Statement by Northern Territory elders and community representatives - No more! Enough is enough!

Melbourne 4 November, 2011

United First People’s Law men and women who are born leaders representing people of Prescribed Areas in the Northern Territory make this statement. Once again, they have gathered to openly discuss the future of our generation who have been subjugated by the lies and innuendo of the Federal Government, set out in the Stronger Futures document (October 2011).

The Stronger Futures report has created a lot of anger and frustration due to the lack of process and the ignorant way in which the views of the people have been reported. We therefore reject this report.

We will not support an extension of the Intervention legislation. We did not ask for it. In fact we call for a genuine Apology from the Federal Government for the hurt, embarrassment, shame and stigma, and for the illegal removal of the Racial Discrimination Act. It is our intention to officially call upon Government for reparation.

The recent consultations report shows that Government has failed to take seriously our concerns and feelings. This report is simply a reflection of pre-determined policy decisions. This is shown clearly by the absence of any commitment to bilingual learning programmes as well as the proposal to introduce welfare cuts and fines to parent of non-attending school children. Once again a punitive policy that is neither in the best interests of the child or the family.

Blanket measures have been central to the Northern Territory Intervention and have been the source of much distress. Where there are problems, they must be addressed on a case by case basis and preferably with the assistance through the appropriate community channels.

Since August 2007 till 2011, more than 45,000 First Nations Peoples living in the Prescribed Areas were traumatised when a Bill was passed through both Houses of Parliament (The House of Representatives and the Senate).

This legislation suspended the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to put in place the Northern Territory Emergency Response. The Australian Greens were the only party to oppose the legislation.

These actions have placed Australia in breach of its international treaty obligations to the First Nations Peoples. Respectful discussion and negotiation with community elders did not take place before the introduction of the Intervention.
Discussions on a diplomatic basis are essential. There are elders in every Aboriginal Nation invested by the authority of the majority. These are the people with whom Minister Macklin should be negotiating, rather than with the chosen few, as has been her habit.

There has NEVER been acquiescence in the taking of our lands by stealth. Aboriginal people are sovereign people of this Nation. The process that will lead to legal recognition of customary law should be immediately commenced.

We believe that there should be an honest and comprehensive treaty negotiation with the Australian Government and facilitated by the United Nations.

We have a right under international law to self determination and after almost five years of the oppression of the Intervention, we demand that Government hand back to us control over our communities and provide adequate Government, long-term funding to ensure the future of Homelands.

Communty Councils have suffered from years of underfunding. The same is happening today with the Shires that have been imposed on us. There is a lack of funding for our Core Service.There is no capacity for Aboriginal communities to engage in long-term services planning without the certainty of long-term funding.

We have had enough! We need our independence to live our lives and plan our futures without the constant oppression and threats which have become central to the relationship between Government and Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. We will not support policies that have not been negotiates with all elders of Prescribed communities and we will not support an extension of the Intervention, or an Interventionunder other names.

Since the Apology and since reconciliation, the level of incarceration of Aboriginal men has increased three-fold; our families are being punished for failure to attend a foreign school design; our capacity to govern our own lives has been totally disempowered; Aboriginal youth suicide rates in the Northern Territory are higher than anywhere else in Australia; and our people have been demonized, labelled and branded. This is not what an apology is and it is not reconciliation. These outcomes are the very opposite to their intent.

Australia is in breach of its international treaty obligations to the first nation’s people through it membership to the United Nations in the elimination of racial discrimination.

We as leaders of the Northern Territory acknowledge other peoples’ views. We acknowledge that some may agree and some may disagree with parts or all of the ‘intervention’; whatever the name the Government chooses to call it. The only right we now have left is to remain silent.

We as Aboriginal people call on the international community to hold Australia to account for its continuing crimes against humanity for its treatments of its first nation’s people. Again, we say to our visits by the Minister’s department; this is not consultation. Proper consultation is about listening and inviting and including the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Consultation is about outcomes that are progressive and agreeable to all parties.

The future is based on our children having a quality education, but to date this continues to be a systemic failure. A quality education for our people needs to include:
• Bilingualism in schools to be returned and strengthened to ensure our children learn their traditional languages, dialects and cultural knowledges.
• Attendances need to be rewarded, rather than children and families being punished for non-attendance.
• Aboriginal teachers in classrooms and school educational leadership roles are essential to building quality, localized schooling programs. This means also equal pay and entitlements, rewards and opportunities consistent with their important roles.
• Curriculum needs to change and reflect traditional knowledges not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, but importantly for the broader Australian population who know very little about their own first peoples.
• Aboriginal teachers need to be treated fairly and equally to their non-Aboriginal counterparts in delivering quality education to our children. This includes the opportunity to tell oral stories of Kinship, Creation Stories, and about important cultural knowledge and skills.

Failure to accept these views and work seriously toward their inclusion will simply mean more of the same.

Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM
Japata Ryan
Harry Nelson
Djapirri Murunggirritj
Barbara Shaw
Yananymul Mununggurr

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert: "The Government's Stronger Futures Consultation Report wasn't surprising, but it was deeply disappointing."



SBS: Elders voice anger over NT intervention

2SER: Alternatives to the NT Intervention

Broadcast 6 October 2011 on 2ser radio 107.3 Sydney

Presented by Simon Unwin

two excellent interviews by that indefatigable duo, paddy gibson and ms. barbara shaw on what is wrong with the intervention that the howard - krudd - gillard governments are forcing onto the aborigines on welfare, most of them, in the prescribed areas.

the end outcome of all of this criminal and immoral behaviour by the governments has only one strategic bottom line and that is access to all aboriginal traditional lands on behalf of mining international, among others. the stripping of all services from daguragu (wave hill) to force the inhabitants into the so-called hub areas is nothing less than an attack on our cultural connections to our lands. it must be understood that once our traditional owners walk or get pushed off their lands, the lands are then claimed by the governments as lands that have lost their cultural links to the owners who once resided there and thus become, by government default and decree, government controlled lands to do with as they may wish.

some of us are only too well aware of what that wish is!

paddy informs us of the most interesting point of what aboriginal workers are being paid to build, or assist in building, aboriginal housing. they are being paid a pittance, a mere $6 dollars an hour or even less whilst the white contractors are becoming the nouveau riche from their constant rorts from what is essentially aboriginal-designated monies.

i have written before on my concerns that the government, having mainly scrapped the aboriginal initiated cdep programmes, are still advocating cdep-type wages for local aboriginal labour. i have this theory, so far unproven due to a lack of concrete information, on what wages twiggy forrest and the rest of the mining companies are paying their aboriginal workers? are they on cdep-type wages? or are they on some long-term 'trainee' wages that allows their employers to rort the hell out of them? are they receiving their full work entitlements? we may never know but these are the questions that continue to nag at me.

what are the appropriate unions doing about it? i assume that the cfmeu and the awu have carved it up between them but are they too busy protecting the non-aboriginal workers? the awu during its conception banned aboriginal, chinese, islander, etc. membership. i just hope they have not regressed in any way. i have not heard either union or, in fact, any other union, making statements on these issues. why? i just do not know.

is fairwork australia or workchoices for that matter colour-blind?

ms. barbara continues to inform us of the ills that beset those living in the prescribed areas and the constant abuse and manipulation that follows from that. she at least lives in the prescribed areas and is daily affected by the mechanics of the intervention process unlike some other aboriginal pundits who remain living in sydney, melbourne or even alice springs and are in no way affected but continue to support it.

during the ensuing q and a that followed her wise words, she was asked the seemingly inevitable question arising from, i believe, white angst against their problems of what to do and how to do it. yes they declare their empathy, their sympathy, their apologies and their collective need for some form of reconciliation. but still they expect we victims to do something about it.

i no longer await the inevitable question, i pre-empt it in my presentations to an audience, as i recently did in melbourne, and in my daily conversations on these matters of importance to them, non-aboriginal australia.

if you have enough aboriginal knowledge of our shared history (not pre-invasion history as that is for the stuff of museums and the 'noble savage' romantics) to enable you to attend an address or forum of an aboriginal activist of whatever ilk, then i would believe, and argue, that you have at least some level of the answer already known to yourself. the query involved what we as aborigines wanted. why were we continuously so negative in an abbot-esque fashion? positive ideas and ideals were sought as to what could/would make changes and, basically, why did we not just go ahead and bloody do it!

without being critical of barbara's answer i would add the following to it. with her consent of course.

we aboriginal number circa 500 000 whilst non-aboriginal australia is nearing circa 25 000 000, a 50 to 1 ratio if my creaky maths are correct. our people have been active in harrying the dominant culture since the invasion in so many ways. physical resistance proved to be impossible and we lost too many of our ancestors to retaliations and outright genocidal massacres. we learnt quickly that we needed to change tactics. i argue that our numbers nationally were reduced from some 2 to 3 million, pre-invasion, to something like a tenth of our people remaining from the late 19th century on. but we have grown as a people since then and our resistance has now become a more political one. during the late 1960's and 70's our activities have changed from time to time to better reflect our argument of what was possible at that time. we do not beg for our rights and what is ours, we now demand everything that is rightfully ours and in this we are fully supported by the un declaration of indigenous peoples.

but, and it is indeed a big but, we still remain fairly powerless in our own lands. we are certainly no south africa.

who then has the power to make such changes? it is those same people who are empowered merely by living on our sacred and stolen lands. it is those same people who benefit every day from the monies stolen from our ancestral resources. it is those same people who have been given a far better life and family circumstances at the cost of what has been pushed upon aborigines and their blitzkrieged families. it is all of that and more but most of all it is within your collective power to change our current society by having the numbers to force governments to act both humanely and positively towards the traditional owners of this country. and other much maligned groups such as asylum seekers and people of colour.

i have argued for many years that of the non-aboriginal population we can say that about 8 million of that demographic is aware of and supports, to varying degrees, what is seen as aboriginal issues and how to address them. an impressive number for sure but not enough to shake the government of the day. the answer lies in we, the aborigines and the one third, educating some 4 to 5 million others of what is required to really make this country the land of the 'fair go.' this is now being done, however slowly, by people educating themselves on our black and white history and by more and more education units accepting aboriginal studies into their curricula. it will not happen in my lifetime nor even perhaps that of my children but i have high hopes that my grandchildren and all the other aboriginal grandchildren will lead a far better life in a society that recognises and accepts that assimilation is not the answer. like the intervention it is merely a symptom of the disease that envelops my people.

so as our much respected elder, dr. ruby langford ginibi, stated at every possible moment,

we got to edu-ma-cate them. so let's just go ahead and bloody do it!

one point that i would ask both paddy and barbara to inform us on is what is happening with the 'mission managers' who have been foisted onto the prescribed communities and what are they doing. it is my understanding that these government appointed 'trojan horses', at about $300 000 per year, are living in virtual luxury whilst our people remain in squalor.

more strength to both of you, comrades.