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.