Public Outcry Mounts against Stronger Futures

Posted on June 19, 2012

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Joint Press Conference, Monday 18 June, Senate Courtyard, 10.30am

The pressure of opposition against the proposed Stronger Futures legislation is reaching boiling point, as dozens more organisations join the ever-growing list of support for Aboriginal demands that the Stronger Futures legislation be withdrawn. The legislation is due to be voted on in the Senate this week. Leaders of wide ranging organisations including the Catholic Church, the Australian Lawyers Alliance and Quakers Australia will come together in Canberra to demonstrate the united front that has developed across the community sector against the legislation. They will join in solidarity with Aboriginal leaders from the NT George Gaymarani Pascoe and Barbara Shaw and other Aboriginal organisations including the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

Central to the group’s concerns is the widely held assertion that the legislation goes against human rights principles, and that it was developed without the consent of those to be affected. A fierce wall of resistance against the legislation has developed across Aboriginal communities in the NT.

Earlier this year, the Yolngu Nations Assembly, representing 8000 community members across NE Arnhem Land, made a public statement calling for the withdrawal of the legislation and a new policy direction based upon partnership and self-determination. The ‘Yolngu Statement’ has since been formally endorsed by other large sections of the NT Aboriginal population such as the Eastern Alyawarr and Gurindji, as well as more than 100 national organisations, including the Public Health Association of Australia, Australian Medical Association and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council. The Central Land Council, representing 24,000 Aboriginal people in Central Australia, also released a statement late last year opposing any more interventionist policies in the Northern Territory.

The controversial legislation has not gone unnoticed by the general public, with more than 42,000 people signing the Stand For Freedom campaign’s petition to stop the legislation. These signatures will be presented on the day for tabling in the Senate. The Stand For Freedom campaign has been supported by a range of high profile figures, including musicians John Butler and the late Jimmy Little.

At a higher level, eminent Australians such as former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ian Viner and former judges Alastair Nicholson and Paul Guest have also joined their voice to the chorus of opposition. And international condemnation of the legislation has been voiced by the UN High Commission on Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights and most recently by Secretary General of the World Council of Churches.

Below are some the key comments from organisations: (their full statements are also available attached, or alternatively can be found at http://concernedaustralians.com.au/Stronger_Futures_Yolngu_supporters.html)

Yolngu Nations Assembly: “The Yolngu Nations call on both the Australian Federal and Northern Territory Governments to end their interventionist policies and agendas, and return to a mindset of partnership based on the principles of Self-Determination.” (Rev. Dr Djiniyini Gondarra, spokesperson)

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples: “The Government has ‘willful deafness’ on such a fundamental issue, even after critical reports on the Intervention by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples.” (Les Malezer, co-Chairman)

Public Health Association of Australia: “The legislation contradicts the strong evidence that self-determination – and being fully engaged as partners in decision making – are critical factors to improving the health of populations.” (Vanessa Lee, Vice President)

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference: “We call for an urgent shift from punitive controls to measures that restore community control, rebuild Aboriginal initiative and capacity, improve living conditions and show respect for Aboriginal languages and culture.” (Archbishop Phillip Wilson & Sr Anne Derwin)

St Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies): “Common sense tells us that you don’t build a community up by putting its people down. We cannot learn what is right if we fail to listen to what is wrong.” (Dr John Falzon, CEO)

Uniting Church in Australia: “Top-down, interventionist approaches have always failed. The current blanket imposition of income management disempowers communities. It stigmatizes rather than supports recipients of welfare assistance.” (Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director)

Aboriginal Catholic Ministry: “The Government seems to have its head in the sand over this Stronger Futures legislation. They received over 450 submissions to the Senate Community Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the bills. The majority of submissions, which included human rights groups, welfare groups and individuals, rejected the Bills.” (Graeme Mundine, Executive Officer)

Australian Lawyers Alliance: “Anyone assessing this legislation, closely, can see a separate sub-standard of rights is being created for Aboriginal people and that the entire process surrounding the formulation of such legislation has been a sham whitewashed with government spin.” (Greg Barns, National President)

‘concerned Australians’: “The Stronger Futures legislation and the related bills should not be passed. A full review by which Aboriginal community representative leaders are recognised as central to the decision-making processes is required. To date, no such process has occurred.” (Michele Harris, spokesperson)

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