Consultation in name only - report calls for withdrawal of Stronger Futures bills

In summary: 
  • Consultation for the Government's Stronger Futures legislation was flawed and should be started over according to a new report by a former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and UTS researchers
  • The report recommends that both the legislation and the Northern Territory Emergency Response laws should be withdrawn pending a new consultation process

The Federal Government cannot claim it has properly consulted Aboriginal communities about extending and expanding controls first enacted in the Northern Territory Intervention according to a newly released report.

Listening but Not Hearing, prepared by former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia Professor Alastair Nicholson and researchers from UTS's Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, asserts that consultation for the Stronger Futures bills now before parliament was no more than "testing a fait accompli."

"The Government's current policies have failed and they will continue to fail for so long as it continues to determine policies without the direct involvement of Aboriginal people in the decision-making process," Professor Nicholson said.

"As so many have pointed out, until Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are allowed to gain ownership over their future, Government will fail to improve their overall circumstances and they will remain second-class citizens of this country.

"Consultation on the legislation framework started with the government draft and nothing said in the consultation process altered the original intentions. This shows that the process was irrelevant as it did not influence the Government's decisions at all.

"We do believe that the Government can do better. We challenge it to do better, to develop policy that works, not policy that gives effect to prejudice.

"The Government must develop a process in accordance with international law, and which will produce effective policy that has a chance of achieving the desired outcomes."

The report recommends that the legislation and the Northern Territory Emergency Response laws should be withdrawn pending a new consultation process.

It says, "Since its rebranding as Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory, the Government has abandoned any pretence that the suite of comprehensive and invasive measures of the Intervention is related to child protection. Instead, the measures seek to control every aspect of Aboriginal people's lives, ostensibly to obtain benefit for them, although that benefit is undefined.

"Neither the laws, nor the policy papers, were translated into Aboriginal languages. Many of those most violently affected by these laws are unable to read the words of the Acts, let alone interpret the effect of the laws.

"What needs to happen is a new process of consultation. The process should be designed with the input of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

"The legislation that has been developed can be part of the discussion – it is clearly the Government's view that such legislation represents the way forward – but the consultation process must be broader than those policies and those areas of interest.

"Our commitment is to policy that respects self-determination and facilitates the right of Aboriginal people to live well resourced lives on country, with respect for their culture, language and lifeways. The consultation process needs to reflect this."

Listening but Not Hearing was launched last week in Melbourne by former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and introduced by Professor Nicholson. The Jumbunna research team was Nicole Watson, Craig Longman, Alison Vivian, Larissa Behrendt, Paddy Gibson, Terry Priest, Jason De Santolo and Eva Cox.

Photo caption: From the left, Former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ian Viner, retired Victorian Supreme Court judge Frank Vincent, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, Jumbunna researcher Nicole Watson and Professor Alastair Nicholson at the Listening but Not Hearing launch. Picture by Pia Pagotto