Stronger Futures - ten year extension to the controversial NT Emergency Response measures

Ever felt so morally outraged that you were sure you were going to go home after an event and write about it immediately for all the rest of the world (well, Australia at least) to share in your anger? Well, that's how I felt and probably the other 170 people in the auditorium at Victoria University's Sir Zelman Cowen Centre last Thursday. It is a reflection of modern life that we don't ever do things immediately any more or as quickly as we may wish.

Stronger Futures is the term they, meaning the Gillard government (with the tacit and happy endorsement of the Abbott opposition) have given to a 300-page thick document of legislation that sounds terribly convoluted and difficult to grasp. It contains reference to many other laws contained elsewhere, and was rushed through a relatively empty house in Parliament to ensure that the intervention of the government into the lives of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory continues. Our government gets to say which families don't get money when the kids don't turn up for school, we claim it's all 'special measures', so we can keep behaving like bullies, we don't allow them to be able to refer to their traditional law in our courts, etc. In other words, we get to treat Aboriginal people like second class citizens in their own country.

All well and good if we were living in the 1800s or maybe even the 1900s but hey, it's 2012 and what happened to a 'fair-go' Australia?

The key criticism from Aboriginal leaders and organisations in the NT is that the consultation time was just too short and without proper time allocated, there are more questions than answers all round, so who suffers from this lack of clarity and inflexibility other than the Aboriginals themselves?

The "Stronger Futures" launch that I referred to was organised by the organisation, "concerned Australians" and no one less than Malcolm Fraser launched the report called "Listening but not hearing" put together by the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning. Midst various presentations by a number of well-known people, we also heard and saw the video-taped voices of a few elders from the Aboriginal community in Maningrida as they sat in 'consultation' across Jenny Macklin and her 'gang'. I found it interesting in today's modern times that they were lined in two parallel facing rows - like a confrontation - rather than the usual two semi-circles that most meetings, even in corporate board rooms, choose to be seated at in discussion or dialogue.

The voices of the elders were moving and eloquent, but like the report title suggests, somewhere our elected government is listening but not hearing. Check out http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/ and many other sites, just google 'Stronger Futures'.

Ann Ng

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