New concerns surround the government’s increased use of legislative powers to bypass the parliament and create laws that cannot be amended or overturned. The federal government has embedded special powers in new Covid-19 laws to make unilateral changes to non-pandemic-related legislation, using what are known as ‘Henry VIII clauses’ – named for the unchecked power they involve.
Acland’s destruction not the last
I have to confess I could not finish reading the story “How one mine ate a town” (Rick Morton, May 30–June 5), which describes New Hope Coal’s attempt to subsume a Queensland town. My reluctance was due to this not being an isolated case: Rio Tinto just destroyed a 46,000-year-old Indigenous heritage site in Western Australia. Politicians tell us we need mining to provide jobs to ease our high unemployment, but in reality the reason is to balance out trade that has been made minerals-dependent after governments destroyed our manufacturing industries. So now we import $US227 billion worth of products, much of which we used to make here, including $27 billion for cars that once were an export industry. In 1970 we manufactured 475,000 cars, as well as buses, rolling stock, whitegoods and ships, but now as our imports grow due to increased consumerism and population growth, we will need to export more minerals with even more towns being eaten.
– Don Owers, Dudley, NSW
JobKeeper error was bad form
Karen Middleton has detailed what happened with the JobKeeper fiasco (“Keeping low”, May 30–June 5) but, presuming that business owners are not complete idiots, what I cannot understand is why 1000 of them completed the online form wrongly; surely this must be a fault of the form design? Also, a cursory glance at any of the 1000 erroneously completed forms with company names such as Tom’s Meats or Sunrise Cafe would perhaps indicate that having 1500 employees might be a bit of a stretch.
– Peter Nash, Fairlight, NSW
Hope on Closing the Gap after neglect
Patricia Turner (“Equal measures”, May 30–June 5) gives a timely reminder, during National Reconciliation Week, that progress in Closing the Gap between Indigenous and other Australians has still not been achieved, despite governments’ efforts since 2008. She attributes the failure to “years of neglect, disinvestment and failed policies”. She is correct in pointing to the lack of a national policy from governments to deal effectively with the glaring inequities between many Indigenous groups and other Australians, which has worsened through the absence of a national body such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, which was abolished in 2005. Turner welcomes the formal partnership agreement on Closing the Gap that came into effect in March 2019. This will provide shared decision-making between Australian governments and peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations during the next 10 years. But can prime ministers and their governments be trusted to listen and act on the concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when the past has been so filled with broken promises?
– Ruth Fink Latukefu, Newport Beach, NSW
Indigenous leadership on Covid-19
In addition to the issues raised in Patricia Turner’s timely and important article, something seems to have gone unnoticed. Since the start of the epidemic the total cases of coronavirus in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is 59 nationwide. This represents only 0.7 per cent of all cases, a considerable under-representation, as First Nations peoples comprise 3 per cent of our population. Most cases have been in urban centres (52), seven in outer regional areas and none in remote communities. Only 13 per cent needed hospitalisation, none needed intensive care and there were no deaths. Given the high-risk characteristics of this population and the predictions of how devastating the pandemic could have been (and has been overseas), this is a remarkable outcome. Pat and her team at NACCHO, in co-operation with all the Aboriginal community-controlled health services and other groups, effectively lobbied governments to close remote communities early. These leaders also acted quickly to prevent the pandemic in urban and regional centres by lobbying for personal protective equipment, enhancing capacity for testing and contact tracing, enabling better housing to manage social distancing and developing a brilliant set of health information videos that were clear and aimed at local groups. Most of this activity, which has prevented major illness and death and avoided costly care and anguish, has been done by these groups by themselves, galvanising state, territory and federal government departments to participate appropriately. This is clear evidence of how effective it is to give power to First Nations populations. In addition to the excellent recommendations in Pat Turner’s article, we should all support the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
– Fiona Stanley, Perth, WA
Domestic violence services must be funded
Congratulations to Gina Rushton (“No way out”, May 30–June 5) for exposing the risks to, and vulnerabilities of, women on temporary visas. Her article outlining the lack of resources, access to support, Medicare and Centrelink income to these women and their children speaks to the hearts of those who work tirelessly to provide for them and who advocate on their behalf. It is inexplicable why this information does not speak to the hearts of those who control the purse strings and who have the power to make a difference. Do women not matter? Do vulnerable women and their children not matter even more? Domestic and family violence services are grossly understaffed, under-resourced and mostly relegated to the lowest priority for funding. The evidence is overwhelming that the need exists and is increasing. Now is the time to demand urgent change and to consider how individually and collectively we can contribute to powerful change for those most vulnerable to violence regardless of their migration status. We are all responsible for demanding this change.
– Christine Kerr, Marrickville, NSW
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 6, 2020.
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