Macklin’s whitewash: special measures and the RDA

The suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA), stands as a blatant testament to the racism of the NT Intervention.
Minister Jenny Macklin had made commitments Labor would reinstate the RDA in October, including to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The destructive failure of the policy is clear. A government report quietly released last month showed that since the Intervention, reports of domestic violence have shot up 61 per cent, substance abuse was up 77 per cent and 13 per cent more infants were hospitalised for malnutrition.
Macklin had hoped that reinstatement of the RDA would help alleviate mounting pressure. But it has created a severe headache for her government.
Labor has put the Intervention at the centre of its Aboriginal policy, renaming it “Closing the Gap NT”. Some minor changes have been mooted, like the potential opportunity to apply for exemption from the blanket welfare quarantine.
But Macklin has been insistent that, even with the RDA, the entire suite of controls will remain.
The RDA allows for “special measures”, laws designed for the benefit of particular racial groups. Case law stipulates that “special measures” need to have been developed in consultation with affected groups. The government has initiated a host of meeting with communities to try and cast Intervention controls as“special measures”.
Earlier this year, leaked government documents advised against consultation on compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land, because communities would never consent.
On October 29, 40 Aboriginal people from Prescribed Areas under the NT Intervention, including anti-Intervention campaigner Barbara Shaw and Ampilatwatja walk-off spokesperson Richard Downs, released a statement slamming the “sham consultaions”: “We were asked which brand of compulsory Income Management we would like, what kind of alcohol controls or police powers. But communities have said many times we want an end to all racist control measures”
Anti-Intervention campaigners have obtained government records from many of these consultations – and they overwhelmingly demonstrate similar sentiments.
One report on a meeting held in Alice Springs for community leaders is unequivocal, “participants did not support either of the options presented [by government]… compulsory Income Management should not continue”.
In September groups as diverse as Oxfam, the Victorian Council of Churches and the Laynhapuy Homelands Association helped promote a petition that criticised the special measures approach. Amnesty International has also spoken out.
Macklin’s department is struggling to deal with these contradictions. Racism is not a special measure. That’s why the promise for October reinstatement was broken. Guarantees now are for the last weekend in November.
By Paddy Gibson


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