Listening but not hearing

Nicole Watson, photo by Joanne Saad

Nicole Watson, photo by Joanne Saad

In summary: 
  • Three UTS experts in Indigenous law reform will trace the history of the Northern Territory Intervention and consider its successes and failures in this month’s UTSpeaks public lecture 
  • The speakers will discuss the latest round of government consultations with Indigenous communities and question the degree to which consultation truly took place

On 21 June 2011, the Federal Government launched a discussion paper about what may replace the controversial Northern Territory Intervention, due to expire in August 2012. The paper identified eight priority areas to be discussed at community consultation meetings and resulted in proposed new legislation. The report Listening but not Hearing, released by Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning on the 8 March to national interest, questions the legitimacy of what ensued. 

Whether the government's Stronger Futures law reforms will aid Indigenous communities or further divide Australia’s people is the basis of the UTSpeaks public lecture ‘More intervention’ on 24 April

Senior Researcher in Jumbunna Nicole Watson found the consultation process questionable from the start. “Aboriginal Australians had no input into the discussion paper. It wasn’t translated into any Aboriginal languages and the consultation meetings only started a few days after the release of the discussion paper. A lot of people didn’t have time to read the report, let alone discuss it within their communities.

“In producing our report, initiated by Concerned Australians – a group supported by various churches, social justice groups and individuals across the country who care about human rights – we were lucky to have volunteers who transcribed the notes from nine of the meetings. The notes taken by the government have not been made publicly available.”

Within three months of the meetings’ conclusion, the government tabled the complex legislation, the Stronger Futures Bills. ‘More intervention’ will evaluate the Stronger Futures consultations, look at how they failed to meet Australia’s obligations to involve Indigenous Australians in the design and implementation, and break down some of the intricately detailed legislation. 

Watson explains, “Just understanding the bills took a member of our team several weeks, and he’s a trained lawyer, so the UTS public lecture will be a good opportunity to break it down for the public.

“It’s important to understand that in some of these communities, English is a second or third language. We’d have hoped if the Commonwealth was sincere, they’d translate the laws that are going to be imposed on people into appropriate languages. People may not be aware there are new criminal and civil penalties in this legislation. In addition, there’s a sunset clause attached to the Stronger Futures Bills of 10 years, so these measures are quite profound over a long duration.”

Watson, who will be speaking on the matter at the UTS public lecture with fellow Senior Researchers in Jumbunna, Craig Longman and Alison Vivian, says it’s critical Indigenous Australians are properly consulted. 

“The government has consistently claimed this legislation was informed by community consultation. The Aboriginal people who participated in the meetings had some really great ideas. For example, in the transcripts we have, people commonly talked about the importance of bilingual education. Yet that’s not mentioned at all in the legislation. It belies belief.”

UTSpeaks: More intervention will be held on the 24 April at 6.30pm in UTS University Hall.

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