A lot has happened in Canberra overnight, as it’s the start of the first parliamentary sitting since John Howard and Mal Brough announced their intervention plan.
I pointed out weeks ago that their actions implied that they were simply ignoring the 97 recommendations of the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle report. The feeling is still shared by co-author of the report, Pat Anderson:
“There’s not a single action that the Commonwealth has taken so far that corresponds with a single recommendation,” she said. “There is no relationship between these emergency powers and what’s in our report.” (source)
Howard ‘fessed up to this too, putting forward the defence that ‘people who do a good job of writing up reports don’t necessarily do a very good job of writing recommendations’ (paraphrased: I saw it on ABC news last night but I can’t find a transcript).
Now, the parliament has been handed a 500 page bill, with no more than one day to digest and debate it before they will have to vote on it. This is all too consistent with the stifling of debate under Howard that David Marr wrote about for Quarterly Essay last month¹ and has been labelled ‘pathetic’ by independent MP Tony Windsor.
“[It is] a pathetic process, and it’s obviously geared at trying to wedge the Labor Party, in my view, rather than actually have a deliberative debate in the Parliament and in the community about a very, very important issue.” (source)
Moreover, the proposed legislation specifically excludes the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act and the Anti Discrimination Act legislation of the Northern Territory. Rightly, the Greens are pissed off, even if no other party seems to be, although their concern is echoed by Murray Wilcox QC, who has labelled it “constitutionally valid but extremely descriminatory”.
It also emerged today that, in its first year alone, and not including adequate compensation for the forced leasing of land, the intervention will cost more than $500 million, by the government’s own estimates. This is an awful lot more than the “tens of millions” that Finance Minister Nick Minchin claimed it would cost back in June.
Of course, indigenous Australia deserves ten times that amount in funding to fix the woefully inadequate housing conditions and living standards in some remote communities, so I’m not exactly going to say it’s too much (indeed to do so would mean being labelled ‘soulless’ by Brough). I’m just concerned that it will mean less funding for communities in the future, for the things they desperately need and for which they have for years been submitting funding applications.
I can just imagine it: “What? you want more?! We already spent half a bil’ on the issue during the intervention! Surely that’s enough for now.”
Let us be blunt: this emergency plan is far from perfect. We are, however, prepared on this side of the House to give it a go and we commend the proposals we have put to the government by way of amendment for their serious consideration [unsuccessfully – J]. The attitude we bring to bear to this problem in the Northern Territory is one of wanting to fix the problem and to identify solutions that work, rather than engaging in the perpetual blame game between the Commonwealth, the states and the territories on the one hand and between our two sides of politics on the other. It is time for action on behalf of all Aboriginal people, in particular Aboriginal children subject to abuse.
The Senate is supposed to vote on the bills on Friday and, unless there’s a miracle, they’ll go through without a hitch.
¹Marr, David. His Master’s Voice: The Corruption of Public Debate under Howard. Quarterly Essay; Issue 26; 2007; 1-84 (available online for free with an institutional subscription).