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Thursday, 28 June 2012
Page: 4894


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (19:13): The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory bills before the Senate this evening are of serious concern to me and to all members of the Democratic Labor Party. Over the past couple of months, I have received a large amount of correspondence from my constituents and from members of the wider community right across Australia with regard to this legislation. They share my concerns about the legislation, not least of which is the concern derived from the fact that this legislation was rushed through the other place without giving members an adequate opportunity to debate it.

I would like to bring the Senate's attention to the fact that there were only nine sitting days between the legislation being brought before the parliament and its third reading, only one of which was occupied with debate. I am also concerned that members failed to properly listen to constituents. The fact that the Community Affairs Legislation Committee released its report on 14 March this year, two weeks after the bill passed the lower house, speaks volumes of the complete disregard the government has had for addressing constituent concerns within the legislation.

Those in Australia who will be affected by this bill deserve to have it debated to its full extent. The government is attempting to offer a haphazard, bandaid solution in response to only some of the community's concerns. As a senator for the Democratic Labor Party, I believe very strongly in the importance of democracy. I think the distribution of power across different tiers of government is very important in addressing the problems within our communities. It may come as a surprise to many in this place and in the other place that problems faced by Australian communities are rarely solved by the long arm of the nation's capital. I believe that this kind of legislation would be much better if it were drafted, consulted and implemented at a community level, not a federal one.

For this place to be prepared to inflict such punitive measures on the communities of the Northern Territory, especially considering the fact that the majority of us are not elected by those whom this legislation will be affecting, is unfair and unjust. I quote the submission by the Public Health Association of Australia, which states:

It is the view of the PHAA that there is never a case for universal, compulsory income management, for moral, ethical, and legal reasons and for reasons of cost (particularly, social and health costs). In addition to undermining autonomy and self-determination, which are pre-requisites for good health and wellbeing, universal compulsory income management violates Australia's human rights commitments and the principles of citizenship.

Instead of imposing penalties from afar we should assist the Northern Territory government in their endeavours to work with local communities to adopt workable and plausible solutions to the problems facing the Aboriginal communities. It has been reported that the total cost of the intervention so far has exceeded $1 billion. The amount of money being spent to solve the problems facing these Australian communities is not the issue; it is the way it is spent that is of concern. If it is to be spent in an effective way, let's take on board the solutions offered by those facing the problems within these communities. The submission of the Darwin Aboriginal Rights Coalition states:

We call on the government to withdraw the bills in their entirety, revisit the many suggestions put forward by Aboriginal people, and open a genuine dialogue with communities—a dialogue that starts from the principles that Aboriginal people have a right to make the fundamental decisions that affect their lives, that solutions must be tailored to individual communities on the basis of their particular circumstances, and that Aboriginal law and culture will be respected and protected.

We know the communities in the Northern Territory want to address the unsatisfactory circumstances affecting them as much as we do. We know through our inquiries that these communities have plans and ideas in place to tackle these problems. It is now up to us to empower these communities to address their circumstances on a much more local level.

It is not right to treat one section of the Australian community in a vastly different way to any other section. Many of the submissions that were lodged with the inquiry were particularly concerned with what appears to be a deliberate removal of the rights of Australian citizens in these remote communities. The submission by the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry summed up the concerns of many others by stating:

This legislation continues to cast Aboriginal people as unable to manage their own affairs. It further removes Aboriginal rights over land and continues to disempower and disenfranchise people through the use of punitive measures connected with alcohol management, income management and school attendance amongst others.

They go on to say:

The fact that the suicide rate has doubled in Aboriginal communities during the Intervention should not be dismissed. It speaks to the depths of despair that many in NT Aboriginal communities are feeling.

Top-down intervention in remote communities which are complex and rich in history and culture does not work. This legislation before the house is archaic and against the very principles that the Democratic Labor Party has stood for since it began. For this reason, I will be voting against the bills.