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‘Amnesty slams ‘shocking’ Indigenous conditions’ (ABC News, 10 October 2011)

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

‘Amnesty slams ‘shocking’ Indigenous conditions’ (ABC News, 10 October 2011)

Key Excerpt:

(Amnesty International) Secretary-general Salil Shetty on Saturday toured remote towns in the Northern Territory, including Utopian communities north-east of Alice Springs.

He described the plight of locals as “devastating”, saying people there are living in inhumane conditions that are almost third-world.

“I’ve been to many places in bad shape in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but what makes it stark here is when you remind yourself you’re actually in one of the richest countries in the world,” he said.

“I can’t believe I’m actually in one the richest countries in the world and you have people, Aboriginal communities here who are living in conditions which are really almost inhumane,” he said.

A two-bedroom house he saw had 15 people living in it; others had no toilets or showers. Some had been without electricity and water for months.

Mr Shetty says the Federal Government is contravening its human rights obligations.

He says the community has been stripped of funds that provide basic services, including running water, electricity, and hygiene services.

Gender Balance Bill (South Australia)

September 19, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the formal method of achieving justice for women as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders has been the method of affirmative action. Affirmative action refers to policies that takes factors such as race, gender, ethnicity or religion into consideration in favour of a minority or disadvantaged group.  This can happen in employment, education, political representation or service provision situations. The purposes of affirmative action are to:

  • Promote equal opportunity,
  • Help disadvantaged groups overcome the legacies of long-term discrimination.

An example of campaign for affirmative action in favour of women in recent times is in the area of promotion to senior executive positions, especially in public boards.  This relates to a bill currently debated in the South Australian parliament.

Bill fires up gender debate (ABC News, 16 February 2010)

There was some fiery debate in the South Australian Parliament last night over the Government’s plan to get more women on boards and committees.

The Gender Balance Bill was passed by the Lower House with the support of some Opposition MPs.

Women hold just over a third of positions on public boards and committees in South Australia and the State Government hopes its bill will lift that to 50 per cent by the middle of next year.

During last night’s second reading of the legislation, Labor backbencher Lynn Bruer fired up the gender debate.

“Affirmative action policies are absolutely essential for women to get anywhere, we like to kid ourselves that we’ve come a long way with feminism but it’s absolute bullshit, we’ve got nowhere really,” she said.

Lynn Bruer’s support for the Gender Balance Bill rests on the argument that while there has been many advances for Australian women in overcoming discrimination, promotion to senior executive roles still presents an entrenched barrier.  This is often referred to as ‘glass-ceiling effect’.  The argument would go that since men have historically monopolize the executives in nearly all organisations, they are far less likely to promote women to senior executive positions on merit.

Lyn Bruer’s argument received this rebuke from the South Australian Opposition MP, Graham Gunn,

“There she goes, the honourable member has distinguished herself again, she wants people appointed on gender not on merit,” he said.

This is often heard argument against affirmative action, that it undermines merit selection.  Philosopher George Sher would argue that affirmative action demeans the achievements of those who got promoted, since there might be suspicions that she got promoted on the basis of her gender, rather than because of her accomplishment.  One might also argue that since women are the majority in nearly all Australian universities, it would only be a matter of time before more women gets appointed to the board on the basis of merit, thus nullifying the need for gender affirmative action.

Perhaps affirmative action is a blunt instrument best used against entrenched discrimination or legacies of past discrimination that would not go away.  Considering the past and present treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia, affirmative action in favour of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is still necessary.  However, gender affirmative action as outlined in Gender Balance Bill is perhaps more controversial.

‘Soaring jail rates justify change of tactics: report’ (SMH, 25 June 2009)

aboriginal australiaIt is a tragic but well-known fact that Aboriginal people are over-represented in the prison population.  This is despite numerous governmental reports done on this problem, including the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991).  In unravelling this tragedy, causes and effects are often confused.  What is certain is that this problem is causing multiple problems for social well-being of the Aboriginal community.

Some statistics from this article, ‘Soaring jail rates justify change of tactics: report’ (SMH, 25 June 2009), illustrates the problems.

Eighteen years after the Royal Commission, the number of indigenous women in prisons has more than tripled to make up one-third of all inmates, and more than half of the 10 to 17-year-olds in juvenile detention are indigenous.
Eighty-three per cent of the Northern Territory’s inmates are indigenous, and in Western Australia it is 41 per cent. NSW, with 20 per cent, has the fourth highest proportion.

Eighteen years after the Royal Commission, the number of indigenous women in prisons has more than tripled to make up one-third of all inmates, and more than half of the 10 to 17-year-olds in juvenile detention are indigenous.

Eighty-three per cent of the Northern Territory’s inmates are indigenous, and in Western Australia it is 41 per cent. NSW, with 20 per cent, has the fourth highest proportion.

Clearly the current policy, whatever it maybe, is failing.  Radical rethinking is needed.  That is the focus of the newly released report, ‘Bridges And Barriers: Addressing Indigenous Incarceration And Health‘, published by the Australian National Council on Drugs.

The committee’s chairman, Associate Professor Ted Wilkes, said governments persisted with ineffective law and order policies in pursuit of votes and ignored the remnants of structural racism in Australia’s justice systems.

It’s time to step back … and ask what all this [incarceration] is going to mean for indigenous people,” he said.

The report recommends an education support fund for every young indigenous person, a relaxation of the eligibility criteria for treatment and indigenous-specific diversion programs.

It also calls for a national network of indigenous youth wellbeing centres, a drug and alcohol campaign directed at indigenous youth and a network of residential rehabilitation centres.

In a nutshell, the current law-and-order approach is failing the Aboriginal (and non-Aboriginal) community, and one should reinvest in strategies that focuses on rehabilitation and long-term crime prevention.

‘Central Australia: the intervention’ (ABC Radio National: The Law Report: Pt 1) (27 Nov 2007)

April 12, 2009 Leave a comment

aboriginal australiaThis is part 1 of a three part, award-winning series by ABC Radio National – Law Report program, examining the impact of the federal intervention into Aboriginal communities in Central Australia that was begun by Howard and thus far continues under the current Rudd government.

‘Central Australia: the intervention’ (Part 1) 
(ABC Radio National, The Law Report, 27 Nov 2007)

Extracts and brief commentary later.