Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Barb Shaw and her spirited intervention - 3

Barb Shaw was not in the Federal Court in Melbourne yesterday. Her voice was not heard in the words of legal argument of the judge and the barristers. But her battling spirit was there; the battle of an individual against coercive government power; the battle of one person representing the battle of many.

Before I go on to describe yesterday's events, dear Networker, you might like to take a peek at this video clip from The Juice Media.

Outside the Federal Court friends of Barb Shaw
turned up in support.

Robbie (top left), Cheryl, and Joe spoke in support.
The signs said it!
The banners took a bit of managing
on a very, very cold and windy
Melbourne day.

Barb Shaw's case is being considered

Barb Shaw is being represented by Jonathan B R Beach QC

Stephen Lloyd SC appeared for the Commonwealth of Australia.

Peter Gray SC appeared for the majority of the housing associations which manage the Town Camps in Alice Springs. Not all housing associations were respondents because there were housing associations without an interest in this matter.

There was a live video link to the Federal Court in Darwin where the Northern Territory Government was represented by a Ms Brownhill.

I sat in court for the initial presentation by Jonathan Beach QC.

Barb is arguing that her rights as a tenant of the Mount Nancy Housing Association have been impinged. Housing associations are established with the purpose of being sympathetic to tenants. Understandable, given the experience of Aboriginal people in the mainstream rental market. Tenancies are legally sub-leases. There is a query surrounding whether Barb's tenancy is a periodic tenancy or a permanent tenancy. Beach QC said that the Court did not have to resolve this question but in his view Barb's tenancy fell somewhere between the two.

You can see, dear Networker, the detail that has to be considered: details of clauses in the constitution of the Mount Nancy Association; details of clauses in Barb's lease and so on. What is of concern is that when and if the Commonwealth Govt take over the leases from the Mount Nancy Association they will then be in the hands of the Executive Director of Town Leasing.

Under this new regime there will be no intrinsic sympathy to tenants. While in many respects the tenants of the Mount Nancy Housing Association enjoy what is tantamount to permanent/lifetime tenancy, under new town leasing arrangements tenants could be given 42 days notice to vacate the premises. The question is whether the Mount Nancy Housing Association can give away its tenants rights without consideration or notification.

As the argument was laid out, the co-ercive nature of the Commonwealth Government's take-over of Aboriginal land became clear.

If more evidence of co-ercion is needed, consider the presence of legal representation for the Housing Associations. Their support will not be for Barb's argument. They will be arguing in favour for the forty-year leases. Why? Because the alternative is so unpalatable, so unthinkable. The alternative is compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land.

When Aboriginal people speak of a land grab,
they are not exaggerating.

What amazes me, dear Networker, is why the Commonwealth and Territory Governments could not have put on an innovative thinking cap. Public Private Partnerships (P3s) are common practice in modern governance - and I have many doubts about them. However, why could both governments not have explored with thorough and well-advertised Aboriginal consultation a public private partnership with Aboriginal communities and organisations to renew and build public housing on Aboriginal land. They could have even taken the opportunity to explore the possibility of a new way of tenure, of holding the land.

Innovative forms of holding Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory are not new: Aboriginal Land Rights; Territory Freehold for instance. If no existing form of tenure was satisfactory to all parties, why not develop one that met the needs and rights of all? Sure, time would need to be taken but surely the value of a strong Aboriginal partnership would be worth the effort.

The Howard and Rudd Governments, to Australia's shame, have taken us back to the 1950s and the failed assimilation policies inflicted on a voteless Aboriginal population.

Well - it is not quite the same. From the government side, not much has changed. Little or no meaningful consultation with Aboriginal people and organisations; imposition of whitefellas "solutions" on Aboriginal people; whitefellas ripping off budgets which are supposedly in place to benefit Aboriginal people. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

However, some things do change. Aboriginal people can now vote. In the Northern Territory Parliament, Aboriginal Members of Parliament as a proportion of all Legislative Assembly Members are there in roughly the same proportion as Aboriginal people in the total Northern Territory population. Not that all Aboriginal people agree on all things - and neither should they.

All this Intervention horrible-ness is now impacting on the Northern Territory Government. Will it implode or will it not? Alison Anderson departs and Marion Scrymgour returns.

It is high time that the Northern Territory Government stood up to the Commonwealth Government on the Northern Territory Emergency Response (The Intervention). Paul Henderson got himself into this difficult situation because of poor political judgment and an early election last year by which he whittled away a solid majority to a majority of one. Now, Aboriginal public policy issues could destroy his government.

Does the Rudd Government want this? Would they prefer to deal with a Country Liberal Party Government in the Northern Territory? Perhaps they would.

Who would have believed that so-called progressive social democratic government/s would have got itself/themselves in this mess? Such is the path of natural justice. Chickens come home to roost and they roost in quite amazing places sometimes!

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