Human Rights, where are they?
10 years of failed NT Intervention
Friday, 8 December 2017, Redfern Community Centre (Sydney)
Speeches from the event:
Greg Marks, International human rights law expert, specialising in Indigenous rights. Policy analyst, researcher and writer. Centre Associate, Indigenous Law Centre UNSW
Ashley Rose, Cammeraygal man, organiser Finance Sector Union of Australia, member of the ACTU Indigenous advisory committee
Thalia Anthony, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Core Member, SIC - Strengthening Indigenous Communities, UTS
Dr Thalia Anthony's expertise is in the areas of criminal law and procedure and Indigenous people and the law, with a particular specialisation in Indigenous criminalisation and Indigenous community justice mechanisms. Her research is grounded in legal history and understandings of the colonial legacy in legal institutions. ...
Arena Magazine - NTER Took the Children Away, by Thalia Anthony - 2017
The Intervention’s role in state-based child abuse.
... With the Intervention came an influx of federal and Northern Territory police into Aboriginal communities and greater law enforcement that was racially focused. ...
Over the ten years since the Intervention, youth detention rates have more than doubled, and they have increased almost tenfold for female youth. The increase in the number of Aboriginal children in the NT criminal justice system has surpassed the increase in all other Australian jurisdictions, and Aboriginal children constitute 97 per cent of the NT youth detention population. This has been matched by unparalleled growth rates in child protection interventions in Aboriginal families....
The Northern Territory has also become the only jurisdiction where it is mandatory for everyone in the community to report suspected child mistreatment. Many notifications to child welfare are unsubstantiated, but they nonetheless trigger government encroachment on Aboriginal families and children. Most substantiations are based on perceptions of neglect, including the child’s ‘failure to thrive’ (gain weight) due to poverty. Aboriginal children taken from their immediate family are often placed outside of their community. Over one-fifth are placed in a residential institution rather than with a family. ...
Witnesses pointed to the dramatic increase in the criminalisation of youth for violating traffic regulations since 2007, such as driving while unlicensed and driving unregistered vehicles, to demonstrate the impact of the Intervention....
The Royal Commission’s interim report, handed down in April 2017, described child protection as a ‘pathway’ to youth detention. The role of Territory Families, the department responsible for child welfare, has been focused on child removals (rather than family support), which breaks children’s connection to home, community and country and puts them on the radar of the criminal justice system. ...
The Intervention has not only increased the quantity of young people in detention but also contributed to the ‘moral decay’ in the treatment of children in institutions. Although the detail from the Royal Commission to date has focused on the cruelty in youth detention, there has been emerging evidence of such violence in child protection. ...
The assimilationist approaches of the Intervention and its related policies were replicated in youth detention. The Intervention measures are directed to removing Aboriginal people from country through reducing funding and services, acquiring Aboriginal land, and making it more difficult to practise culture on country, including by policing ceremonies on sacred sites, diluting bilingual education, abolishing self-governing Aboriginal councils, prescribing the functions of Aboriginal Night Patrols, and taking Aboriginal children out of the care of their families and communities. These policies were implemented with punitive force: if Aboriginal children missed school then their parents’ income would be completely state managed; if alcohol was found in a car then the car would be confiscated; and if communities refused to lease their land, their housing needs would not be met. ...
What is lost is a discussion about the abolition of youth detention, the cessation of Aboriginal children being taken away from Aboriginal families and communities, and a repealing of the Intervention’s current legislative guise in Stronger Futures that has impoverished, alienated and disengaged Aboriginal families. ...
Video 2 Sept 2015
Panel Discussion: “The Intervention - An Anthology” - Thalia Anthony
UTS Vice-Chancellor's Research Awards 2015 - Thalia Anthony
Australia's endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, announced recently, comes in the midst of a number of United Nations Committee criticisms on Australia's record on Indigenous rights. These criticisms point to Australia's failure to uphold Indigenous people's human rights and rights to equality and non-discrimination. The criticism has been directed primarily towards the Government's policy on the Northern Territory intervention. Despite such criticism, the Government has maintained its stance on the intervention. Is the endorsement of the Declaration, then, simply another act of symbolism or will it pave the way for change? ...
Publications by Thalia Anthony
Addressing the “crime problem’’ of the Northern Territory Intervention: alternate paths to regulating minor driving offences in remote Indigenous communities
Dr Thalia Anthony - Dr Harry Blagg
Report to the Criminology Research Advisory Council - June 2012
Dr Jeff McMullen AM, Journalist, author, film maker
Where are the Human Rights?
Jeff McMullen’s address to the Aboriginal Support Group for Manly Warringah Pittwater at Mona Vale Memorial Hall on 13th November 2017.
... Australian politicians have failed to create a Charter of Rights or a Constitutional protection of human rights for any Australian. ...
For a decade I have stated that the Northern Territory Intervention is the single most damaging assault on Aboriginal people since the Stolen Generations policy. Both political parties will be shamed in history for permitting this grievous abandonment of the protection of the Racial Discrimination Act. Remember on all three occasions when the RDA has been bypassed, it is Indigenous people who have lost this protection. Let me repeat, there are no human rights for Indigenous Australians.
Renaming the Howard Intervention’s suffocating mix of control, discrimination and assimilation as Labor’s Stronger Futures Legislation is another dishonest tactic. The truth is that after the five-year emergency phase of the Intervention and the faux reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act, another decade of controls continues to discriminate and damage the human rights of these people living in terrible poverty. The evidence gathered by a large coalition of NGOs, the Government’s own ABS statistics and even the Prime Minister’s annual report on the Close the Gap strategy confirm my own assessment over this decade. The abuse and neglect of Aboriginal children, suicide and self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse, incarceration and all of the other metrics of pain and punishment show the Intervention is an on-going human disaster. ...
The glaring weakness at the heart of the political system, the lack of human rights protection, permits all of these grave injustices towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It confounds all efforts to recognise the legitimate rights of the First Peoples which, viewed with impartiality, stand in stark contrast to the questionable political legitimacy of Australia’s ‘House of Discards’.
The Turnbull Government’s contemptuous rejection of serious proposals for reform of an anachronistic Constitution deeply stained by racism and ignorance is a smokescreen for the brutal truth. Australian Government wants to control and assimilate the First People, exploit their lands and waters, marginalise them to the far fringe of political life and complete the project of dispossession. ..
Australia’s political unwillingness to recognise the sovereign-to-sovereign relationship with our First Peoples through a Treaty creates our 21st Century reality.
Our First Peoples, overwhelmingly remain dispossessed of their human rights, deeply disadvantaged, disempowered in all of the political decision-making that impacts their lives and discriminated against in so many tragic ways. As a consequence, our modern Australian nation is weakened, standing shakily on hollow legal foundations as Professor Mick Dodson once put it. This holds us back from genuine equality and from embracing the full strength of the world’s most ancient multicultural diversity. It holds us back from realising the full strength and priceless value of custodianship, which could guide many different people from different places to co-exist with respect and a unified, long term vision of how to preserve the land for future generations. A Treaty, you see, is about the common good.
Treaty is not about separation, superiority of any culture or about white or black supremacy in terms of power. Indeed it was such racist thinking that created the space between us in the first place, an exclusion of the First People that has lasted for almost two and a half centuries. Treaty is simply one of the best legal options, based on global evidence, to recognize the rights of First Peoples on the road to making things better.
Of all British Commonwealth nations with First People, Australia stands alone with a racist Constitution that permits discrimination and in the absence of a Treaty historic injustices continue unchecked. What a contrast to other democracies with First Nations. ...
This leads me to my major proposal. To end the continuing tragedy of the poverty and widespread inequality endured by our First People in their own land, a national Treaty should recognise Indigenous law and custom, immediately settle the remaining Native Title claims stuck in the courts and also guarantee Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the sub-surface mineral rights to the wealth of their lands. My logic is that the depths of poverty, welfare dependence, chronic illness, housing shortages, unemployment, over-incarceration and suicide impacting so many of Australia’s 750,000 Indigenous people, can only be overcome through a transformational shift of some of the bounty of this land that is rightfully theirs. Currently there are vast tracts of Commonwealth land that can be acquired by State Governments and sold off as they please. Although Indigenous people are viewed in Australian law as having title to about 30% of the landmass, in most cases they are not able to benefit through just compensation for the mining and other uses of their land and waters. Instead of another century of welfare dependency and poverty we need a transformational Treaty that empowers the First People and establishes a democratically elected body that represents their interests, advises Governments and works on a collaborative plan for a brighter future. ....
After the Turnbull Government’s rejection of the Indigenous Voice proposal, the joint parliamentary committee will pick up the pieces after a decade or more of constitutional arm-wrestling. It pains me to say this, but I hope these MPs have better luck than the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. In their 2016 report on the ongoing disaster of the Intervention policies dressed up as the Stronger Futures legislation, the Joint Committee on Human Rights found what I have shared with you tonight, namely that the blanket application of discriminatory policies, the lack of genuine consultation including provision of translators and the lack of any ‘Voice’ or review mechanisms for Aboriginal people clearly puts Australia in breach of human rights. As Rosalie Kunoth-Monks from Utopia might say, this is the real problem. ...