“Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians are part of our community we’re not nameless, faceless people who live on the margins of society. We deserve the respect and the dignity afforded to others. We deserve equality”.
— ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr during the Australian Labor Party (“ALP”) National Conference debate on same-sex marriage
I don’t have an issue with Mr Barr’s comments as they reflect nothing more or less than what should be the norm in an inclusive modern democracy such as Australia claims to be. But the reality for many Australians is very different and far less benign than the inclusiveness that the ALP propaganda machine would like us to believe is the norm in modern Australia.
Four years ago the Australian Government, then lead by a racist, reactionary and white-supremacist parliament that peddled fear in the place of policy and leadership – fear that extended to Australians, or would-be Australians of less than fair complexion, including refugees, Australians of Middle-Eastern extraction and of course white Australia’s age old bug bear, Indigenous Australians – made a big decision about Indigenous Australians living traditional lifestyles in the Northern Territory.
The Howard lead Australian Government in the lead-up to the 2007 Australian general election claimed that some Indigenous children living traditional life styles in the Northern Territory weren’t being treated very well.
Because of the dearth of refugee boats arriving following Howard’s implementation of the Pacific Solution, meaning he could not manufacture another Children Overboard Affair, with greedy eyes looking for another term in office, Howard turned his attention to traditional Aborigines living in the Northern Territory. What Howard did made some racists and Aboriginal sell-outs happy but made others, who have had a gut-full of paternalistic, racist White Australia, very angry.
In 2007, the Little Children are Sacred report found that some Indigenous children living in remote communities were being treated badly and they were allegedly missing out on some of the basics that most other Australian children enjoy.
In the paternalistic manner of White Australia these problems were put down to alcohol, violence, unemployment, poor health and poor education. It was so “serious” in the political environment of the lead up to the 2007 Australian general election that the Howard Government said it was an emergency and said it was going to take control.
What happened became known as an ‘intervention’.
Soldiers, police, doctors and other professionals were sent in to try to help in some key areas. They wanted to increase the number of kids going to school each day. There were health checks for kids. More police were brought in to try to make places safer. Finally, parents who relied on social security had part of their payments ‘quarantined’ which could only be spent on essentials like food, clothing and rent, instead of alcohol and tobacco. This shameful act of paternalism, racism and subtle genocide was due to end in 2012. However politics being what it is the very government that is bringing equality to those Australian’s living in a same sex relationship, has decided to extend the intervention for a further ten years.
On the 28th November Elders of the remote NT Aboriginal community of Ramingining putout a media release drawing attention to the racial discrimination that is the Intervention. In fact, the Ramingining Elders describe the intervention as being fundamentally destructive. Mathew Dhulumburrk, a 67 year old Gupapuyngu man made the following comments after learning of the government’s intention to extend the intervention for a further ten years:
“We don’t want another decade of discrimination here in Ramingining. The government is extending and strengthening laws designed to assimilate Aboriginal people. We will not sit back and watch these attacks on our lives, our future, our culture and our law.
After 5 years, it feels like the water level has climbed up to our neck. Another ten years will bring it way over our heads. The government is drowning us slowly and wonders why twice as many of our young people are attempting suicide. There is no valid reason to discriminate against Yolngu in this way.”
The people of Ramingining are unhappy with the consultation process and expect better from a government that is supposed to work with them. They know that community empowerment is vital for tackling issues in the community, but the intervention leaves their hands tied.
Mr. Dhulumburrk went on to say that:
“In the days of self-determination, senior elders of every community were asked what we wanted to do, they would ask for our ideas. Now they just come and tell us “This is it! Non-negotiable.” Only community empowerment allows us to participate effectively, but our community councils have been destroyed.”
Many people are feeling stigmatized by this blanket policy that brands all Aboriginal people as alcoholics, irresponsible parents and child molesters.
The government is telling the world that Aboriginal people can’t look after their children. Such lies! The government only looks at school attendance instead of looking at what and how our children are being taught. We need our bilingual education, we need more Yolngu teachers and we need elders involved in developing curriculum. We as Aboriginal people know what our children need, but the Government is ignoring us and punishing us if we don’t do what they say, which in any other community, except in the most oppressive dictatorships would be viewed as unacceptable by the community. Indeed, if Australia wasn’t a so-called ‘leading’ democracy, White Australia would be facing its own intervention from the world community.
As for the Yolngu, Mr. Dhulumburrk continued with:
“In homelands in particular, and also in our larger remote communities, Yolngu are happy and safe. The Intervention is pushing Yolngu into urban towns where they are on foreign country. CDEP wages have been cut for thousands of our people and no new jobs have been created. We watch contractors come in from outside earning top dollar, while the government tells us we must work for the dole! We could be doing a lot of that work and earning that money. This hopeless situation drives people to alcohol.
The intervention has brought hatred. We know now for certain that the true enemy of our people is the Government and the philosophy behind this new assimilation policy. They have declared war on us, but we will fight for self-determination.
What happened to democracy in Australia? We don’t want to have to fight against government. We want to engage with government, we want to take control of our lives and we want to build our future, but these policies leave us penned like animals with nowhere to go.”
Intergenerational trauma caused by past policies of assimilation and dispossession is at the root of many problems facing Aboriginal communities across Australia today.
According to the Rollback The Intervention website the persecution of Aboriginal people under the Intervention has had horrendous consequences:
*Indigenous incarceration has increased by 40 per cent.
*Large numbers of people are drifting away from their homelands as resources and opportunity are withdrawn from the bush.
None of this has acknowledged in the reports the government is relying on to justify the second Intervention. Other indicators of growing social crisis have been buried away from the headlines.
Minister Jenny Macklin claims her new laws are the fruit of consultation with Aboriginal people across the NT and a survey conducted in 16 communities.
Explicitly racist laws, which vilify Aboriginal people and culture are being kept on the books including:
*“Star Chamber” powers held by the Australian Crime Commission for investigations in Aboriginal communities, including removal of the right to silence. This despite the ACC dismissing the disgraceful allegations that “pedophile rings” were operating in Indigenous communities, which led then Minister Mal Brough to legislate the powers.
*Prohibition of consideration of Aboriginal customary law and cultural practice in bail and sentencing. Chief Justice Riley of the NT Supreme Court has said this measure means, “Aboriginal offenders do not enjoy the same rights as offenders from other sections of the community”.
*Blanket bans on alcohol on Aboriginal Land, despite consistent opposition from the Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the NT (“APO NT”) who have said, “The decision regarding alcohol restrictions should be for relevant residents to make… The principal effect of these widely flouted laws has been to further criminalise and alienate many residents”.
*Blanket bans on “sexually explicit or very violent material” on Aboriginal Land. These restrictions serve no purpose other than the perverse stigmatisation of Aboriginal men.
*Continued suspension of the operations of the permit system in Aboriginal townships, again in direct contradiction of APO NT who said, “communities on Aboriginal Land feel as though they have lost control… the flow on effects are overwhelmingly seen as negative and counterproductive to community safety”.
Both the Human Rights Commission and visiting UN representatives have consistently rejected the characterisation of these measures as “special measures” under the Racial Discrimination Act.
Proposed amendments to the Social Security Act will see further attacks on the rights of Centrelink recipients. These measures will initially be targeted at NT Aboriginal peoples, but have implications for all poor and marginalised communities across Australia.
An expansion of the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (“SEAM”) means chronic school attendance problems could see families cut off certain Centrelink payments entirely.
Staff from nominated government agencies will have the power to summarily order people onto Income Management in the same way that Child Protection agencies currently do:
*Staff from nominated government agencies will be able to pass on information about clients to Centrelink, even if doing so contravenes State or Territory law.
*Income Management will follow you even if you move out of an Income Management area.
*Many Aboriginal leaders used consultation meetings to protest against racist control measures and demand jobs, resources, community control over development and respect for Aboriginal culture, law and land rights.
*7 of the 12 communities being targeted by the SEAM expansion operated bilingual programs, before they were shut down in 2008. Demand for the re-instatement of bilingual education was clear across the consultations.
The Stronger Futures jobs package is an insult. Fifty new ranger positions and one hundred “traineeships” will not compensate for the more than 2000 remaining waged CDEP positions the government will cut next April, the final nail in the coffin of a vibrant program which was the lifeblood of many communities, employing upwards of 7500 people before the NTER (“the Intervention”).
The government’s commitment of public sector work for Aboriginal people completing year 12 will only apply to designated “growth towns”. Similarly, there has been no lifting of a moratorium on new housing outside the “growth towns” despite desperate, ongoing need. The government’s own evaluation says that the 2007-8 average occupancy rate in NT communities was 9.4 people per dwelling – and the aim post-Intervention is 9.3!
The ongoing restriction of increased investment to “growth towns” was vigorously opposed across the consultation meetings.
Without CDEP, their community councils or hopes of investment into the future, many Aboriginal communities are fighting for their very survival. And racist laws and ideologies propagated through the Intervention are creating apartheid conditions in major NT centres.
Marginalization of the underprivileged in mainstream Australian society
Within the package of laws that will underpin the second intervention are proposed amendments to the Social Security Act, which will see further attacks on the rights of Centrelink recipients. These measures will initially be targeted at Northern Territory Aboriginal peoples, but have implications for all poor and marginalised communities across Australia.
Remember in an increasingly paternalistic, racist and selfish Australia what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the Northern Territory is fast becoming something approaching a lab experiment where the government is developing techniques to ensure that underprivileged Australian’s remain just that, underprivileged, while privileged White Australian’s bask in the glory of having raped and plundered someone else’s land and resources!
Wakeup Australia! What the fascist Labor Government is doing to our people in the Northern Territory is just the beginning of a move to the far right where those with power and resources trample on the rights of the less fortunate to ensure that the class distinctions remain in place. Is this the kind Australia you want to leave to your children?
Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land!
Post script: The elders & people of Ramingining have made significant efforts to disseminate information and educate others about their culture, in an effort at preservation. Some links can be found in the text above. For more information. please see 12 Canoes. Further information on human rights and issues affecting Indigenous Australians can be found at Blak and Black.
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