9 March 2010

Two UQ law academics have raised serious concerns regarding proposed Federal Government legislation to extend aspects of the NT emergency response and to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 in the Northern Territory.

TC Beirne School of Law lecturers Dr Peter Billings and Dr Anthony Cassimatis raised two major issues with the proposed reforms, which they submitted in evidence to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee in Canberra recently.

Dr Billings said the first issue was the proposed extension of the income management scheme across the entire Northern Territory so that it was not directed solely at Indigenous people.

“This scheme has experienced serious administrative difficulties since it was introduced two-and-a-half years ago. It would not make sense to extend this scheme until these major administrative problems, identified by the Commonwealth Ombudsman in 2008 and 2009, are resolved and people can actually access their welfare entitlements,” Dr Billings said.

“The difficulties people have experienced accessing their quarantined benefits conflicts with international law regarding people’s rights to social security. Australia has accepted obligations under several international agreements covering human rights law and should implement these in good faith.”

The Racial Discrimination Act was suspended in the Northern Territory in 2007, after just 13 minutes debate in the House of Representatives, allowing the emergency response legislation to be introduced.

Dr Cassimatis said that the second issue with the proposed legislation was the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“If it is to comply with the Racial Discrimination Act in the first instance, the government must offer a reasoned justification for restricting the roll out of the income management regime to the Northern Territory. Under the proposed new legislation, the Racial Discrimination Act may not now be fully reinstated in the NT due to the disproportionate impact of the proposed legislation upon Aboriginal Australians in the NT,” Dr Cassimatis said.

“In Australian law, later legislation, in this instance the proposed emergency response legislation, supersedes previous legislation, here the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act. Sections of the emergency response legislation appear to contradict the Racial Discrimination Act and the proposed bill, in its current form, may not therefore be a full reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory.”

Papers submitted by Dr Billings and Dr Cassimatis to the Inquiry into Social Security and other Legislation Amendments (Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Ac) Bill 2009 and Related Bills are available online.

The Senate Committee is due to report to Parliament today, Tuesday, March 9.

Media: Dr Peter Billings (07 3365 7176, p.billings@law.uq.edu.au) or Ms Lynda Flower (07 3365 2523, l.flower@law.uq.edu.au).