Published in the South Sydney Herald, front page, 4 March 2013.
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On March 21, Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS) plans to rally outside Tanya Plibersek’s office in protest against Labor’s Stronger Futures legislation and the expansion of income management.
On February 13, the House of Representatives passed the Act of Recognition, a symbolic move to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as Australia’s first peoples. Sydney Labor MP, Tanya Plibersek, expressed her support: “Aboriginal rights should be an election issue for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Constitutional recognition of Australia’s first peoples is an essential next step in our journey towards reconciliation.”
On the ground, however, the detrimental effects of the controversial Northern Territory Intervention and now Stronger Futures legislation are felt by thousands of Aboriginal people.
In June 2012, the Gillard government passed the Stronger Futures legislation with a 10-year funding commitment of $3.4 billion, which Ms Plibersek said, “will help close the gap”.
According to Ms Plibersek, Stronger Futures “repeals in full” John Howard’s NT Emergency Response Act 2007. “Unlike the Howard government’s approach, the Stronger Futures legislation does not suspend the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act.”
However, President of the Amoonguna community near Alice Springs, Marie Ellis, has called Stronger Futures merely a “fancy new name”. “All the racist policies are still in place,” she said in a STICS press release.
Under Howard’s Intervention, government statistics show increased Aboriginal incarceration, increased suicide attempts and self harm, decreased school attendance and a loss of jobs.
Ms Ellis has passionately testified to the damaging effects of the Intervention on her community. “Minister Jenny Macklin has us stuck in the welfare days, treats us like children being breast-fed by the government,” she said.
Under Stronger Futures, there are total alcohol and pornography bans on Aboriginal land. The phasing out of Community Development Employment Projects continues, blamed for the loss of thousands of jobs. Kids who miss school more than five times over two terms can cause their family’s welfare payments to be suspended under the expanded School Enrolment and Attendance Measure.
Founding member and organiser of STICS, Paddy Gibson, accused Stronger Futures of holding Aboriginal people in “apartheid conditions”. Mr Gibson says the mindset behind this legislation is “fundamentally racist”. “They’re essentially saying that Aboriginal people can’t take care of themselves,” he said.
In particular, the STICS rally will denounce the expansion of income management to five trial sites outside the NT including Bankstown, NSW.
Introduced under the Intervention, the government says income management is designed to help people manage their money to meet essential household needs and expenses. Welfare payments, stored on a BasicsCard, disallow purchase of certain goods such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography and gambling products. It can be compulsorily implemented on people deemed vulnerable by a social worker or child protection authorities.
Mr Gibson called on all people to join the protest against Stronger Futures outside Ms Plibersek’s Chippendale office on March 21. STICS condemns “punitive” methods and advocates for the self-determination and empowerment of community-run organisations through larger funding. “If things are going to change on the ground in those [Aboriginal] communities, it’s going to be the people themselves that actually lead those initiatives,” he said.
Ms Plibersek said, “The government is considerably increasing the number of local Aboriginal people we employ as Indigenous Engagement Officers.”
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