It looks as though, mercifully, the scrutiny and media coverage of the NT intervention isn’t going to stop just because the
House of Review Rubber-Stamp senate has passed the suite of five bills.
This morning, groups such as the NT government and the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory continued to attack the laws and indeed, the Senate for unhesitatingly approving them.
The NT Government says Aboriginal people should feel let down by every senator who voted for legislation allowing the federal intervention in Indigenous communities.
Olga Havnen, from the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory, criticised the incongruity between the problems presented by the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle report and the government’s response.
Ms Havnen says extra child protection workers and programs to strengthen families should have been the first measures.
“I think the second part of it that was absolutely necessary and yet has not been done, is a commitment to the long-term planning to meet the existing and future needs of Aboriginal people in remote communities, and to get some genuine commitment about the level of resourcing to even address the backlog for houses,” she said.
And this from NT Attorney-General Syd Stirling:
Five-hundred pages of legislation, around about a week, couple of days in the Senate – that just makes a farce of the democratic process of parliament.
Legislation that goes as far into people’s lives as this legislation does, warrants months of consideration, not days.
The legislation was always rather unpopular in the wider community, but the general consensus was that ‘doing anything is better than doing nothing’. Meanwhile, the nexus between the problem and the proposed solution had been growing thinner every day under scrutiny. If the government had waited any longer, the wider community, or the electorate (given that it’s an election year) would have become accutely aware of the tenuity of this link and perhaps would have turned more vocally against it. Even Noel Pearson, the government’s own indigenous affairs mascot, has begun to criticise the way the government neglected to consult the communities who will be most affected by the laws, and the way they brazenly refused to consider the amendments put forward by other political parties.
Imagine how devastating it would have been for Brough personally and professionally, if he had to retract or drastically change this legislation due to public pressure just months away from an election. That’s why there was an imperative to push it through the hoops of due process (however pointless they may appear). Be under no illusion, the reason for the haste was not to ensure safety to children living in ‘dangerous’ communities, as Brough would have us believe; he was merely doing his political job as a minister in charge of a tricky portfolio in an incumbent government facing a tough election.
The bureaucratic process will still take plenty of time in rolling out the laws. Finding, hiring and transferring to the NT the 725 odd staff required to enact the changes can’t be done overnight. The laws may not therefore have any tangible effect for weeks, and even then, the first effects will be on the more pertinent aspects of the legislation as the government sees it; land tenure, the permit system and welfare reform. Ergo, if any given child was in danger of remaining in an abusive situation last month, they will likely still be in another month’s time.
Brough got his victory, but it was at the expense of the integrity of the senate and the democratic process.
By the way, for anyone reading from the US, a ‘postmortem’ is British for an ‘autopsy’.