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Democratic process in tatters

Michele Harris                                  -                                     Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Democratic process in tatters

Imagine a Government that wishes to pass a package of controversial legislation, such as the Stronger Futures legislation. It calls for a Senate Inquiry as a way of showing that a democratic process will be followed, but once the actual process starts realises that its proposed legislation is being widely slammed by those who will be mostly affected by it.

Now real democracy would demand that once the Senate Committee reports back to Government, some re-examination of that evidence may lead to changes. This is logical and presumably this is why governments call for Senate Inquiries, or this is what some of us may believe.

Realistically one should assume nothing. We live in an era of promises, core promises, broken promises and in this instance no promises at all, simply a smoke and mirrors process.

The Senate Committee travelled to Hermannsburg , Alice Springs, Maningrida and Darwin to take evidence from those people who have been affected by five years of the NTER legislation, or Intervention as it is more often referred to. The newly proposed Stronger Futures legislation generally extends much of what has taken placed for a further 10 years, with a few alarming additions.

The Senate Hearings were the opportunity Aboriginal people were looking for. Believing their views would be taken into account, many Aboriginal people travelled long distances to meet with the Senators to give their evidence as to the harm that had been done to them by the Intervention, and to reject this new legislation.

Well, yes, quite a dilemma for Government as they had clearly misjudged the mood of the people. That, of course, is exactly what the Senate Inquiry is meant to determine.

The Senate Committee returned to Canberra last weekend, just in time for the leadership vote on the Monday which was exactly where most parliamentarians were focused. Few would have been focusing on the Stronger Futures legislation and why would they since there would be more than another two weeks before the Senate Report was due to be provided to Government?

Who would have guessed that Jenny Macklin would have been so morally lacking as to attempt to override the Senate Inquiry findings which she had asked for by bringing in an early vote before anyone had the chance to learn of the Inquiry findings? Democratic process overboard and a preparedness to show just how little the views of Aboriginal people are to this Government.

We understand very few were in the Chamber when the ‘debate' took place, but when the bells rang, our politicians dutifully came along to give their vote and support their party, even those who had earlier admitted they hadn't read the legislation and were awaiting the Senate Report.

This unsavoury process shows just how little Government cares about the views of Aboriginal people or about working in partnership with NT Aboriginal leaders. In addition to this we have a government which seeks to perpetuate already failed policy, by passing racist legislation which breaches our commitment to a number of UN Conventions and brings into question Australia's commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Overall, the loss is far greater. It is a loss of democratic processes that will further reduce trust in Government. This is an incident that we will be able to look back upon for many years, where a government openly betrays Aboriginal people by calling for their evidence and then decides not to consider it because they don't like what they will hear. Pathetic!

And so, Senators, where does this leave you? Your report will be released on 13 March. Senator Scullion has already cast grave doubt over the value of the consultations that were held between Government and Aboriginal people. You have heard over and over again, face to face, that the legislation is unacceptable to very many Aboriginal people living in prescribed communities. You know that eminent legal minds have expressed the belief that the proposed legislation will breach the Racial Discrimination Act. So where does this leave you?

The only hope for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory is that the Senate will retain some integrity when the Bills eventually come before it.


Reproduced with the kind permission of Michele Harris.

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