Bipartisan Stronger Futures policy in breach of international law

14th Mar 2012

Release today of the Senate report on the proposed Stronger Futures law, has prompted the Australian Lawyers Alliance to warn the federal government to be wary of breaching international human rights decrees if the legislation passes through the Senate. 

“This legislation is racist, oppressive and the product of poorly conducted consultations,” Australian Lawyers Alliance, National President, Greg Barns said. 

“It may well end up being the subject of an early High Court challenge,” he said. 

In its 54-page submission to the Senate Committee, the ALA outlined a number of specific provisions that were paternalist, unnecessary, excessive and which amounted to setting up a different standard of rights for Aboriginal people in Australia.

Mr Barns said the ALA was deeply concerned about bipartisan acceptance of a policy that was in breach of international best practice. 

“The government has falsely applied ‘special measures’ that allow discriminatory laws to be passed through parliament under strict criteria,” he said.

“These criteria state the laws must be temporary, necessary, evidence-based and not leading to a separate standard of rights for a particular racial group. They must also have consent from the very people they affect and be for the sole purpose of advancing those people. Stronger Futures clearly does not do that. 

"You can’t just say that a law is a special measure. You need to prove it – otherwise, laws like apartheid in South Africa or segregation in the US could have been simply described as a special measure. 

"No only does there need to be evidence, there needs to be consent of those individuals and communities affected by the laws. This has not happened with Stronger Futures." 

Mr Barns said the ALA was also concerned at the way the legislation had been rushed through parliament. 

“The legislation was voted on by the House of Representatives two weeks ago, one minute after a film screening and panel discussion hosted by the ALA and the directors of Our Generation. The debate started two hours after the leadership challenge and before the release of the Senate report.

"We believe this was an intentional ruse to avoid debate and a considered challenge to this legislation,” he said.

“While the ALA is pleased that the Senate Committee report today confirmed the wide-spread belief that the Aboriginal community had not been properly consulted in this process; it remains disappointing that it did not spell out what was abundantly clear – that the Stronger Futures laws are so racist and fundamentally flawed that they should be rejected entirely. 

"Also there remains no parliamentary process where the report’s recommendations must be addressed. Dozens of reports are continually being released by committees, and their concerns are not being paid due attention in legislative debate, as the vote has often already been decided on party lines,” Mr Barns said. 

He said there had been more than 450 submissions from Australians, the majority calling for rejection of the legislation. 

“You have more than 27,000 signatures in an online campaign calling for rejection. You have prominent Australians such as previous Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, calling for the rejection of this legislation. 

"The speed with which this legislation has progressed appears to indicate that someone in the bowels of Parliament House is aware that undue process has been taken. This, in itself, is troubling, as the only brakes on the intentional development of this kind of policy may be the High Court,” Mr Barns said.

Tags: Human rights Discrimination Indigenous rights Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory