial targeting.

Ms Turner, Tangantyere Council
I will just add that there is a pervasive sense of disempowerment of Aboriginal people in Central Australia, especially since the intervention.

On the Intervention

Ms Williams, Ntaria
Everybody in every community talks about the intervention. Not just one individual but everybody was against the intervention.

Mr Wuridjal, Malabam Health Board
We have seen what has happened for the last five years. Now we have Stronger Futures coming in and that is going to destroy Aboriginal people in this area…

Dr Gondarra OAM, Dhurili Clan Nation
People are frustrated. People are sick and tired of being controlled. When people are sick and tired of control they just give up hope: When our lives are being threatened and taken away, we just sit and do nothing. I have already emphasised that people are dying, not just dying spiritually and emotionally but dying physically. They cannot live for the day because their lives are controlled by somebody else. They have given up hope: what is the use?

On alcohol

Ms Rosas, Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA)
Locking more people up is not going to fix our problems and banning alcohol has not solved the problem. The alcohol bans have pushed drinkers further from their communities into very unsafe situations. We need to treat the disease. There is no professional counselling or treatment available in remote communities and we need rehabilitation centres. We need culturally relevant programs and services and we need more education in the schools to teach the younger generation the dangers of drinking and drug use. Governments need to work with elders to take ownership and responsibility of alcohol management plans and be part of the solution.

Mr Cooper, AMSANT
The point is that if these alcohol management plans are really going to be genuine and effective then the community has to have ownership of them. This is what happened initially when communities declared themselves dry, well prior to the intervention.

Mr Paterson, AMSANT
we support an emphasis on alcohol management plans, we oppose increasing penalties for possession of alcohol including proposed six-month jail terms for amounts less than 1,350 millilitres. This is unlikely to reduce alcohol related harm in remote communities and will serve to increase the really unacceptably high incarceration rates in the Northern Territory. On the other hand, we support evidence based population alcohol control measures such as the introduction of a floor price for alcohol, as outlined in the submission from the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition.

On the refusal to consider Aboriginal Customary law in Sentencing and bail

Dr Gondarra OAM, Dhurili Clan Nation
The Stronger Futures bills extend section 91 of the current NTA law. This means that a judge will not consider our laws and our culture in court. Not only do I consider this as racist since all other citizens of Australia have their culture considered in a court, but I also consider it to be an attack upon my people’s dignity and sovereignty.

Ms Rosas, NAAJA
For Aboriginal people before the courts, the law still excludes our customary law and culture from bail and sentencing. This says to our people that our customs and culture do not count or that they are part of the problem. This is insulting and offensive to us as Aboriginal people. The law says to the courts that they cannot apply the ordinary principles for setting their sentences. The courts cannot take into account all relevant factors when sentencing Aboriginal people. This is unfair and unjust. These provisions must be scrapped. Instead, government should be working with elders to take responsibility for offending in their communities.

On Income Management

Joy White, Darwin Aboriginal Rights Collective
We did not have any vehicles in Bagot to take old people to the shops to teach them to buy food from the shops [shops that would accept Basicscards] and buy meat at the butcher shops. We used to take them on the ordinary buses. But on the buses we were abused by European people calling us child abusers and so forth… It is just too hard for us. So there were the views of all the white people that were there and were swearing at us and spitting on us as if we were just another being from another race that was out of this world. I just could not understand why they were doing that to us but never mind.

On SEAM (School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measures) and cutting welfare to parents of children who truant

Ms Williams, Babbarra Women’s Centre
And then, why is the government also cutting off the income? How would they survive with food, clothes, electricity, power, fridges—a $20 or $30 power cut or whatever? At the end, how much money will they have?

Mr Paterson, AMSANT
We oppose the expansion of the SEAM measure in the absence of sufficient evidence. Its coercive and punitive approach fails to address the systematic problems with remote Aboriginal education and the complex reasons for low school attendance rates.

Mr Jones, Uniting Church Northern Synod
Punishing the most disadvantaged people in the land for not participating in a system that has not delivered the outcomes they desire is heaping punishment on punishment.

Maurie Ryan, Darwin
My building is full of asbestos… The federal government’s reply is to punish by fines and suspension of payment. It does not support the many that are doing the right thing in attending school. Those children should be rewarded.

On the Canberra Testimony

John Falzon, St Vincent de Paul
These are policies that have been shamelessly trialled on the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory and they are now to be not only deepened in those communities but also broadened to include other areas of so-called disadvantage across Australia. The degrading trail of internal colonisation continues discriminating at one moment on the basis of race and the next moment on the basis of class or gender. The Stronger Futures legislation will not strengthen when it is so inherently disempowering. … The injustice of the polices that we of the St Vincent de Paul society are taking a stand against today is that they treat people as if they are nothing. We are on the side of people who are treated as if they are nothing.

Mr Thomas, Welfare Rights Centre, Sydney
At welfare rights we have been highly critical of essentially funding a mini bureaucracy, and an expanding one at that, to micromanage the finances of people who are deemed to be incapable of managing their financial affairs, when we all know that at the heart of it the real problem is not the managed finances but the adequacy of the payments in the first place. … Certainly we see income management as a further waste of resources. We saw that recently in the extension of income management to the five areas, where it was revealed through the Senate estimates process that $182,000 was spent on seminars to attract 40 people basically to sell the Basics Card. We are not sure at the moment whether any one of those groups have signed up, but, again, at $7,000 per person that is a magnificent waste of money. …

Ms Broun, Co-Chair National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
By any objective standards, the punitive measures in the stronger futures bills and amendments to the Social Security Act cannot be shown to benefit the original people it is intended to assist. Testimony provided to the Northern Territory told of the emotional and psychological hurt the intervention measures have placed upon people in the Northern Territory. To subject people already experiencing disadvantage to further punitive measures is a violation of these human rights principles and we wish to reinforce this point to the committee.

Michael Brull

Michael Brull is a columnist at New Matilda. He’s written for other publications including Fairfax, the Guardian, Crikey, Tracker and the Indigenous Law Bulletin.

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