According to Minister Jenny Macklin, the new Intervention legislation would restore the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), fulfilling a key Labor’s election promise. It’s a lie.
Submissions to the Senate enquiry, including the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report, have revealed that Aboriginal people will not be able to use the RDA to challenge the Intervention.
Without inserting a specific clause in the new laws stipulating they are subject to the RDA, there is no legal basis for any challenge.
The new legislation simply brands racist Intervention laws as “Special Measures” under the RDA. “Special Measures” are supposed to benefit a particular racial or ethnic group. Although there is no such benefit in the Intervention, without the laws being subject to the RDA, the measures cannot be challenged.
The draconian powers of the Government Business Managers over communities, compulsory 5-year leases over Aboriginal township land, blanket bans on alcohol and pornography—all will remain in place.
In his final report, released on February 24, James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, again labelled the Intervention “racist”. Australia has been called to formally face this charge at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva this September.
Welfare quarantine still racist
Labor has tried to cover the explicit racism of Intervention by providing powers to extend income management to non-Aboriginal welfare recipients. But there will be exemptions for the elderly and disabled. However, the Liberals are refusing to pass the new laws, arguing that they would “soften” the welfare quarantine.
During Senate Inquiry hearings in Alice Springs, Labor Senator Trish Crossin assured angry Aboriginal pensioners that under the new system they would receive their entitlements in cash. In practice, Income Management would hardly change.
Centrelink would still determine whether to let NT Aboriginal pensioners off Income Management and has the power to declare people “vulnerable” and keep them quarantined. They can offer bribes of up to $500 a year to keep people on Income Management. Many Aboriginal pensioners will have to wait until July 2011 before they can even apply for exemption.
In contrast to the ongoing impact on Aboriginal people, Labor has given no indication that Income Management will actually be imposed anywhere else in Australia. Originally, the quarantine was to roll out across the NT in July. But at recent Senate Inquiry hearings, Labor Senators only referred to applying Income Management to specific areas such as Palmerston, a suburb 30 kms from Darwin.
Anywhere in the NT, the burden will fall overwhelmingly on Aboriginal people. In Central Australia, Indigenous unemployment is more than 70 per cent while it is only 4 per cent for the general population.
The Greens’ opposition to the laws might mean that the laws will never be passed. The Greens have provided useful criticism, but they have been too focussed on the “national roll-out” aspect of the new laws and warning that Labor is pushing for the most draconian changes to social security in Australia’s history.
National expansion of Income Management would be a disaster for any poor, working-class suburb. But Labor will not be considering areas outside the NT until after a review in 2012.
In reality, the laws are a cover for Labor to continue the racism as usual for Aboriginal people in the NT.
The anti-Intervention campaigns needs to get the word out that whether or not the laws are passed, Labor is not re-instating the RDA. That fact alone damns the Rudd government and the Intervention.
By Paddy Gibson