Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007; Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007; Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Bill 2007

Referral to Committee

6:30 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I will keep my comments short because Senator Bartlett has covered a wide range of very important issues. The two motions to refer the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007 to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs and the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 and other related bills to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs were made because we believe that these issues should be considered by both of those committees. The package of legislation is supposed to be about addressing child abuse, and those are issues that should be dealt with by the Community Affairs Committee. The welfare reform is very extensive. As Senator Bartlett outlined, it goes far beyond just the emergency response measures in the Northern Territory, and it needs to be carefully considered.

We are dealing with extremely complex issues that have no simple answers and require complex and complicated multifaceted responses. The Little children are sacred report had 97 recommendations. I believe that if we were truly doing our job properly, we should, for example, be auditing the government’s plan and legislation against those 97 recommendations. Not only that, we should also be auditing it against, for example, the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory plan for addressing child abuse, and reviewing the many other reports that have been done over the years around how to tackle these issues. But, most importantly, we need to be hearing from the communities and groups that are affected by this legislation.

The government has now finally agreed to refer the package of bills to the legal and constitutional committee for a limited one-day hearing. It is simply farcical to think that we could adequately deal with issues in one day, let alone report back on the next day of business, which is Monday, and make a halfway decent and comprehensive analysis of this legislation—let alone that we are putting witnesses who are appearing and those who are writing submissions in the position of barely having received this legislation and having to do a comprehensive analysis of the legislation and get a submission in by Friday. Quite clearly, this will be an ineffective approach to looking at this legislation. We will not be able to do it justice.

As I said this morning, I believe that no senator in this place will be able to say that they have a comprehensive understanding of the full ramifications of this legislation. That is why I believe that this legislation should be referred with a reporting date of 10 September. At least that would allow what I think is the minimum amount of time needed to review the legislation, to hear from witnesses and also to allow enough hearing days for all of the organisations—the community organisations, government departments, academics and Aboriginal organisations as well as welfare organisations—to be able to comment on this legislation.

I would also like to quickly comment on the fact that a fuller inquiry would have allowed us to assess the mechanisms that the government is proposing to ensure that they are in fact special measures under the Racial Discrimination Act, that they do qualify as special measures and that they are truly advancing and for the benefit of Aboriginal people. We could have properly assessed the measures against the criteria that are established internationally for the determination of what special measures are. I doubt, in the limited time that we have available, that we will be able to do that.

There are certainly a whole range of people who I believe should be appearing on Friday but whom we will not have time to see. And it is a tragedy that we will not be able to adequately review this legislation and hear from all the people whom we should be hearing from about whether this legislation meets the requirements of what is needed to address child abuse. I am pleased that the government has agreed to a committee hearing, but I am extremely disappointed that it is limited to a day and has to report so quickly, and that we will miss an opportunity to properly review this legislation.


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