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Another election, another race card

Sydney Greens candidate, Jenny Leong, has identified Indigenous rights as a key election issue writes Ben Spies-Butcher & Sylvie Ellsmore in the South Sydney Herald of November 2007.

Ms Leong joined with Indigenous leaders across the country to condemn “emergency” legislation that gives the Commonwealth control over Indigenous land, removes the independence of Indigenous organisations and abolishes thousands of jobs under Aboriginal employment schemes.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough announced the intervention, with the support of Labor, as part of a “national emergency” in response to the Little Children are Sacred report.

The Howard Government has argued that the legislation is necessary to address issues of child safety and sexual abuse. Indigenous leaders have rejected this explanation at a forum hosted by the Greens which Ms Leong held in Sydney on August 29.

Marcia Ella-Duncan, former Chair of the NSW Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce and co-author of the NSW Breaking the Silence report, explained that none of the Government’s actions were connected to the findings of the Northern Territory report.

The authors of both the NT and NSW reports have publicly opposed the Federal Government’s response in the Northern Territory.

In many NSW communities, victims of sexual abuse had no access to counselling, and in some cases had to wait over 24 hours for medical examinations to obtain evidence because of a lack of resources. Despite this, communities were facing up to the problems, but lacked government support.

“I challenge the State and Federal governments to show the moral courage to sit down with communities to hear from the women who have the solutions,” Ms Ella-Duncan said.

Larissa Behrendt, Professor of Law at the University of Technology, also addressed the forum, condemning the sensationalist way in which the Government has handled the issue. She argued that the Government had accused anyone who questioned the plan of being part of the problem and thus silenced dissent. “It was a strategy to silence those communities most affected.”

Professor Behrendt described the move as a land grab by another name, and lamented the lack of opposition voices – “How much change can we expect under a Rudd Government?”

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle committed to repealing the legislation and to closing the gap in life expectancy for Indigenous Australians. The Greens are determined to implement the recommendations of a coalition of Indigenous organisations, supported by the Australian Council of Social Services and major churches in order to address issues of sexual abuse throughout the country.

Source: South Sydney Herald November 2007