‘RACIST’ BILL PASSES IN SILENCE
In the wee hours of an icy winter’s morning in Canberra, many of us slept as a bill called Stronger Futures passed through the Senate.
Most of us remain ignorant of the nicely named package of legislation targeted at closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians that was voted upon at 2am in the tired, cold chambers of the Australian Senate.
Photograph via Tracker.org.au.
Granted, indigenous affairs are complex and their discourse doesn’t fit into a neat little two to three-minute spot on television or a few hundred words of editorial, and that is especially the case for this bill.
Stronger Futures was designed to replace the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act.
Many of us would remember back in 2007 when the NTER was implemented in response to a report entitled Little Children Are Sacred which found Aboriginal child sexual abuse was rampart throughout the Northern Territory due to poor health, alcohol, drug abuse, gambling, pornography, poor education, housing and general disempowerment.
The Act banned the consumption, possession or supply of alcohol in designated areas as well as placed filters on public computers to combat the spread of child pornography in an effort to decrease the number of sexual abuse cases.
The army was deployed. The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended. Signs that read “WARNING. PRESCRIBED AREA. NO LIQUOR. NO PORNOGRAPHY” were erected in many of the 73 targeted communities. New police stations were established.
And it all happened in the name of the protection of children.
The logic was that a stronger police presence would mean there could be more opportunities for vulnerable people to report crimes and ultimately that sexual abuse and alcohol-related violence would decrease.
Many have concluded that while something needed to be done in regards to alcohol-related violence and sexual abuse, the Intervention was too heavy handed.
The justification was initially rampant sexual abuse, but the language quickly changed to poverty and neglect. Since the dramatic events of 2007, there has been little inquiry from the wider public into its impacts.
This lack of scrutiny, I imagine, is what has resulted in the quiet passing of the new legislation.
Stronger Futures extends some aspects of the NTER for 10 years. It offers a softer face than the Intervention did. The Racial Discrimination Act has been reinstated and it is promised that the “disrespectful” signs will be taken down.
In fact, at first glance, the contents of the bill all seem quite reasonable.
The goals of getting more children into school, conducting more child health checks, improving housing and the like are reasonable and necessary pursuits. Yet the mechanisms to achieve these outcomes remain hotly contested.
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