Unbeknown to most citizens, a series of powerful, rights-stripping bills are being passed through Australian Federal parliament in the coming weeks, hoping to draw as little attention as possible. These bills are called Stronger Futures legislation, a series of 10-year long federal and state laws detailing mandatory programs the Australian Government will use to control your income, limit your fortnightly salary and dictate what exact shopping items you must buy in order to continue to receive Centrelink (Social Security) payments.
Not only that, the bills seek to dictate how your children should be educated, in what school, and failing that, Low Income payments will be indefinitely withheld from families.
Do I have your attention? Are you a little surprised or concerned you haven’t heard of this until now? Good. You should be concerned… Even though these laws might not affect you, because are not Aboriginal.
Australia last week was again damned and censured severely by both Amnesty International and speakers at the United Nations for our abysmal treatment of not only genuine refugees but our own indigenous fellow citizens. (Source: http://www.amnesty.org.au/report/comments_2012/28734/) You would think that by 2012 we had matured to a point where the kind of ignorance and communist-like control that had former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formerly apologise on behalf of the nation, would be a thing of the past.
Australians foolishly like to think they live in a forward-thinking country where democracy prevails and human rights are actually upheld so that every Australian Citizen receives equality.
But no. As Western Nations go, Australia is utterly pathetic at practicing what they preach in the election pulpits. Other countries would do well to learn from Australia on how not to constrain and rail-road human rights.
The Stronger Futures bills are an extension of a highly discriminatory, continually debated act called the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act 2007 (known colloquially as The Intervention), and the few people who are educated on these bills – not just in Australia, but all around the world – are very concerned at the even higher extent of blatant racial discrimination about to be shackled upon families for another decade.
If passed, some of the discriminatory measures that would be introduced include:
- Total suspension of social security payments for parents whose children do not attend school regularly – for any reason
- Up to six months imprisonment for breaching alcohol bans in communities
- A continued ban on the use of Indigenous Customary Law in bail and sentencing decisions
- Mandatory Income Management Programs to be extended to five new regions
Let’s dissect these a bit. After all, on first read of that list, you may think some of these are actually reasonable… as long as they don’t apply to you personally.
First point: Suspension of social security payments for parents whose children do not attend school regularly
Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM from such affected Aboriginal communities puts it well:
“There is a reason that children don’t go to school and it is not because Aboriginal parents are lazy or selfish or bad parents. It is because the government schools in our communities are dominated by mainstream culture and systems. These schools are not properly bilingual or bi-cultural and are subsequently, foreign places set up for the repeated failure and teasing of students.”
The Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory have reported a severe lack of educational services in many parts of the region:
- Just under 95 per cent of Indigenous communities in the Territory have no preschool located closer than 50km away.
- Just under 56 per cent have no secondary school located closer than 50km away.
- And 27 per cent have no primary school located closer than 50kms away.
SOURCE: Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory (2007), ‘Submission to the Inquiry into the Northern Territory National Emergency response Bill 2007 and Related Bills’ - Submission 125 – page 18
There is also an appalling lack of adequately trained, culturally aware teachers, and a high turnover of staff in remote community schools.
Clearly, the Western education “solution” is not working at all. Some areas are not even at second world standards. Is a better solution then, to set up and recognise a form of indigenous alternative education and hand that responsibility and funding wholly to the indigenous community councils? Such a move requires White Australia to exercise something called trust and faith, recognising that Aborigines are indeed capable of self governance, something we officially, very clearly, do not recognise.
At the very least, if a family – white or indigenous – falls outside the 50km zone from schooling facilities, there should be exemptions to the Stronger Futures punishments and these families should still get their welfare payments.
Imprisonment for breaching alcohol bans
We won’t spend much time on this one. Alcohol and drug use is a problem in every community, and if anything these harsh penalties should be adopted and policed elsewhere, not just in indigenous communities of the Northern Territory. Melbourne is the number one alcohol-fuelled crime city in Australia and yet we continue to see our Aboriginal counterparts as the worst substance abusers.
“Income management”, the friendly way of saying the government will dictate what groceries you buy with your money
What’s this all about? Point four of the Stronger Future legislation states that income management programs are to be extended to five new regions:
“Under the income management clauses of the Stronger Futures legislation, a percentage of an individual’s welfare payment is quarantined for use in purchasing particular goods and services (defined as ‘priority needs’) such as food and housing materials. In order to access money that has been placed into income management accounts, people may be issued with food or goods vouchers, or receive other payments or credits for use in purchasing goods and services. Excluded goods or services cannot be purchased with the funds.”
Truthfully, as an Australian, I cannot believe the above statement comes from our government. And if you think it’s only Aboriginals who are having such laws forced down their throats, think again. The Stronger Futures Call To Action published by Uniting Justice states:
:These five new regions are primarily non-Indigenous. This decision was made by the Government in an attempt to circumvent the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)”
because the Australian Government knows damn well that we are currently blacklisted by a huge number of international human rights bodies as among the biggest hypocrites in the world. In extending to these five regions, the government seems to be exercising a loophole to get the legislation deemed “race neutral” by humanitarian organisations.
Importantly, the income management measures that were introduced during the Intervention, (those that impacted Indigenous communities) remain in place - despite ongoing international criticism.
The blanket application of income management means that individuals who are not responsible for the care of children, do not gamble and do not abuse alcohol or other substances, still have their income managed. It’s like saying that these kinds of responsible individuals existing in indigenous regions are a fairy-tales.
“The irony of the income management system is that it fosters a passive system of policy development and service delivery while at the same time criticising Indigenous people for being passive recipients of government services. Implementation of a system that divests Aboriginal people of any power to make choices to govern their own financial affairs is severely out of step with principles of both self-determination, and self-responsibility.” – Tom Calma, Former ATSI Commissioner
Stronger Futures is constitutional freedom breaching at its purest form, very much a communist sort of legislation. I am embarrassed a government I voted for would do such a thing.
Can you imagine if such income quarantines were on the election issues to be adopted into say, Sydney’s western suburbs? There would be riots. The fact that this is happening so far away from capital cities and so poorly publicized helps perpetrate the incorrect message to white-collar workers like you and I that Aboriginals obviously need our help, that the government is doing this out of desperation. What bullshit. The truth is that the government is not trying.
A real solution?
The way forward is this: families and communities must be empowered to take control of their lives and their futures, rather than being singled out by harsh penalties that serve only to exacerbate the economic injustices that drive much of the disadvantage faced by Indigenous people. It also means people like you and I saying enough is enough: enough of the international embarrassment of living in a country where racism is continually conducted by our own governing bodies. Enough of the sheer ignorance of other Australians who somehow think indigenous communities have equal access and equal rights “if they want”. Enough poorly thought, blanket policies dreamt up by poor or no research, several thousand miles away by Senators. They have not had any success for the past decade and will not have any success in the next.
If you would like to do something to respond to the discrimination the Australian government is about to extend for the next 10 years, you do not even have to be an Australian. You can do it for pure human rights reasons. Send an email, or pick up the phone and make your voice heard.
Here’s the numbers you need:
- Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard: http://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm or phone 03 9742 5800
- Senator email addresses: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Senators
- Senator phone numbers:
- Senator Carr ALP (03) 9639 2798
- Senator Collins ALP (03) 9890 7022
- Steven Conroy ALP (03) 9391 4952
- Senator Kroger Lib (03) 9888 0091
- Senator Madigan DLP (03) 53312321
- Senator Marshall ALP (03) 9348 9699
- Senator Ronaldson Lib (03) 9650 0255
- Senator Ryan Lib (03) 9326 1088
- Senator McKenzie Nat (03) 5441 4251
- Senator Fifield Lib (03) 9584 2455
- Senator Feeney ALP (03) 9384 6077
Sources & Related articles
- Stronger Futures Call To Action | UnitingJustice.org.au
- Inquiry into the Stronger Futures in the NT Legislative Package | UnitingJustice.org.au
- Stronger Futures laws slammed at UN (news.theage.com.au)
- Stronger Futures laws slammed at UN (news.smh.com.au)
- Re-imagining reconciliation: where to next? (crikey.com.au)
- Call for NT intervention policy to face human rights test (smh.com.au)
- The Stronger Futures Policy should we have a similar Policy for Cape York Communities – more than 443 million dollars to strengthen the safety and encourage the well-being of Aboriginal children, youth and families in the Northern Territory. This fundin (rajcairnsreport.wordpress.com)
- Stronger Futures continues dark era for Aborigines, says Amnesty (theage.com.au)
- Policy driving Indigenous from lands: Amnesty (abc.net.au)
- Fear tough laws may jail more Aborigines (smh.com.au)
- Prominent Aussies slam indigenous bill (news.smh.com.au)
- Call for NT intervention policy to face human rights test (theage.com.au)
- Indigenous party wants national service (abc.net.au)
- Brothels speak on Thomson, political party databases, News Int’s schmooze fest, retail blames Gillard (again), off key in Azerbaijan, Ken Cato designs (media.crikey.com.au)
- Day Two: Nawi – Exploring Australia’s Indigenous watercraft (anmm.wordpress.com)
- Early Discrimination of Aboriginal Australians (egrejeen.wordpress.com)
- Aboriginal leaders declare day of mourning (news.theage.com.au)
- Aboriginal leaders declare day of mourning (news.com.au)
- Aboriginal leaders declare day of mourning (news.smh.com.au)
- Day of mourning by Aboriginal leaders (bigpondnews.com)
- Aboriginal leaders call day of mourning (bigpondnews.com)
- Australia to decide whether or not to continue northern territory intervention (intercontinentalcry.org)
- Attempts to cut intervention time frame (news.com.au)