Doubts over NT intervention extension

Doubts over the Northern Territory Intervention: The Australian Government's avalanche of paternalistic racism and abuse aimed at the Northern Territory First Nations peoples.

Lisa Martin AAP 27 June 2013

A parliamentary human rights watchdog has cast doubt on whether legislation to extend the Northern Territory intervention program in indigenous communities for a decade complies with international law.

The Labor government passed its Stronger Futures legislation in June 2012, continuing the intervention policies introduced by the Howard government in 2007 to address alcohol and other abuse.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights did not examine the draft legislation before it passed parliament, because the committee was set up after the bills had been introduced.

The committee has tabled in parliament a retrospective analysis of the compatibility of the laws with human rights.

The federal government had classified parts of the Stronger Futures package as "special measures" so as not breach racial discrimination laws and the international convention to eliminate racial discrimination.

"The government has not provided a detailed explanation of why the Stronger Futures measures can be legitimately viewed as special measures, under international law," committee chairman and Labor MP Harry Jenkins said on Thursday.

"It has merely asserted that it is a policy intention that it is so."

Mr Jenkins referred to comments by the United Nations special rapporteur on Indigenous people that measures criminalising conduct by some members of a group, to promote the overall benefit of the group, was not a legitimate "special measure".

Mr Jenkins said the government had failed to clearly demonstrate the income management regime included in Stronger Future was a "reasonable and proportionate measure" and not discriminatory.

Income management quarantines between 50-70 per cent of welfare payments onto a basics card, which can only be spent at government approved stores.

Compulsory income management has been used in remote NT Aboriginal communities since 2007.

The committee report was also scathing of the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM), which cuts welfare payments to Aboriginal parents whose children don't attend school.

The committee said the government had not demonstrated SEAM "has had a significant impact on reducing low school attendance".

Both SEAM and income management extended regulation "a long way into the private and families lives of the persons affected by these schemes".

Mr Jenkins recommended the committee conduct another review in 12 months time.