UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya.
NATIONAL: Discrimination and stigmatisation of Aboriginal people could be exacerbated under the continuation the Northern Territory intervention program, United Nations experts have warned.
A joint letter, released under freedom of information laws, from UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty, Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, and James Anaya the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights, raises concerns about Australia’s human rights obligations.
The Labor government rebranded the intervention “Stronger Futures” and passed legislation in late June, extending it for another decade.
The intervention program, started by the former Howard coalition government in the midst of a media panic over child sexual abuse, has been deeply unpopular across many Aboriginal communities in the NT.
In the seven-page letter dated March 9, the special rapporteurs said they were concerned provisions “within the Stronger Futures bills threaten the enjoyment of human rights by Australia’s Indigenous communities, in particular the principle of equality and non-discrimination”.
“We are concerned … the Stronger Futures bills could serve to exacerbate the discrimination against and stigmatisation of Indigenous people and thus undermine efforts to improve their situation,” they said.
They also criticised the federal government’s consultation process with remote communities saying it had failed to take into account literacy and education deficit and “create environments where Indigenous opinions and decisions were respected”.
“There was apparently insufficient time to translate the discussion paper into the languages of communities or to provide the discussion paper to the interpreters in advance of the consultations,” they said in the letter.
“Reportedly no consultation was conducted in communities in five new regional areas.”
The letter also said the SEAM program, which cut parents’ welfare payments if children did not attend school, was being extended when an evaluation of a trial had found no “demonstrable impact on school attendance rates from 2007-2010″.
In early August, it was revealed UN human rights high commissioner Navanethem Pillay had also written to Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin raising similar concerns.
Comment has been sought from Ms Macklin, but previously the minister has said the objectives of the laws are compatible with human rights.
“The policy objectives of the bills are compatible with human rights because they advance some rights and to the extent they may limit any rights, those limitation are reasonable, necessary and proportionate,” she said in June.