Senate Committee examining NT laws not hearing from authors of Little Children are Sacred report

The Liberal government has used its control of the Senate to force two Committees to hold just single day hearings tomorrow (Friday) into (1) the entire pack of legislation relating the Northern Territory Aboriginal intervention and other welfare quarantining measures, and (2) the Water Bill, implementing the government’s contentious Murray-Darling Basin measures.

In both cases, the legislation being examined was only introduced into Parliament this week. Some of the witnesses appearing to provide evidence and information were only informed today about the hearings tomorrow.

With only one day to examine these measures, many stakeholders and people with expertise will not get a chance to be heard. However, it is particularly surprising that two people who won’t be appearing before the Committee examining the Northern Territory measures aimed at helping Aboriginal children are Pat Anderson and Rex Wild QC, the authors of the Little Children are Sacred report which was used to justify the government’s intervention. Perhaps this indicates that the government doesn’t see any connection between their report into the issue of abuse of Aborginal children, and the actions the government is taking.

I should note that the Senate committees have government Chairs and a government majority. I’ll see how I go at being in both Committee hearings at the same time.

UPDATE (8:30PM): I have just got notice that Pat Anderson and Rex Wild will be making themselves available during the lunch break in the Committee’s proceedings to provide their views and answer questions. Given they were obviously available to give evidence, it is amazing that they weren’t invited to evidence to the formal Committee proceedings. I couldn’t get to the Committee meeting where the witness list was formally agreed on, but I did submit a few suggestions via email. I must admit it never occurred to me to include Pat Anderson and Rex Wild amongst those suggestions as I just assumed they would be the first people asked, but obviously they weren’t asked at all.

(I was going to use the lunch break in the committee looking at the NT stuff to try to sit in on a bit of the hearings looking at the water stuff, but it looks like that plan is shot.)

UPDATE #2 (11/8): This is a transcript of my question from the Senate hearing to officials of the FaCSIA Department and , responsible for overseeing the ‘intervention’:

Senator BARTLETT—Could you tell us what consultation your department or any other departments have had with the authors of the Little children are sacred report in putting together this legislative response?

Dr Harmer—I am not aware of any consultation with the authors of the report. It was a very long report with many recommendations, most of which were directed towards the Northern Territory government. The Australian government decided on viewing it that this was an emergency and required urgent action. The action that the government decided it needed is spelt out in the appropriation bills and the associated Northern Territory emergency response bills.
Mr Gibbons—We of course studied the report.
Dr Harmer—As Mr Gibbons has pointed out, we did not undertake this exercise without studying the report, but, in a big report such as that, the authors made their views on what is happening pretty clear. We did not feel the need to go back to talk with them. Frankly, in responding quickly to this, we did not feel that that was the highest priority amongst all the other things that we had to do.

Senator BARTLETT—I appreciate the comment about it being an emergency but, in the six weeks since it was announced, has there been no consultation at all with them?
Dr Harmer—No—at least, not that I am aware of.

Senator BARTLETT—I have just had a quick look at the page you put before us trying to indicate links between the permit system changes and combating child sexual abuse, which I note draws on the Little children are sacred report at least twice as part of its justification. Given that you just mentioned that you have read that report thoroughly, is there any mention in any of their recommendations about the permit system or land changes being linked to child sexual abuse?
Mr Gibbons—I do not think so.
Dr Harmer—No, there is not. I will stand corrected, but I do not think that there are any recommendations about police either in that report.

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  1. Put a video together Senator, of all the speed readers in Parliament and then a comprehension test!? An Abbott, the MR.Fitness has been heard today on Port MacQuarie ABC supporting the use of pushbikes,perhaps he is really good at reading the traffic, around there too.

  2. Would there be any point in organising an online petition against this additional example of rushed and ill-considered legislation which is antithetical to representative democracy? Furthermore, the Northern Territory legislation is racist, as it discriminates against Aboriginal welfare recipients.

  3. Frankly, the Howard Government seems to have learned to follow the Bush administration’s approach to the Iraq Study Group’s report: indicate that you will act on this important independent report, cherry-pick one or two soundbites that fit your intended approach, and ignore any of the actual recommendations.

    Senator, thank you for keeping us updated about the process. Hopefully in a few months we will at least see the Senate return to a situation where it can ensure there is reasonable oversight of such major legislative agendas.

  4. It especially annoys me that, when criticised for rushing the legislation through, they turn around and say ‘we must act as quick as we possibly can’ when in reality they haven’t acted on the issue in the last decade. And that’s despite numerous reports into alcohol, domestic and sexual abuse in communities, some of them commissioned by the government themselves.

    The hypocrisy would be humorous if it weren’t all so awful.

  5. Its hard to think of any other two Bills that would have such long-term consequence for Australia. Deeply disappointing – though no longer surprising – that they will receive such minimal scrutiny.

    Andrew, is it feasible for Committees to split into subcommittees so that more witnesses can be heard?

  6. Little children are sacred to Howard only as a weapon to be used against their parents – Children overboard! What kind of a man is he?

  7. Andrew ,Thanks for your insites into what may be a genocidal attack [intentional or not]on tribal Aboriginal culture and their links to Land .

    Howard should stop the abuse of children ; get rid of alchohol and raise their life expectancy- but don’t commit Cultural Vandalism to our Aboriginal Australians in the NT by removing the permit system .

    Andrew ,to coin that old Phrase please “keep the B…..ds honest”.

  8. well well well. howard dose have an agenda.
    he cant loose while we are all jumping up and down about the indig issues he is gowing for a water grab.
    the govt dose not care if they are deffeted in the first legislation because the focas has gone from the murry darling legislation.
    thats where the money is.
    if it is defeted or waterd down then the govt can blame the ppl who held it up and save the money they promised to spend .
    in the mean time they will get control of the water and thats what they realy want.
    smoke and mirrors .
    how is it that minds far greater and wiser than me have not seen this yet ?

  9. Dear Andrew,

    I would very much like the point to be made that the crisis in Indigenous communities is linked to lack of access to abortion services.

    The good people from freakonomics link the Wade v Roe decision in the 70’s to large drops in crime in the 90’s across America, and I believe them.

    So, perhaps what Indigenous mothers need is the ability to control their fertility, and make sure that they can look after their children properly (among many other issues of course – which we would hope the government is attempting to address).

    I would extremely happy to see this issue discussed by yourself in parliament house, and perhaps thence the mainstream media.

    Kind Regards,

  10. Ackland of the SMH today just summarises beautifully.And if this is all being done to please Geo.W.Bush,the most unpopular American President ever,in the U.S.A. alone..without thinking about all the other potential U.S.A. outpost,what would Howard do for a popular Prez !? Eat pretzels!?

  11. Andrew Bartlett:
    Thanks a lot for your efforts.

    Thanks to your fellow Senators for hearing what those who worked on the Little Children Are Sacred Report had to say. And thanks too to whoever helped this informal hearing take place.

    You said

    “…. it is amazing that they weren’t invited to evidence to the formal Committee proceedings. …. I must admit it never occurred to me to include Pat Anderson and Rex Wild amongst those suggestions as I just assumed they would be the first people asked,….”

    You were absolutely right to assume Pat Anderson and Rex Wild would be called. Every reasonable and honest person would do so too.

    Why the surprise though? Nothing new in this. The Evatt Royal Commission [into chemicals used in the Viet-Nam war] was just as bad: avoiding relevant witnesses both in Australia and the U.S., drawing unsupportable conclusions from manifestly flawed propaganda, etc., etc..

    Does this sort of nonsense go on every time a Senate committee has hearings?

    Please keep trying. It’s not too late to prevent a catastrophe.

  12. Sorry Senator to spoil this but why do you want the authors of this report to speak? The report clearly focuses on the behavioural problems of the indigenous parents rather than the offenders. It had no interest in providing the onus of proof of abuse that would be given to any white parent, before condoning intervention. Why would you want to support this report?

    Why are the people so supportive of this report so accepting that indigenous parents do not require the same evidence necessary for white parents? This report is clearly racist. It just does it from the angle of social worker.

    From neither left nor right is there anything positive for indigenous people.

  13. Andrew,

    In view that the Commonwealth of Australia can only enact legislation for the whole of the Commonwealth of Australia and cannot exclude any part, then how possibly can any amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act be valid? It is the same problem as was with the exclusion of islands from the Migration Act.
    Also, within which constitutional powers is the Commonwealth pursuing the legislation, I wonder.
    As the Northern Territory in fact is already under control of the Commonwealth of Australia as a “sovereign” within Section 122 of the Constitution then I cannot see how Section 85 could apply, in particular not where Section 85 relates to the commonwealth of Australia taking land for Commonwealth purposes. To take land for the purpose of mining (as that appears to imply) is the same unconstitutional conduct as was at the time with the SA Government regarding toxic waste, not being within constitutional powers of the Commonwealth then either.
    See also my blog at regarding the WATER issue.

  14. Piping Shrike:

    I think you are being overly harsh, and missing the point of Senate Committees. I totally understand and am sympathetic to your repeated concern about the need to verify more clearly the real extent of abuse. However, a lack of precision about the detail of a problem is not the same as saying there is no proof a problem exists. There are simply far too many Aboriginal people (especially women) and health workers from these communities saying there is a problem for us to not to acknowledge it.  It may be that Aboriginal people are paying the price for being more open about the issue than the rest of us, and the problem is as big in its own way in many non-Indigenous communities, but there are obvious differences between remote Aboriginal communities and mainstream society, so it is not unreasonable to consider the views of Aboriginal people from those communities about what they think needs doing and what help they need in doing it – this is what the report authors did (unlike the federal government)
    Also, Senate Committees do not just invite people to appear who they support. It is blindingly obvious that the government used this report to justify its intervention, so regardless of whether you agree with the report, it is reasonable to want to know what the authors of the report think about the intervention which in many ways has the appearance of being done in their name.

    The report did not recommend or “condone” an intervention, let alone this type of intervention.
    G H S-H:

    The Racial Discrimination Act is not like an overarching Bill of Rights – it’s just a law, which can be amended or overridden or be exempted from by any other law.

    The Constitutional power for the legislation is the territories power (and could almost certainly use the race power as well if they wished).

    Whilst there are allegations that the government has a hidden agenda for all this which involves mining, there is no direct evidence of this (and it’s not one I give much credence to).

  15. Whilst there are allegations that the government has a hidden agenda for all this which involves mining, there is no direct evidence of this.

    True; perhaps not. But there certainly is something fishy going on when the content of the report is adopted so voraciously while the recommendations are blatently (and now explicitly) ignored. Moreover, the fact that the entire issue of child protection has well-and-truly taken a back-seat to the very contentious issues, like mandatory leasing of land and the permit system, implies that there is some other agenda going on. It may not be securing land for mining necessarily, but remember that choosing a site for uranium waste disposal is a hot topic right now, and where better than the dump it in seemingly empty land that can be bought for a peanuts. Apart from that, I think it’s mostly about demonstrating who’s in control.

  16. Andrew I quote
    “G H S-H:

    The Racial Discrimination Act is not like an overarching Bill of Rights – it’s just a law, which can be amended or overridden or be exempted from by any other law.

    The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 is a legislation enacted within Section 51(xxvi) as I understand it to be. All legislation within Section 51 must be for the whole of the Commonwealth, and cannot exclude any part thereoff.

    Hansard 8-2-1898 Constitution Convention Debates
    Mr. OCONNOR.-
    But already in clause 52 we have agreed to the insertion of a sub-section which enables the Commonwealth to deal with that matter, and there can be no question about it that in course of time the different laws that exist in the states dealing with such coloured races will be similar, and that such races will be dealt with uniformly, so that whatever privileges [start page 673] or disabilities exist in one state with regard to these people will exist in another state.

    and that such races will be dealt with uniformly

    Numerous other statements by the Framers of the Constitution indicates that any legislation enacted within subsection 51(xxvi) as to a “race” must be to all persons of that race, regardless if they reside, so to say, in NT or in Victoria, if they are unemployed or lawyers.


    It would take up too much space to set it all out, and I do not propose to do so as I have canvassed it extensively in my published books already.

    The Commonwealth of Australia cannot exempt any one from general laws, as the very doctrine of the Framers of the Constitution was that laws must be “uniform” throughout the Commonwealth!
    I do not dispute that the Commonwealth of Australia cannot amend its laws but it is bound to do so in a manner that the legislation remains “uniform” throughout the Commonwealth.
    Just check the hansard records of the Constitution Convention Debates!

  17. I also sympathise with Piping Shrike, but accept Senator Bartlett’s response as reasonable- there is nothing this parliament can do while the Tories control both houses.
    If the slight chance of the ALP gaining government eventualises, the thinking public must hope that Rudd Labor is not so timid as to not roll back the worst excesses of the Howard era- in other words that the current timidity is a campaigning tactic and that Labor has something better to offer as an ambit log of claims than Howardism minus the Howard.

  18. Senator, obviously if the purpose of asking the report’s authors is to get another view, then fine, let them give evidence. But if it is to counter the government’s intervention I do not believe it will work as they share many of the government’s assumptions. I find it strange how little criticism there has been of the Wild report. People have rightly noticed the racist agenda of the government’s measures, but not of those proposed by Wild et al. The measures to control alcohol consumption and gambling, and to educate on pornography are targeted on racial lines and are not only deeply paternalistic but propose restrictions that would be unacceptable to white Australians. By the way, none of the measures would stop a white miner for paying for under-age sex with an indigenous child, if those claims were true. Surely in this case the miner is the problem!

    The paternalism behind the report assumes that indigenous people are incapable of controlling some of the basic aspects of their lives and so undermines the autonomy it proposes and lays the grounds for intervention. That is the link between the NT report and the government’s intervention that is not being acknowledged.

    Finally the most racist element of this report is that it does not consider indigenous parents require the same onus of proof as would be given to any white parent before intervention. I respect that you have heard testimonials that abuse is happening, but I have also seen reports in The Age of communities claiming that it is not. I don’t know the real situation, but before getting conclusive evidence, neither in my view does any one else. Proof remains the first step before anything can be done.

  19. Andrew,
    Can you point us to a link for the Senate Hansard, even in Proof form, from last Friday?
    This would be much appreciated – I can’t find it through the normal channels on the Senate Hansard pages.

  20. Sorry Bob, it’S not online yet – won’t be until Monday. I haven’t seen most of the transcripts myself yet – only rush proofs for 3 of the witnesses, which is where I got the quote I added to my post.

    it makes it a bit hard when I have to finalise my contribution to the Committee report by tomorrow morning. (Although at least I was able to sit in on the hearings for this one – trying to comments for the Water Bill when there’s no Hansaards and I didn’t get a chance to hear the evidence is lessthan ideal)

  21. Thanks and I’ll let you get back to work.
    I write for Crikey on this and other matters and have a quick query about comments and/or laughter, made I think by the Chair of the Committee at the end of NT Minister Scrymgour’s evidence (immediately before lunch), last Friday.
    I’m interested in whether you might have a comment or be able to repeat what was said or indicated – you might want to relate this offline in which case I can call or send a note to you elsewhere.

  22. sorry Bob, I missed the last 10 minutes of Marion Sctmgour’s evidence, as I was sorting out making sure Pat Anderson could speak with Senators from the Committee during the lunch break. If I get Hansard proofs of that witness come through before the morning I’ll see if I can get them to you.

    (and it’s OK, I’m not actually working at the moment, I’m out at the Ekka in Brisbane – I’m waiting on Hansards from both Committees first before I can do much more work on this.)

  23. What has bothered me about the Anderson and Wild report is that they are claiming kids playing doctors and nurses is child abuse when it is normal behaviour.

    Not only that but all of the cases had already been prosecuted by the Northern Territory so what precisely is Brough acting on?

    It all comes down to a land grab and reading the 190 odd submissions it would seem that everyone agrees with that proposition while agreeing that children need to be protected.

    Shutting down the permits, taking the homes and the dreaming and the culture do not protec children they create another generation of damaged children.

    Everyone should have watched Bob Randall on SBS last night in his film Kaniyi and wept for our people.

    His explanations and pictures showed how wrong we have got this with our stupid need to force them to be just like us.

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