Where to now in the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory government has now produced its response to the Little Children are Sacred report, responding to each recommendation as well as addressing some additional areas. Of course, the federal government used the failure of the NT government to respond quickly enough to this report as its justification for intervening in the Territory and giving themselves a whole lot of extra powers (and taking a lot of power away from Aboriginal people and organisations in the process). Now that the federal government has stated that the recommendations of the report were “just more of the same” and “are now behind us”, they’ll probably also criticise the NT for responding positively to the recommendations too! Seeing the federal government has basically dismissed them all, one could hardly have blamed the NT government for doing the same.

Now that the legislation dealing with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory has passed into law, providing the federal government with a huge power grab, there is a risk that the public, media and political interest will go elsewhere. Those in support of the new laws may feel the main task is done, and those opposed may feel the battle is lost.

I think the important task, for people of all views, is to keep the focus on the challenges facing Indigenous Australians, outside the Territory as well as within it. One part of that is monitoring closely how the federal government uses the extreme powers it now has, and doing everything possible to hold them to their promises and their stated intentions.

One part of that is trying to hear from people at community level about what is actually happening, rather than relying on assertions, picture opportunities and spin from government Ministers and those who work for them.

A comment left on this blog reminded me that there are some good accounts around on the web from people at ground level, giving reports of their experiences. Now that the initial skirmishes have occurred in the Parliament and the mainstream media, I will try to look for opportunities to use this blog to draw attention to information detailing some of the reality from people on the ground.

Here’s a couple worth reading from recent weeks:

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  1. Thanks Andrew, though I’m no longer in the field and that was, I understand, a non-typical response to the survey team. Wamut’s experience was much more closer to the norm I believe.

    One ‘positive’ to have come out of the survey teams’ reconnoitering was that they’ve realised that, lo and behold, not all communities are equal, smaller communities tend to be a lot more stable than the larger ones, which seems consistent to me. As a result, the CDEP changes will be staggered; smaller communities will be weaned off first, under the assumption that they can fare better, and larger communities will have more time to make the transition.

    It’s a ‘positive’ as much as being kicked in the teeth only after everyone else is a positive.

  2. Mal Brough exposed the big lie of the whole thing on Sunday when he refused to help an 18 year old child who had been raped at 8 and gone on to rape a 5 year old when he was 15.

    Brough said that he couldn’t claim abuse as an excuse but that is the whole crux of the matter.

    Debra Jopson and Joel Gibson did a terrific study last week in the SMH and the OZ is going to keep tabs with the help of Reconciliation Australia.

    Of course only $32 million of the $578 million is for child protection issues which will not go anywhere at all.

    It is a crap plan, always was a crap plan and now elders from all over the country are having their say.

    They are terrified and I can’t help but feel Noel Pearson should hang his head in shame.

  3. governments never give power away, but determined people can take it. if the aboriginal people could organize a ‘state’ government of their own, with plans to run their own affairs, and refuse to co-operate with the federal government until they recognize native land title- they might succeed.

    so far, they have not been able to do this. maybe they are too much like the white society: ignorant and dispirited, unable to resist the combination of uniforms and bureaucracy. but it doesn’t have to stay like this, the native peoples of america and africa have struggled, and litigated, their way to self-rule.

  4. A few days ago I received an email with very disturbing allegations. I sent copies to all Senators, but there was a ‘blip’ with sending them. The information is serious, and I’m sure, the Howard government will put their own ‘spin’ on it.I must admit, that I’m disgusted, angry and saddened, but not surprised. Mal Brough and Mick Keelty should be dismissed, immediately!

    (This is in full).


    FYI – This has gone to the 7.30 report and several newspapers. Please circulate.

    Dear Kerry O’Brien and 7.30 researchers,

    I have just returned from the Northern Territory. I want John Howard to explain why house to house raids without warrants are being conducted by the AFP in all the Alice Springs town camps. I also want to know why at least two of the senior women who toured major cities speaking out against a uranium waste dump on their traditional lands have been raided by the AFP on warrants issued by a Federal Magistrate in Canberra, their furniture slashed with knives, belongings damaged, laptops and mobile phones seized, and phones tapped.

    I was told by one of the women that the warrant gave 12 hours access to her home, and that she was told that the measures were justified because of the security crackdown for APEC ministers. One of those women is an elderly grandmother.

    I have also been told by town camp residents that the AFP has set up surveillance on all households in the town camps, and have photographed without consent, every Aboriginal child in those town camps. In the 1990s the AFP were successfully taken to court for exactly the same violations in Redfern.

    Please report on this disgraceful conduct, and pursue a full explanation from the Howard Government.


    Jennifer Martiniello
    Member, Advisory Board
    Australian Centre for Indigenous History,
    Australian National University

  5. Naomi, I heard about this last week from Claire Bowern’s blog. I wonder if there’s been any progress, because it certainly hasn’t been on the 7:30 report or in any other media outlet, as far as I know.

    Does anyone have any more information on that?

  6. Jangari

    Perhaps I’m out of touch with the general community. As a non-indigenous woman, I was in tears when I first read it. I was angry and shocked and still feel that way, accompanied by a great sadness. What a sad indictment on the use and abuse of and by the AFP? Similar to the use of the navy during the Tampa debacle and the 9 naval ships that were used for Howard’s personal political goal – to be re-elected! I can’t bear to look at him anymore. He demeans the spirit and reminds me of some well known dictators in other lands. Who’d have thought we’d allow it here?

    Last week I attended the funeral of Aunty Mary Davis, a wonderful aboriginal women in the Illawarra, NSW, who dedicated her life to the well being of her people. There were in excess of 1300 people, and though terribly sad it was a wonderful celebration and acknowlegement of her 67 years of life. I went to a rally early this month in Wollongong, to support the indigenous people of the NT, and Mary welcomed us to country. She was angry and disgusted by Howard’s response, and there was a strong sense of outrage by all who attended. I can only wonder how she’d respond to this latest disgrace!

    I’m appalled at the disinterest of the media, and can’t help wondering how much pressure has been applied by the ‘Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet’? I’ll keep on spreading the word, that’s what we all should do. I’ve sent the email to Senators. I won’t remain silent!
    Shame Howard Shame!

  7. Thanks for the link and the thoughts. It’s so good to know there are politicians in Canberra that have a brain, a conscience and a backbone. If only you could reproduce asexually like Amoeba and then magically form a majority in the sentence. Surely no one would notice.

  8. How much money has Howard saved,so far, as he now is about to put a appearance in !?The U.S.A. hasnt got a top lawman now,The Attorney has retired,and George is going to be early.Cost of George being early.Cost of Howard putting in an appearance,with tribes.

  9. I am disgusted as this is the biggest form of discrimination against the Aboriginal culture that I have seen. I do not see the government doing the same thing with the white population and our problem with child abuse.

    Why do the Aboriginal population have to be treated any different from us. If the same thing had been done in a white community there would be a uproar.

    Most displeased with this situation.

    Yours Sincerely

    R-K O’Brien

  10. Dear Andrew
    Why do you believe that indigenous communities in the 2000s can flourish, that their children can somehow realize the aspirations of the rest of Australians participating in mainstream Australia with all its challenges, hopes and failures?
    Can you tell me why self-determination is the best way for the future of our indigenous communities?

  11. Blair,

    The protectionist and welfare policies since 1900 have failed miserably and are the cause of the crisis and dysfunction today.

    Assimilation has never been a policy, just a slogan. All attempts at policy in this regard have failed as the present mainstreaming agenda is failing, because Aboriginal needs are not and have never been met by mainstream society and agencies.

    “Assimilation” and “mainstreaming” are just euphamisms for withdrawing Aboriginal specific programs.

    Self determination is the only alternative, isn’t it?

  12. I prepared quite a long post – then it went to God – so now I’m keeping it short.

    One could hardly criticise the people of Kybrook Farm for not sending their kids to school. I’m wondering who is responsible for improving the impassable roads, decrepit housing and space for more students in the school.

    I don’t think self-determination is the answer. The rest of us can’t self-determine, regardless of our ethnic origin, can we? We are almost completely determined by the government.

    The social worker says education is the path out of poverty – hard when the path to school is paved with potholes.

    I guess there’s no simple answer for people who, only 200 or so years ago, formed small nomadic hunter/gatherer societies.

    Remaining in remote locations cannot be helpful for at least a short list of reasons.

    This is the point I was trying to make earlier.

  13. Blair asked:
    “Why do you believe that indigenous communities in the 2000s can flourish, that their children can somehow realize the aspirations of the rest of Australians participating in mainstream Australia with all its challenges, hopes and failures? Can you tell me why self-determination is the best way for the future of our indigenous communities?”

    Of course Indigenous communities can flourish. I can’t believe anyone would think that this is beyond the wit or ability of our nation or of Indigenous Australians. Losing Indigenous cultures is a huge loss to Australia and our future potential, as well as to Indigenous people and their direct descendants of course.

    As for self-determination, this is the best way forward for all peoples, including Indigenous peoples. It is just that they have been denied the opportunity.

    I should point out that the right to self-determination is in tghe very first article of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia ratified many years ago. If we genuinely don’t support it as a nation, we should rescind our accession to it.

    ICCPR – Article 1, clause 1:
    “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

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