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Law on Australia's Northern Frontier: The Fall and Rise of Race

  • John Chesterman (a1) and Heather Douglas (a2)

Abstract

This article compares the two most significant paradigm shifts in the administration of Aboriginal affairs in Australia's Northern Territory. The Welfare Ordinance 1953 (NT) constituted a then-unique attempt to reclassify the diminished legal status of most indigenous Territorians as justified not by their racial heritage but by their level of social need, while the 2007 legislation behind the “Northern Territory intervention” has jettisoned formal racial neutrality through a campaign to curb the breakdown of “community standards and parenting behaviours” in many remote indigenous communities. The authors argue that while both initiatives had similar fundamental aims—encouraging remote Aboriginal people to adopt social habits generally evident in non-indigenous society—the decision to jettison racial neutrality has ushered in a new era of race relations in Australia, in which race has openly and formally been reestablished as a marker of legal inferiority.

Cet article compare les deux changements de paradigme les plus importants survenus dans l'administration des Affaires autochtones du Territoire du Nord de l'Australie. En premier lieu, l'Ordonnance de Protection de 1953 représentait, à l'époque, une tentative unique, quoique fondamentalement maladroite, de réinterpréter le statut juridique inférieur des statuts légaux des aborigènes du Territoire du Nord comme étant causé non seulement par leur héritage racial mais aussi par l'ampleur de leurs besoins sociaux. En second lieu, la législature de 2007 dans «l'intervention du Territoire du Nord» cessait de prétendre qu'une neutralité raciale existait dans l'effort du gouvernement de contrer l'affaiblissement des standards communautaires et des comportements parentaux dans plusieurs communautés indigènes lointaines. Tandis que ces deux initiatives avaient des buts fondamentalement similaires, soit d'encourager des peuples autochtones éloignés à adopter des comportements sociaux généralement acceptés dans une société non-indigène, la décision de réfuter la neutralité raciale marquait le début d'une nouvelle ère de relations raciales en Australie, où la race est ouvertement et formellement rétablie comme un indicateur d'infériorité.

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1 Northern Territory Legislative Council Debates (January 22, 1953), 80.

2 Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Debates (CPD), House of Representatives (August 7, 2007), 2, 11.

3 Ibid., 3, 11, 12, 18.

4 CPD, House of Representatives (February 13, 2008), 167.

5 Jenny Macklin, MP, “Rollout of Income Management to Aboriginal Town Camps in Darwin, Palmerston and Adelaide River” (Media release, February 25, 2008), http://www.jennymacklin.falicsia.gov.au/intemet/jennymacklin.nsf/content/income_management_25febO8.htm.

6 Australian Constitution, s. 122. See also Chesterman, John and Galligan, Brian, Citizens without Rights: Aborigines and Australian Citizenship (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 142–43.

7 Chesterman and Galligan, Citizens without Rights; Attwood, Bain and Markus, Andrew (with Edwards, Dale and Schilling, Kath), The 1967 Referendum, or When Aborigines Didn't Get the Vote (Canberra: AIATSIS, 1997).

8 See Chesterman and Galligan, ibid., chapters 5 and 6.

9 Welfare Ordinance 1953 (N.T.), s. 14.

10 Ibid., s. 4, First and Second Schedules.

11 Aboriginals Ordinance 1918–1953 (N.T.).

12 Welfare Ordinance 1953 (N.T.), ss. 17, 25, 61; Licensing Ordinance 1939–1960 (N.T.), ss. 141, 142. See also Chesterman, and Galligan, , Citizens without Rights, 175.

13 See McGregor, Russell, “Avoiding ‘Aborigines’: Paul Hasluck and the Northern Territory Welfare Ordinance, 1953,” Australian Journal of Politics and History 51 (2005), 522.

14 Northern Territory Legislative Council Debates (January 22, 1953), 89. See also McGregor, “Avoiding ‘Aborigines,’” 513, 520.

15 McGregor, , “Avoiding ‘Aborigines,’518 (see also 515–18). See also McGregor, Russell, “Nation and Assimilation: Continuity and Discontinuity in Aboriginal Affairs in the 1950s,” in Modern Frontier: Aspects of the 1950s in Australia's Northern Territory, ed. Wells, Julie T., Dewar, Mickey, Parry, Suzanne (Darwin: Charles Darwin University Press, 2005), 22.

16 Quoted in McGregor, , “Nation and Assimilation,” 19. In sourcing this quotation (28, note 14), McGregor notes that the element of choice had been dropped by 1961, when the statement was endorsed at the Native Welfare Conference.

17 See McGregor, Russell, “Wards, Words and Citizens: A.P. Elkin and Paul Hasluck on Assimilation,” Oceania 69 (1999), 243. Elsewhere McGregor argues that the extent to which Hasluck's version of assimilation sought for the Aboriginal person to identify “primarily as an individual” has tended to be exaggerated: McGregor, , “Avoiding ‘Aborigines,’523.

18 The Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA), which operated from 1947 through 1972, was established to prepare patrol officers for work in Papua New Guinea and the Northern Territory. See Goff, Bill, “The End of a Unique Institution,” Focus 13, 1 (1988), 2022, http://www.ausaid.gov.au/publications/focus/0398/039820-23.pdf.

19 For an extended discussion of the creation of the Register of Wards see Douglas, Heather and Chesterman, John, “Creating a Legal Identity: Aboriginal People and the Assimilation Census,” Journal of Australian Studies 32 (2008), 375.

20 For a discussion of the laws in force elsewhere in Australia see Chesterman, and Galligan, , Citizens without Rights, 165–82.

21 McGregor, , “Avoiding ‘Aborigines,’520–21; Welfare Ordinance 1953 (N.T.) at s. 14(2); Northern Territory Electoral Regulations (1947–1956), Regulation 22(a).

22 Welfare Ordinance 1953 (N.T.), s. 14(2); Northern Territory Electoral Regulations (1947–1956), Regulations 21 and 22. In 1957 the electoral regulations were changed so that the only Aboriginal people who could vote were those who had not been declared wards and those who had served in the army: Statutory Rules 1957, no. 66 (amending regulation 22(a) of the Northern Territory Electoral Regulations).

23 Welfare Ordinance 1953 (N.T.), s. 15 and Second Schedule.

24 Aboriginals Presentation and Protection Acts 1939 to 1946 (Qld.), ss. 16(1), 22.

25 Report from the Select Committee on Voting Rights of Aborigines. Part 1—Report and Minutes of Proceedings,” Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers 2 (1961), 7. See also Chesterman, and Galligan, , Citizens without Rights, 175.

26 Rowse, Tim, “Indigenous Citizenship and Self-Determination: The Problem of Shared Responsibilities,” in Citizenship and Indigenous Australians: Changing Conceptions and Possibilities, ed. Peterson, Nicolas and Sanders, Will (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 80. McGregor discusses this statement by Rowse, in “Avoiding ‘Aborigines,’” at 514 ff.

27 McGregor, , “Nation and Assimilation,” 27.

28 See Chesterman, John, Civil Rights: How Indigenous Australians Won Formal Equality (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2005).

29 Mabo v. Queensland (No. 2), [1992] H.C.A. 23.

30 See Robbins, Jane, “The Howard Government and Indigenous Rights: An Imposed National Unity,” Australian Journal of Political Science 42 (2007), 322.

31 Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle: “Little Children Are Sacred” (Darwin, 2007), http://www.nt.gov.au/dcm/inquirysaac/pdf/bipacsa_final_report.pdf, 12.

32 Ibid., 15, 18.

33 CPD, House of Representatives (August 7, 2007), 10.

34 Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth.), s. 12; Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Act 2007 (Cth.), Schedule 1; Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Act 2007 (Cth.), Schedule 1.

35 CPD, House of Representatives (August 7, 2007), 22.

36 Ibid., 10.

37 Razack, Sherene, “Law, Race and Space: The Making of a White Settler Nation,” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 15 (2000), 5. Razack here is paraphrasing, with approval, Renisa Mawani.

38 As defined under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth.).

39 Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth.), s. 4; Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), “Communities and Prescribed Areas” (Northern Territory Emergency Response Fact Sheet), http://www.facsia.gov.au/nter/docs/factsheets/overview/factsheet_nter_communities.htm.

40 Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth.), Schedule 1; see also Airman, J.C., “The Howard Government's Northern Territory Intervention: Are Neopaternalism and Indigenous Development Compatible?Tropical Issues 16 (2007), 5, 7.

41 FaHCSIA, Northern Territory Emergency Response, “New Declarations,” http://www.facsia.gov.au/nter/legis_areas_declarations.htm; Brough, Mai, “New alcohol restrictions to take effect in NT” (media release, September 10, 2007), http://www.facsia.gov.au/internet/minister3.nsf/content/nter_alcohol_l0sep07.htm.

42 Western Australian Special Committee on Native Affairs, Report of Special Committee on Native Affairs [Western Australia Votes and Proceedings] (Perth: Government Printer, 1958), 35 (quoting Hasluck).

43 “Indigenous Emergency: Interview Transcript of the Joint Press Conference of the Prime Minister of Australia John Howard and the Hon Mai Brough, Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Canberra” (June 22, 2007), http://www.eniar.org/news/JohnHowardPM.html.

44 See Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth.), especially ss. 11–19.

45 Douglas, Heather, “The Curse of ‘White Man's Water’: Aboriginal People and the Control of Alcohol,” University of New England Law Journal 4 (2007), 3.

46 CPD, House of Representatives (September 18, 2007), 2.

47 Schwartz, Melanie, “Policing the Territory: A Comment on the Emergency Response to Little Children Are Sacred,Indigenous Law Bulletin 6 (2007), 9; Lithopoulos, Savvas, International Comparison of Indigenous Policing Models (Ottawa: Public Safety Canada, 2008), http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/prg/le/ap/ipm-eng.aspx.

48 Sarre, Rick, “Police and the Public: Some Observations on Policing and Indigenous Australians,” Current Issues in Criminal Justice 17 (2005), 311; Cunneen, Chris, Conflict, Politics and Crime (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2001), especially chapter 9.

49 Northern Territory Board of Inquiry, “Little Children Are Sacred,” 2324.

50 See generally Blagg, Harry, Crime, Aboriginality and the Decolonisation of Justice (Sydney: Hawkins Press, 2008), chapter 6.

51 FaHCSIA, “More Police in Communities,” http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/nter/docs/factsheets/law_order/factsheet_more_police.htm; CPD, House of Representatives (September 18, 2008), 3.

52 FaHCSIA, “More Police in Communities.”

53 Schwartz, , “Policing the Territory,” 910.

54 The heightened police surveillance is likely to lead to the criminalization of more women as well: see Chair, Boni Robertson, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Task Force on Violence Report (Brisbane: State of Queensland, 1999), 227.

55 Cunneen, Chris, “Consensus and Sovereignty: Rethinking Policing in the Light of Indigenous Self-Determination” in Unfinished Constitutional Business? Rethinking Indigenous Self-Determination, ed. Hocking, Barbara (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2005), 50.

56 Dodson, Mick, “Bully in the Playground: A New Stolen Generation?” in Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia, ed. Altman, Jon and Hinkson, Melinda (North Carlton, VIC: Arena Publications, 2007), 85.

57 Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth.), ss. 90–91.

58 See Rowse, Tim “The Modesty of the State: Hasluck and the Anthropological Critics of Assimilation,” in Paul Hasluck in Australian History: Civic Personality and Public Life, ed. Stannage, Tom and Saunders, Kay (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1998), 124.

59 Douglas, Heather, “Justice Kriewaldt, Aboriginal Identity and the Criminal Law,” Criminal Law Journal 26 (2002), 204.

60 See especially Douglas, Heather, “Customary Law, Sentencing and the Limits of the State,” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 20 (2005), 141.

61 See, e.g., Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Law (Sydney: ALRC, 1986), paras. 500–10; Northern Territory Law Reform Committee (NTLRC), Report on Aboriginal Customary Law (Darwin: NTLRC, 2003).

62 Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 (Cth.), s. 132; Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Act 2007 (Cth.), s. 4; Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Act 2007 (Cth.), s. 4.

63 See Pritchard, Sarah, “Special Measures,” in The Racial Discrimination Act: A Review, ed. Race Discrimination Commissioner (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1995).

64 CPD, House of Representatives (August 7, 2007), 1–25.

65 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2007 (Sydney: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 2007), http://www.hreoc.gov.au/social_justice/sj_report/sjreport07/pdf/sjr_2007.pdf, 261, 265.

66 New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (N.Z.), s. 7; Human Rights Act 1998 (U.K.), s. 19.

67 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2007, 267.

68 CPD, House of Representatives (August 7, 2007), 10.

69 Ibid., 13.

70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2007, 291.

71 Hasluck, Paul, Shades of Darkness: Aboriginal Affairs 1925–1965 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1988), 86.

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Law on Australia's Northern Frontier: The Fall and Rise of Race

  • John Chesterman (a1) and Heather Douglas (a2)

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