Will They Be Heard?

An ironic celebration of the second anniversary of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Sorry speech was held in Alice Springs on Saturday. Bob Gosford covered it in his blog The Northern Myth. As Bob explains the protest went on to be a more general protest at the Intervention, and particularly the Basic Card where your money is quarantined away to be spent on only foodstuffs. Income Management it’s called.

At the moment this is done no matter what your skills are at budgeting.

Oh, and only if you are Aboriginal.

Richard Downs, Ampilitwawatja walk-off spokesman
Richard Downs, Ampilitwawatja walk-off spokesman
Currently the Federal Government want to weaken it a bit and then selectively apply it to others meeting certain criteria so they can meet United Nations obligations and hopefully (for the government) not fall outside of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act. The Opposition, who introduced this when in power will vote against it, seemingly as it waters down the provisions.. um restrictions on Aboriginal people.

Funnily enough, a lot of social service organisations and charity groups who were either silent, or not as vocal as they may have been are now jumping up and down now it is to be extended, affecting their clients. It’s a bit sad really.

The government keen on “Evidence Based Policy” after a weak as water survey of about 70 people decided Income Management was working and everyone loved it.

To many that result was absurd and led to a report “Will they be heard?” (291 page PDF) published by the Research Unit, Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning in November 2009.

This is a very comprehensive report and includes a quote by Professor the Honourable Alastair Nicholson.

The breadth of the legislation is frightening and it significantly overrides the rights of many Indigenous people in ways that would not be tolerated by the ordinary Australian community. It is discriminatory and racist and bundles all Indigenous people together as potential pornographers, child molesters and persons habitually addicted to the excessive consumption of alcohol.

The report then looks at the government NTER report in detail and makes many points. (NTER = Northern Territory Emergency Response the term they adopted for the process after they decided “Intervention” was too strong. Everyone still calls it the Intervention)

Here are the problems they found with the government data collection:

  • Lack of independence from government on the part of the people undertaking the consultancy;
  • Lack of Aboriginal input into design and implementation;
  • Lack of notice;
  • An absence of interpreters;
  • The consultations took place on plans and decisions already made by the government;
  • Inadequate explanations of the NTER measures;
  • Failure to explain complex legal concepts; and
  • Concerns about the government’s motives in implementing consultation

Needless to say this report with some eminent people (retired judge and past Prime Minister among them) on board came up with completely different answers than the government consultation.

Some general comments on the Intervention by the aboriginal people consulted for this report:

  • 1. Why is the government making the decisions for our people when we should be?
  • 2. I don’t want to pay for the School Nutrition Program. I provide my own children’s lunches.
  • 3. The GBM at Gapawiyak should not have made the decision for four people from the community to come to the workshop. We should decide.
  • 4. We have to be the most consulted people in the country – if not the world.
  • 5. Government is making decisions for us. We always have to struggle for our basic human rights.
  • 6. Government makes visit after to visit and questions Yolgnu people. What about Balanda people. Why doesn’t the government just give us back our rights?
  • 7. Police in communities are only looking after police.
  • 8. The only people that don’t like the police in our community are the people that break the law. The people in our community are happy with the police.
  • 9. Lawyers and government staff involved in the negotiation of leases need to have interpreters work with them to ensure Yolngu have a true understanding.

As you may have guessed this alternative report was ignored by government.

So following on from the “Will They Be Heard?” report and delving deeply into the interviews and consultations a book has recently been released titled “This Is What We Said

this book provides a graphic account of the depth of frustration and despair of many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory regarding the Intervention

Professor the Honourable Alastair Nicholson again spoke. Let me finish the post with a couple of paragraphs of his speech:

It is a particular tragedy that the high hopes engendered by the Prime Minister’s apology have been unnecessarily dashed by the Rudd government’s obduracy in attempting to achieve the irreconcilable, namely the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act coupled with the retention of a number of the unnecessary and draconic features of the NTER.

Had the Government simply sought to restore the Racial Discrimination Act, as it promised that it would, then it would have received nothing but applause from me and I am sure from a number of others of you here today. However it not only did not chose to adopt that course, but chose to embark upon a spurious series of ‘consultations’ in an attempt to circumvent the very provisions of the Act that it is pledged to restore. All of this is deplorable and unnecessary because this was not the Government’s legislation and because the retention of these measures is but a continuation of the long history of paternalism and racial discrimination suffered by the Aboriginal people of this country.

Buy the book and keep an eye on The Northern Myth as Bob will be reviewing the book soon.

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Robbo is a pharmacist working with a very remote Aboriginal Health Service in the deserts of Western Australia. + Andrew Robbo Roberts

7 thoughts on “Will They Be Heard?”

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  4. Hello, Robbo. What a fascinating blog you have here. Thanks so much for all this information.

    I try to regularly blog on indigenous peoples’ issues all over the world. Still recovering from knee replacement surgery, so my blogging’s been pretty half-hearted lately. You are an inspiration, though. Drop by any time. I’ll be sure to check back, myself.

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