Senate debates

Thursday, 23 March 2023


Northern Territory Safe Measures Bill 2023; Second Reading

9:12 am

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Northern Territory Safe Measures Bill 2023. I would like to thank Senator Nampijinpa Price for providing an opportunity to us in this chamber to discuss the current situation in Central Australia. I want to thank her for sharing the experiences of her family in Central Australia, and for some of her personal reflections on some of the heartbreaking situations there. It isn't often in this place that we get to share concerns about the same matter, but in this instance we do. I also want to thank Senator Malarndirri McCarthy for her speech on this bill. Senator McCarthy spoke so openly about her experiences, and I thank her for her strength and for trusting us to share, in a small way, her story.

We, as a country, are made stronger by having First Nations Australians in federal parliament, and I'm looking forward to seeing our numbers continue to grow as the years progress. It's important that First Nations voices are listened to in these debates. It is clear that there is work to do in the Northern Territory to make communities safer. More needs to be done to improve community safety and to support community members to thrive. We note that when you work with and listen to local communities that you achieve better outcomes.

This bill is primarily a repackaging of the racist Stronger Futures legislation in that it imposes federal alcohol restrictions onto the Northern Territory. Since the lapsing of the Stronger Futures legislation last year, the Northern Territory government have legislated new alcohol restrictions and are getting on with the job of supporting Territorians. Alcohol restrictions are only one part of the solution, and the Northern Territory and Australian governments are working together to improve the underlying causes of community unrest. Communities on the ground are already seeing a difference. I know my colleague the member for Lingiari, Marion Scrymgour, is working extremely hard and closely with local community members and organisations to deliver the best results in the Northern Territory.

This bill is superfluous. In fact, in the last sitting week, when this very bill was being debated, my newsfeed was flooded with some very interesting headlines, and I'll share some of those with this chamber this morning. The Australian had headlines suggesting that crime fell in Alice Springs after alcohol trials. The Daily Telegraph had, 'Crime plummets in Alice Springs after one month of alcohol restrictions'. And Sky News had 'Crime rates begin to decline in Alice Springs'.

Senator Dodson tabled a report of the Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs from its inquiry into community safety support services and job opportunities in the Northern Territory. I'm proud to be a member of this committee that is doing incredibly important work and I thank all witnesses who contributed to this inquiry. The inquiry was established in this very chamber to inquire into community safety, support services and job opportunities and the Northern Territory with particular reference to the preparation of the sunsetting of the Stronger Futures legislation, community safety and alcohol management, job opportunities and community development program reform, justice reinvestment community services and any related matters. These matters were considered together because we all know that alcohol restrictions are only one part of the problem. We need to work under the social and economic drivers of community unrest. The committee's final report states:

It is clear to the Committee that the NT Government has sufficient legislative means to manage alcohol-related harm within its jurisdiction where there is the will to do so. This has been demonstrated by its recent legislative amendments to the Liquor Act 2019 (NT). It is the view of the Committee that this is the appropriate role of the NT Government (informed by the views of community), rather than the Commonwealth.

These are the words of the joint committee of this parliament. Those opposite are already in agreement with that report. This bill is not necessary, it is not needed and it is mostly just a lot of hot air.

May I suggest that Senator Nampijinpa Price start focusing on ways she can tangibly support her constituents—the community she is here to represent. May I suggest that the senator focuses her efforts on ways to support Territory residents. May I suggest that she has a word with her colleagues about the significant and hugely damaging cuts we saw in the last decade under the coalition government, because we know that these challenges in the Northern Territory did not arise overnight, certainly not just in the last 10 months; it is an accumulation of a decade of neglect.

We know that the only solutions that work are ones that from the community, by empowering First Nations communities and working with them to find solutions. When we thrust solutions onto communities we know that those solutions do not work. We have seen under the previous government what it looks like when solutions do not come from First Nations communities, and I want to share just one example of what that is—the cashless debit card. It was a program crafted by the coalition without coming from the community. It was shown that it did not result in widespread or sustained benefits. It was poorly targeted, led to no discernible improvements in employment outcomes, it damaged financial management skills, led to social stigmatism and exclusion, and it increased stress, financial harassment and discrimination.

The Albanese Labor government has already made solid inroads to ensuring any income-management programs are designed and managed according to what the communities say they need. Perhaps the senator could have a word with her colleagues about the $245 million cut from Indigenous housing under the Turnbull government, while the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found Indigenous children are at greatest risk when they are removed from their homes and their families, or the federal government's decision to cut funding into national family violence prevention and legal services, the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim-survivors of family violence and sexual assault.

Then Morrison cut a promised $10 million from the Indigenous students success program to support First Nations students who are financially disadvantaged and/or from remote and regional areas. And the list, of course, goes on. Maybe if there were a Voice to Parliament, the coalition would have been aware just horrendous these policies would end up being for First Nations communities but, unfortunately, the coalition does not listen to First Nations communities. 'A wasted decade' would be a generous term to describe the last coalition government's impact on First Nations people in this country. The coalition can't hear the gracious request for recognition and consultation, the simplicity of recognition and consultation in this country, being made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It is owed to First Nations communities in this country to listen—at the very, very least to listen. For far too long this place has told First Nations communities what was good for them. Now it's time to hear their voice. You have cut services, passed oppressive legislation, taking what meagre offerings were available to First Nations people, and defunded them. Now, it is time to listen to the impact of the cuts made over the last decade, and now is the time to hear them when they come to us with solutions.

Instead of subjecting First Nations Australians to oppressive legislation like this that continues not to work, now is the time to listen. You're putting up legislation that is categorically redundant while the Closing the gap statistics are going backwards. Talk about not being able to focus our efforts in the right areas! You cut funding to the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum, the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims-survivors of family violence and sexual assault, and now you're saying that you want better outcomes for First Nations Australians but your only solution for that is to ban alcohol. Talk about tunnel vision! We're trying to fix the mess that you've left and undo the massive damage you have inflicted on First Nations communities right across the country.

This government is here to hear the voices and move forward with real actions that put communities first. The Albanese Labor government has already invested $250 million in a better, safer future for Central Australia. We're focusing investment on those who need it most. We're getting on with the job and working collaboratively with the Northern Territory government. We're certainly not trying to tell them how to suck eggs with legislation that is not actually necessary. We're investing in our youth through on-country learning, improving school attendance and increasing completion rates through caring for culture and country. Moreover, we're investing in youth engagement and diversion programs.

Labor is investing in families, listening and supporting elders and parents and boosting domestic violence services. Labor is working to address and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders through better responses within both the health and justice systems. Labor is working to relieve the stress on the Alice Springs healthcare services by improving the services in surrounding communities. We're creating jobs focusing on and around Alice Springs, making changes to current programs to make them work for communities. On top of that, this government is also investing an additional $48 million in community safety measures, including support for domestic violence services and support for young people to access safe places and support at night.

It is through empowering communities and investing in support services and local stakeholders that we will improve outcomes. Getting young people off the streets and into homes will have a direct impact on breaking the cycle that some are in. Giving them the stability to reach out for help and guidance will have significant and positive impact on their lives.

We are hearing the voices of the community and we know that we can do more, but, to ensure the voices of First Nations people are heard, we are fully committed to delivering a successful referendum on a voice to parliament this year. It's about giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a say in matters that affect them and their communities. It's really that simple. It's about creating practical and lasting change that will lead to better policies and improve the lives of First Nations people in areas like health, education and housing. And, if those opposite really cared about those things, they would be supporting the referendum.

Whilst the opposition have sought to distract attention from the core purpose of the Voice, Uncle Pat, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Minister Linda Burney, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and many, many others continue to share information about what the Voice is about—two simple things: recognition and consultation. Those opposite are so deeply out of touch with the needs of First Nations communities in this country. It's almost as though they don't have a set of ears themselves. The Australian people support reconciliation. They support giving First Nations people a fair go. I urge the coalition to do the right thing by First Nations communities and walk with us to reconciliation for a better nation for all of us.


No comments