Respectful relationships the key to stronger futures in the Northern Territory

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On 27 February 2012, the House of Representatives passed three bills to replace the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act 2007 which is due to expire in August 2012. The Bills will now be debated in the Senate. The Bills propose extending alcohol bans and increase penalties for breaches, strengthening community alcohol management plans and expanding the Improving School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM) to four towns and 18 communities.

Reconciliation Australia supports the overarching intention of the three pieces of legislation under consideration by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. However we also believe that the way in which policy is developed and implemented is just as important in moving towards a more reconciled Australia. In particular, we know that stronger relationships, built on shared knowledge and respect, are the basis for successful policies that improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We support the fact that the Commonwealth Government consulted widely with Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory on a discussion paper about what would be part of the new legislation. However we consider that the six-week consultation period was insufficient for people to consider the complex issues raised by the paper and so far the Government has not supported any of the local solutions that were put forward by participants during the consultations.  We hope that this may be announced as part of the 2012-13 Budget. We will also be looking in the Budget for investments in the governance capacity of local Aboriginal organisations and communities so that they can engage in the design and delivery of policies that affect them. In order for Government and communities to work in partnership, the Government too must continue to improve the way it engages and also be willing to support local solutions.

We are cautiously optimistic about the reforms to alcohol management in the Northern Territory which have the potential to support locally-owned solutions but we are concerned that the increased penalties include imprisonment sentences. We do not believe that the SEAM program will be successful in improving school attendance unless it is implemented on the strength of respectful relationships between the school, government representatives and parents. We also know that the SEAM program alone will not address the multiple causes of poor school attendance. We recommend that the Government supports the development of local Education Management Plans (EMPs) which would provide a formal avenue for schools and communities to drive local solutions.

Reconciliation Australia’s full submission is available on our website at: http://www.reconciliation.org.au/home/latest/submission-on-stronger-futures-legislation

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