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Law Council on NT Emergency Laws

This is the Law Council's Media Release from yesterday. See also The dissident view on Howard's martial law plan and Recommendations of the Sacred Children report

Parliament Should Carefully Consider NT Emergency Plan Laws

The Law Council is urging all Parliamentarians to carefully consider the Government’s NT Emergency Plan package of legislative measures when it is introduced into the Parliament later today.

Law Council President Tim Bugg criticised Minister Mal Brough’s proposal to ram the legislation through the House of Representatives today and the Minister’s expressed intention to conclude Senate debates by week’s end.

“While no doubt suited to the Government’s electoral timetable, the ultra-speedy passage of these Bills is also clearly designed to avoid public scrutiny not just from Aboriginal communities but also from other community bodies with legitimate concerns about the Government’s proposals,” Mr Bugg said.

“We are advised that there has been very little meaningful consultation or partnership with the communities the Government claims it wants to assist. Nor, because of Government secrecy, is the broader community much wiser about what is currently either in or out of the plan,” he said.

“When one considers how long the Government sat on its hands in regards to this issue in the first place, its sudden desire to rush the legislation through Parliament seems even harder to fathom.”

The Law Council wrote to the Minister and the Prime Minister over a month ago expressing reservations about the plan as it then was. No reply has been received. Its concerns related to the proposed changes to the permit system, the proposed compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal townships, any move to limit courts’ discretions in sentencing and bail proceedings, compulsory medical examinations for Aboriginal children, the need for legal and interpreting services and other matters.

“Some of the plan’s elements have been drastically moderated since first announced and that has principally been due to the force of public criticism levelled at them. Much of that criticism has been constructive and has helped save the Government from its own rhetoric. But the Government still appears to see any critic as an enemy that needs to be demonised and Parliament as a rubber stamp. The arrogance of the Government is palpable,” Mr Bugg concluded.


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Govt. deprives 8000 people of work, dignity in remote NT

In what an Australian National University academic, Jon Altman, has called the "single most destructive decision in indigenous affairs policy" he had witnessed in 30 years of research, the Government announced the abolition of the Community Development Employment Projects scheme in the Northern Territory.

The program's death in the Territory will deprive about 8000 people, mostly in remote and very remote regions, of work, income and dignity. And it's not the abstruse forces of capitalism to blame here, but the Government..............

Dismantling the 30-year-old scheme that was set up by the Fraser government is part of the Howard Government's intervention in territory communities to protect children from abuse.

It will turn many workers into unemployment statistics, rob communities of vital services, create havoc and potentially deal the death blow to 50 Aboriginal organisations.............

So the Government is shutting a pretty successful program and taking money and control from Aboriginal organisations to give to non-indigenous organisations. This has little to do with improving employment or skills.

The real reason for the abolition of the scheme is that it is the only way the Government can get control of the money paid to such workers. Ironically, it must convert workers to welfare recipients and replace their wage with an unemployment benefit before it can legally quarantine their money to ensure it is spent on children not alcohol.

Regardless of whether the programs are effective, or the workers are model parents, the Government is moving against them. Will this sledgehammer approach deliver children better lives? We can hope. If it doesn't, the losses will be incalculable.

Howard is risking the destruction of many remote aboriginal communities. He is shutting down successful programs so he can get control of money paid to workers. This will cause more despair and loss of dignity. It is no way to prevent child abuse. Taking control away from aboriginals and giving it to white men in Canberra is a recipe for disaster.

Heffernan makes false accusations and should be sacked!

Bill Heffernan Howard's loyal Senate mate who can't stay out of trouble any more than he can resist the limelight. Last week, during a Senate debate on government legislation to legalise its enforced martial law in 70 remote Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory, Heffernan made one of his rare Senate speeches. At one point he said this, in supporting what the Government was doing:

"I will take the Senate on my journeys over the last year or two around the bush … Last September I went to Wadeye [near Darwin] and I could not believe it … I went to Yuendumu [in Central Australia] and discovered within 20 minutes who was running the drugs at the school. I went to Mount Theo, which is the removal camp for the petrol sniffers. I discovered that one of the key managers was having sex with all the kids.

"When I came back to Canberra, I rang the policeman at Yuendumu and said I had been there for a day and described all these dreadful bloody things that were going on there. I said, 'What are you going to do about it?' He said, 'I just want to get out of here, Senator'."

Next day the Yuendumu community complained bitterly. Heffernan, it said, had not been to Yuendumu since 2001. He had never raised the issues with anyone. His accusations were false. "We are distressed the senator could make such damning, unsubstantiated comments under parliamentary privilege," six people who run the Mount Theo-Yuendumu program said in a statement. "The accusations are even more offensive in light of the fact that on Thursday, August 16, Mount Theo's three founders will receive Order of Australia medals for their work with young petrol sniffers …

"False accusations of such an inflammatory nature cast an undeserved cloud over 13 years of extraordinary community commitment to young Waripiri people. Mount Theo calls for an apology from Senator Heffernan."

Northern Territory police announced in Darwin this week they wanted to talk to Heffernan about his claims. They knew nothing of them, they said.

False accusations made by Bill Heffernan are a disgrace to the Australian Senate. Howard and his mates show their disdain for the truth. If Howard had any guts he would call for Heffernan's resignation.

Hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from indigenous Australia

Hundreds of millions of dollars the federal government claimed to have spent on indigenous affairs has either never been spent, has been used to benefit all Australians or has gone towards opposing native title claims.

Since 2000 at least $30 million the government promoted as being for Aborigines was used to oppose indigenous native title or compensation claims, Fairfax newspapers report.

No wonder indigenous communities are in trouble, its hard to believe that the Howard government has used money earmarked for indigenous affairs to oppose native title claims. We can't trust the federal government on indigenous affairs. 

When the river runs dry

John, while I cannot find the reference now I read of questions also being asked as to what happens to the millions earned by the Central and Northern Land Council investments. As one indigenous person asked: Where does all that bloody money go?

Seems the indigenous people at the grass roots level draw the short straw all the time. I wrote on another thread that if all the money that had been allocated over the past three decades, and all the money the Land Councils had access to, was actually spent on indigenous communities, no indigenous person would be living in poverty or without education, housing and health services.

It seems to me the river of money is like the water in the Darling. Little ever gets to anyone downstream. A rather sorry state of affairs all round.

Time to listen to the Prophets

Prophets point us towards possibilities that we can grasp hold of today, if we really want to. They offer an honest critique of the world as it is — a critique that often strips away the comfortable veneers we use to avoid facing the truth.

For instance, when we use the rhetoric of nationalism, pride, or even protection of the innocent to wage war, we are usually covering up the fact that it is fear, distrust, greed or protection of unfair advantage that is our true motive.

True prophets are ignored or even rejected when they speak up. But we need to listen carefully, to hear where prophets might be speaking to us now.

Among indigenous people, I am hearing many anxious voices. They have been calling for years for urgent action to tackle the many problems that beset their communities, but they want to be properly consulted.

They do not want to be treated as objects in a government plan. Being treated that way in the past is what lies at the heart of their problems.

But who was listening to them in the undemocratic and unseemly haste to force through 500 pages of legislation that affects them directly? These indigenous voices are warning us of the real dangers of behaving in this way, and we need to treat them seriously.

I call these voices "prophetic" because they brave unpopularity to critique a powerful Government's decisions and, more importantly, they disturb us in our complacency. If we listen, they will generate in us — as do all authentic prophetic voices — a restlessness for a better world in the here and now.

That is what lies at the heart of the prophetic voice — the capacity to bring a vision of a better future world actually within our grasp.

Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, is right: we need these prophetic voices. In its own way Webdiary is one of these voices.

We need to make sure all voices are heard.

High Court would reject federal takeover

Greens Senator Bob Brown has released legal advice saying that the High Court would reject the Federal Government legislation for the intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities.

The package of bills provide for the Government to take over communities for five years in a bid to tackle child abuse.

The bills say that reasonable compensation would be paid, but Senator Brown says he has advice from Melbourne barrister Brian Walters SC that the compensation is different from just terms compensation that is required in the constitution.

Senator Brown says it would be struck down by the High Court.

"It is a racist and illegal takeover of land against the nation's constitution,"

The High Court may reject the takeover of aboriginal land. Howard's heavy hand may be slapped. The money that will be wasted in legal battles should have been spent on the children. We should be working with the indigenous people, not trying to force our way onto them. This what the report recommended and this is just what Howard has ignored.

Howard's takeover must comply with Racial Discrimination Act

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) will urge the committee to make the Indigenous intervention bills comply with the Racial Discrimination Act.

Central Land Council (CLC) director David Ross will also call on for the Racial Discrimination Act to apply to the bills.

"It's quite horrifying the whole thing and the more we look at it, the more horrifying it gets," he said.

He will argue the Commonwealth does not need to take over the communities.

"This thing that's called a five-year lease - no such thing as a a lease - it's compulsory acquisition for a five-year time period," he said.

"It gives total control to the Minister as to who can come and go, who can live there.

"It leaves no room for traditional owners to have any say as to what happens.

The Howard takeover of Aboriginal communities doesn't comply with the Racial Discrimination Act. What is good for one part of Australia should be good for all of Australia. The only way we can make Howard and his cronies treat the aboriginal population with the dignity they deserve is to make sure that the government henchmen cannot discriminate against aboriginals.

Brough justice

After watching that shameful minister on Lateline this week, I fervently hope you are right, Martin Gifford!

Let's pray two things.

That Labor can get up, and that it does do the job the Howardists have recklessly abdicated responsibility for, after they sought this out so earnestly, imploring of the Australian public the privilege of doing the job and purportedly in the public interest rather than their own.

Top Down Management

The Chief Minister wrote to the Prime Minister about aboriginal issues about a year ago offering a plan of action. However, it was ignored. Now we have the Federal Government moving in with no experience in dealing with social issues. There was no consultation with clinical staff before they took their action. They scared the communities they were suggesting they were trying to help; really starting from the back foot.

If there was a real humanitarian concern the Federal Government would have consulted widely and listened carefully with the people, leaders, and the NT administration.

The current ad hoc management style displayed by the Coalition make them a scary proposition for the next three years.

Attacking the States won't deliver victory to Howard

Will Howard's attack on the states and focussing on key electorates win him the election? I think it looks too transparent and desperate.

With interest rates back at 1996 levels, and the issues of Iraq, AWB, and IR not in the government's favour, and the security issue nullified, and Labor now with a credible leader, I think Howard cannot win.

The main scare campaign is that Howard never warned you about his radical IR changes last election, so if you vote for him this time you are giving him a mandate to do what he likes. And there's even the audiotape of Nick Minchen telling the chamber of commerce that even more IR changes are needed. And there are Costello's negative Howard quotes from the recent biography.

The Libs are going down this time.

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Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner