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Food for Thought 1

Refresh Australia! logoFirst Byte: What Kind of Australia?

On 7 August 2007 the SAO was in Canberra to participate in the National Civil Society Dialogues at Old Parliament House. The theme of the discussion was: “What kind of Australia do we want?” Meanwhile in the new House the Government was tabling 500 pages of legislation to override the Racial Discrimination Act and to change the Land Rights Act to compulsorily acquire Aboriginal land to enact their ‘emergency response’ to the crisis in Indigenous communities. There was also a press conference of Elders from the Combined Aboriginal Communities of the NT standing in deep dignity alongside Pat Turner and others speaking to the underlying issues that contribute to cycles of abuse.

The press conference was disrupted by Senator Bill Heffernan who made a point of weighing in and causing a stir. The sad, appalling result is that this is what was reported on the local TV news. There was no coverage of the facts and stories being told by the Aboriginal spokespeople, no mention of the crowd of civil society representatives from Churches and NGOs across the country bearing witness to the travesty being played out in front of them, and no media witnessing of the quiet and dignified Elders in whose name we had gathered. What kind of Australia do we have when 500 pages of massive and complex legislation is passed in a day, with no time for scrutiny because even the Opposition was only presented with the Bills the day before?

What kind of Australia do we want? One that upholds the dignity of persons or one that allows politicians in power to ride roughshod over that dignity without recourse? These crucial questions are ones we must turn our hearts and minds towards in the lead-up to the election.

Another Byte: 18 August 2007 – A different kind of sorry day for Australia

Aboriginal woman and childDuring the Senate debate on the Emergency Response Bill in the Northern Territory, one of the amendments moved in the Senate was to allow the legislation to be subject to the Racial Discrimination Act. Senator Evans, the Opposition’s Senate Leader, said that the amendment would go some way to ensuring that the NT’s Aboriginal people were not treated unfairly.

The Minister for Community Services, Senator Nigel Scullion, acknowledged the laws were discriminatory. His actual words were: “The laws that we’re bringing in here are discriminatory. But they don’t discriminate against people, they simply discriminate in a way that treats one class of people differently to another.” He went on to say, “If we don’t exempt some of these areas from the Racial Discrimination Act then they would be unlawful and they can’t proceed.”

There is no question that child abuse and neglect must be addressed in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities and in any other Australian community where it is occurring. However, serious questions arise for all Australians when legislation is passed that allows our government to discriminate to treat one class of Australian citizens differently to another. The legislation was passed on 18 August 2007 – A different kind of sorry day for Australia.

Little Children are Sacred Report CoverACT NOW to Refresh Indigenous Australia

Send ecards to urge our political leaders to work with Aboriginal communities to address the issues of child sexual abuse and neglect. Express your concerns about the following aspects of the legislation:

• The inadequate time for consultation
• The taking over of Aboriginal land with five year leases
• The exemption to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act
• The abolition of the Permit system.

Go to http://www.sao.clriq.org.au/refresh_australia/ecard.html and send a message to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, the Treasurer and Shadow Treasurer, and your own local member.

 

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