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Issue # 1418      8 July 2009

The NT Intervention two years on...

Protests around Australia

The two-year anniversary of the federal intervention into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities sparked protests around the country.

Protestors gathered in all major capital cities demanding an end to the intervention, which has involved controversial policies such as mandatory income quarantining and leases over Aboriginal land.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma urged the federal government to undertake open and genuine consultation with Aboriginal communities.

Mr Calma praised the government’s moves to introduce legislation later this year to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) in the affected communities, but cautioned that any attempts to make compulsory income or alcohol management strategies “special measures” must be completely understood by the affected communities and must be demonstrably supported by them.

“We know that some of the measures may have had beneficial outcomes to some extent, but we can’t allow such outcomes to be delivered through racially prejudiced means,” he said.

He said the Human Rights Commission was finalising guidelines to 

assist governments in understanding and fulfilling their obligations concerning special measures under the Racial Discrimination Act.

In a statement from the Prescribed Area People’s Alliance, representatives from various communities said they were being treated like second-class citizens. “The government says they’re closing the gap, but it’s getting wider,” they said.

“Under the intervention policy, the government said they’re going to make it better for Indigenous people – better in housing, education and health. They say they’re closing the gap in a few years, but it’s not getting smaller – it’s getting bigger and bigger.

“It’s dividing the nation and getting worse for everyone.”

In Sydney, speakers called for the reinstatement of the RDA, the outlawing of governments demanding 40-year leases in return for services to Aboriginal communities, and a return to Aboriginal control of their own communities, with Indigenous initiatives being supported by government.

Maurie Ryan, of Kalkaringi in the NT, told the crowd that because of the intervention he was now branded “a basher of women, an abuser of children, and a watcher of pornography”.

“These crimes are occurring all over Australia, but all Aboriginal people are accused in the NT. Despite millions of dollars being spent, our health and living standards remain the lowest,” he said.

Mr Ryan compared the intervention with 1788 and the land grab that occurred then. “It’s what’s in the ground, we are land rich but dirt poor,” Mr Ryan said.

Singer/songwriter Vic Simms, from Botany Bay, said: “We Aboriginal people are here because we’re acting from our hearts. Nothing’s changed since the ‘white Australia’ policy was forced on us by the founding fathers of Federation in the Deakin era.”

Dr Peter Gibson, who once worked for the Aboriginal Medical Service, said the Rudd government’s approach was much the same as the Howard government’s.

“It’s a paternalistic racist policy,” he said.

Glenda Aragu and her young daughter Bessie, from the Torres Strait, took time out from their lunch to say: “If the government starts to do the same thing in TI we’ll be very worried. They’re stereotyping all of us.”

In Darwin, Barbara Shaw, from Mt Nancy town camp in Alice Springs, said “we came up to join forces with other Aboriginal people affected by the intervention, and now we know we’ve got support”.

Raelene Silverton, from West Waterhouse Homelands, and Ntaria (Hermannsburg) said it was necessary for Aboriginal people to speak out.

“If we keep what we feel about how we are treated by the government to ourselves, we’ll go nowhere,” she said. “We need to speak up.”

Joy White, from Bagot community (Darwin), described the intervention as a shame job.

“This is our country. We are still under the thumb of the government, this government that came from England,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) group said consultation with Aboriginal people was still flawed, two years on.

“The lack of significant improvements resulting from the intervention measures and the continuing concerns and opposition from affected communities, demand that fundamental changes are made to the Australian government’s approach in the NT,” said ANTaR spokesperson David Cooper. “The apparent sidelining of Aboriginal community-based organisations and lack of adequate provision of interpreters and independent monitors suggest that once again we will see a pre-determined outcome from this road show.”

The Koori Mail

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