Thousands of Australians call for reinstatement of Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 18 Sep 2008

Thousands of Australians are calling on the Rudd Government to reinstate anti-racist legislation suspended by the Howard Government last year in order to push through the controversial Northern Territory Intervention.

Northern Territory Intervention measures were made exempt from the law protecting Australians against racial discrimination – the Racial Discrimination Act – when the response package was passed by the Federal Parliament last August.
A group of 4,000 will send their voices to Canberra today (Thursday 18 September) via petition to call for the reinstatement of the Act in the Northern Territory.

Organised by Melbourne resident Michele Harris, the petition is supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, Amnesty International Australia, Oxfam Australia and Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR).

Oxfam Australia director of policy James Ensor said that while the Northern Territory Intervention rightly prioritised the protection of children, the way it had been carried out did not meaningfully involve Aboriginal people.

“It is wrong that a law designed to protect all Australians – the Racial Discrimination Act – has been suspended to enable laws which discriminate against Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory,” Mr Ensor said.

This means that provisions such as the quarantining of welfare payments are applied solely on the basis of the race of the welfare recipient.

“Because of the blanket approach to welfare quarantining, many indigenous people are deeply humiliated at requirements placed on them such as being compelled to use store cards in lieu of cash.”

Mr Ensor said that alongside the re-introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act, there needed to be greater consultation with Indigenous communities and full participation in the measures that affect their lives.

Petition organiser Michele Harris said: “Through the petition many ordinary Australians have indicated their genuine concern that full human rights protection and protection against racism is being denied to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.”
Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Coordinator Rodney Dillon said taking away people’s basic rights was not acceptable and was never a solution: “Racial discrimination does not improve the lives of children, nor does violating international human rights standards,” Mr Dillon said.

Gary Highland of ANTaR said there were alternative solutions: “We can ensure that necessary action is taken to protect Indigenous children and their communities while at the same time respecting basic human rights,” he said.

“Local knowledge and empowerment is the key to success for government action. There needs to be a commitment to shared action by both communities and government. A good example of this is the community partnership agreements, outlined in the Human Rights Commission of Australia Social Justice Report of 2007.”

The petition will be tabled by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert today (Thursday 18 September). The Federal Government Review of the Northern Territory Intervention chaired by Aboriginal leader Peter Yu is due to hand down its findings at the end of September.

Media queries:
Petition organiser – Michele Harris – 03 9415 7164 / 0414 296 861
Amnesty International Australia – Roxanne Macara, 0423 280 658
Oxfam Australia – Laurelle Keough, 0409 960 100
ANTaR – Gary Highland, 0418 476 940
The Racial Discrimination Act gives effect to Australia’s obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Its major objectives are to –
• promote equality before the law for all persons, regardless of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin, and
• make discrimination against people on the basis of their race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin unlawful.
Under the Act, individuals can lodge complaints of racial discrimination and racial vilification with the Australian Human Rights Commission.