OPEN LETTER TO JENNY MACKLIN
RE: Action to reinstate RDA
Dear Minister Macklin
Stop making excuses.
We have read a recent email from your department appealing for support for your new Intervention legislation. It pretends your proposed laws will end discrimination.
We know that this is a lie.
If you really cared you could act now. Using Ministerial powers granted by the Intervention laws you could immediately de-prescribe communities, grant mass exemptions from Income Management and declare that the NT Anti-Discrimination Act applies to Intervention legislation.
Your claim that the new Income Management system will not be discriminatory is an insult. In Ampilatwatja people are currently being forced to work providing municipal services for their BasicsCard – this will continue under your laws. You have $350 million more for Centrelink bureaucracy but nothing for jobs.
Your new laws will keep the RDA suspended until December 31 2010. Then all the racist powers of the Intervention will continue, rebadged “special measures” under the RDA. Five year leases and the Government Business Managers will remain, and only for Aboriginal people.
These measures have seen things go backwards in our community. The leases and GBMs were supposed to bring improvements such as new housing and improved facilities. Instead the assets that we bought and built with our own money and effort have been seized and locked up.
We told your department all this in consultations. You are lying to Australia when you say Aboriginal people want these measures.
We recently heard that after two years the $680 million put aside for new housing has built two new houses for Aboriginal people. Your Government should be ashamed of this record. At that building rate the 15,000 most needy Aboriginal families will be waiting 15,000 years for housing to be built for them.
You have said Ampilatwatja and hundreds of other small communities and outstations will receive no new housing. You are leaving us to rot.
We are determined to stay on our land. We decided to build our own house. Using limited funds and tools, and with help from Trade Unions and the general public, we are currently building this house in protest of the intervention policies and we aim to have it finished in a total of 10 days.
We call on the Government and all other parties to immediately reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act, repeal the NT Intervention and inject resources immediately into our struggling communities.
Richard Downs – spokesperson for the Alyawarr walk-off camp.
Your help on the Racial Discrimination Act needed so we don’t stand still
Action is needed now by all Australians to support the legislation to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act. Please take the time to consider this issue and how you can make a real difference.
There is a real risk that the RDA suspension will continue indefinitely UNLESS this legislation is passed.
The Government introduced the RDA reinstatement legislation into Parliament on 25 November 2009. The legislation is listed for debate in the House of Representatives next week. A Senate Inquiry by the Community Affairs Committee is due to report 9 March 2010, and at this stage the Senate would consider it shortly afterwards. By the time the Bill is debated by the Senate, interested citizens and interest groups will have had almost four months to consider the Bill.
However there is a real risk that the legislation will get delayed for a long while or voted down.
Risk of it being voted down
We need the support of the Opposition to pass this legislation. Today Opposition spokesman on human services Kevin Andrews said the Coalition believed income management had led to substantial benefits for indigenous people. He said he would be concerned if the proposed legislation watered down those benefits. Mr Andrews said the Coalition had yet to decide whether or not to support the legislation. That would be considered by the shadow cabinet and the partyroom next week, he said.
Even if the Greens did support it, we wouldn’t have the numbers to pass this in the Senate. Independents Xenophon and Fielding don’t usually vote with the Greens on Indigenous issues.
Risk of delay
The Greens have stated they are against it because they are opposed to the new non-discriminatory income management scheme, and opposed to plans to roll it out to other disadvantaged Australian regions in 2012 after a national evaluation. The Greens don’t have the power to stop the legislation in the Senate but they could try to delay it by parking it in a long Senate inquiry.
As a result,
- the reinstatement of the RDA would be delayed
- the introduction of a non-discriminatory and more targeted compulsory income management scheme from July would be delayed
- Indigenous people will continue to targeted for compulsory income management, including aged pensioners, veterans, disability support pensioners and young people who are studying and working.
What we want
We want to pass this legislation without delay so we can deliver to Indigenous people in the NT what they clearly want – the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act. And so we can make necessary changes to the NTER.
Even if you don’t fully agree with the policy reforms proposed in the package, you’ve got to think whether it is better to at least make things in the NT non-discriminatory and reinstate the RDA – or have things continue as they are.
The Government has developed a package after extensive consultation which aims to continue protections to the vulnerable whilst respecting the Racial Discrimination Act.
Please keep this in your mind: the support of the Opposition is needed to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act the Northern Territory – what ever package is proposed, it needs to attract the support of the Opposition.
There is a real risk that the RDA suspension will continue indefinitely UNLESS this legislation is passed. Your help is needed.
You can act by writing to Tony Abbott calling on the Opposition to support and pass the legislation
Writing to Senator Rachel Siewert to urge the Greens to not delay the passage of this legislation.
You may also want to write to the Senate Committee of Community Affairs to relay this message.
I’m happy to take any questions or comments on this. Attached is a basic flyer explaining the proposed changes.
October 13, 2009
Three months ago, elders from the Ampilatwatja community walked off and set up a camp at nearby Honeymoon Bore to protest the NT Intervention measures.
“The government is playing a waiting game. It thinks we’ll get sick of it and go back to the community.But we’re saying no. We’re never ever going to go back to that community to live under your controls and measures.”
Richard Downs, Alyawarr elder and spokesperson
For more information, photos and video about the Alyawarr people’s walk off at Ampilatwatja walk off please click the link below:
August 24, 2009
Dear Trade Unionists and supporters of Aboriginal rights,
We’re writing to you from our protest camp in the desert, asking for your support in our struggle for basic services and rights that many in the cities take for granted.
On July 14 we, elders from the Ampilatwaja community, three hours north-east of Alice Springs, walked out of our houses and set up camp in the bush. We are fed up with the federal governments Northern Territory Intervention, controls and measures, visions and goals forced onto us from outside. We felt we were an outcaste and isolated from all decision making – there has been no meaningful consultation.
We had been waiting with patience to see where this Intervention was heading, hoping there may be some humanity and compassion towards our Indigenous people, some respect to bring us back into the discussion process to have a say in what is happening on our community. Instead our leaders and elders are treated with contempt, shown no respect, degraded, treated as lower class outsiders.
The NT Intervention hasn’t brought any improvements to our people’s lives. It hasn’t brought us any new houses. And, despite the fact that in Ampilatwatja, many of us are living in tin sheds with leaking sewerage, Aboriginal affairs minister Jenny Macklin has told us Ampilatwatja won’t be one of the communities to get new houses built.
Stop the NT Intervention – Support the Ampilatwatja walk off!
Instead, the NT Intervention has meant more hardship and shame for our people. We’re suffering under the welfare quarantining system- 50% of Aboriginal people’s welfare payment is converted into Basics cards, which we can only use at certain shops. Elders who have gone through earlier welfare days are feeling degraded – it’s same old ration days of, flour, tea and sugar and some clothing.
We have written to Jenny Macklin with our concerns, and she has ignored us. A recent Intervention “consultation” session was an embarrassment, with our concerns being completely ignored. We no longer have confidence in her, her government, or the government business managers (GBMs) installed in our communities as part of the Intervention. Under the GBM, our community fell into disarray and dysfunction. For us, the last straw was when the government took over our independent, community-controlled store.
Community members are living permanently at the protest camp.
We therefore have no intention of going back there. We intend to stay here until our demands are met. We demand the federal government:
- Stop the NT Intervention
- Genuinely consult with us on any plans that will affect our lives now and for the future
- Reinstate the full Racial Discrimination Act without conditions or measures
- Fund housing and community development, not intervention
- Stop the compulsory five-year leases and restore Aboriginal land rights
Until these demands are met, we are asking for the help of trade unions and any other organisations to establish and maintain our new camp.
We seek your assistance in obtaining:
- $20000 to get a bore running so we have drinking water at the camp
- $10000 to set up toilets and showers
- Tents to provide shelter for the elders and families. We need 10 and they are $250 each
- Money and donations of food
- A long-term loan/donation of a marquee, chairs and table for and open day and public meeting we are planning.
Through our own savings and community grants we are currently able to contribute $8000 towards these costs. For the remainder, we will be relying on the generosity of supporters around the country
Donations to our struggle can be made into the following account:
Alyawarr Inkerr-Wenh Aboriginal Corporation
BSB 085995 A/C 821104317
NAB Alice Springs Branch
If you make a donation, or to find out more please contact Richard Downs, Alyawarr language group spokesperson.
Email: Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 0428 611 169
Clothes, food and other supplies can be sent to: PO Box 1360 Tennant Creek NT 0861
From the Alyawarr people’s walk-off at Ampilatwatja
August 23, 2009
I bring with me many voices of concern, from my leader’s who are custodians of our traditions and customs, passed down over generations, for many thousands of years; leaders who are the caretakers of our lands through our dreaming, mother earth, and spirits – still with us to this day, watching over all of us.
These leaders saw our children with lighter skins (termed half cast) taken away, because they were of a different colour to our people. Some of these children were never to return, but were lost in a world of inhumane treatment perpetrated by the governments’ policies of assimilation and attempt to destroy our culture. Some returned in their late 50’s and 60’s, only to find emptiness, as the older generation had already moved on to join our ancestral spirits.
Since colonization we have endured much hardship, cruelty, theft, genocide, and destruction of our culture, traditions, customs and laws.
We are people who are very easy to forgive and move on; this we have done for over 200 years, with no resentment and hatred, but always willing to extend our hands and welcome our fellow human beings to embrace them as one with our spiritual lands.
Yet the governments and the agencies have always continued their false pretence of charity, giving a little, while still retaining the power and taking away everything they could with the other hand.
Indigenous people have always put people of different races and cultures first; above selfishness, above any personal wishes.
We have always put our children alongside us so they may learn the ways of our people through teaching, listening, and stories from their elders. They learned about life, the interconnection of all living things, breeding cycles of all animals on our lands, and the songs that go with each animal; so they too have a place on earth. The songs and ceremonies were to ensure the continual survival of animals and it was our ownership, our responsibility to ensure no part of those traditions and customs were lost.
Today we see a great decline in all our species across the world; all the living creatures that we were to protect through our songs and ceremonies to ensure the cycle of life continues for all, and to ensure there was a place for them along side our human brothers and sisters across the world. But our friends have now moved on with others, continuing to follow, as we will all do one day.
This destruction across the world shows that we have not listened and we have not taken note of how best to protect our environment, species of animals and plants, cultures, languages, traditions and customs of all people.
Today, and since the introduction of the “intervention” in 2007, Indigenous people across the Northern Territory are facing a renewed and sustained level of destruction and denial of our basic human rights under the Federal government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response, introduced under the guise of protecting children.
The policies that were developed, passed through parliament quickly, implemented with martial law, and which were supported by the Labor party while in opposition, are having serious and detrimental effects on Aboriginal people across the NT.
The NTER breaches many articles of the United Nations DECLARATION on the Rights of INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, which Australia proudly declared, through its minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, that it has endorsed or signed it, and that this shows “our faith in a new era of relations between states and Indigenous peoples in good faith, good will and mutual respect”. Yet it has not yet bound the Declaration to Australian government legislation or any process of implementation and continues to perpetrate racially discriminatory laws and increasingly so, across Australia.
We seek the support of the UN Special Rapporteur, Prof. James Anaya, and other international human rights bodies, to advise the Australian Government to recognize that, under Article 1, Indigenous people have the rights to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law; and Article 27, to ensure to establish and implement, in conjunction with the indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the rights to participate in this process.
There has not been one house built for Aboriginal people since the government’s announcement of $672 million for the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program across the Northern Territory, designed to alleviate the chronic overcrowding and the physical and social issues that result from this, and to address significant and persistent under-funding and under-resourcing for decades by all persuasions of government. This program is now being investigated by the NT government, and has caused at least one minister to resign from her party and very nearly lost Paul Henderson, and the Labor party, government.
We were told recently by the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, that Ampilatwatja Community will not have any new house’s built – that there is not a great enough need. The sewerage system upgrades only commenced 5 weeks after our people walked out of houses and yards flooded with raw sewerage. The Government Business Manager has promised some housing upgrades and repairs to existing buildings – and the massive commitment of a “rubbish” truck.
Yet we hear the Prime Minister and the Indigenous Affairs minister boasting that they are now closing the gap on all issues, under Council of Australian Government ministers’ agreements and the Northern Territory Emergency Response.
Release the chains of control; give us our freedom; let us walk once again as free human beings on this earth (our mother), with our ancestors, spirits, songs, and ceremonies.
Let us share our richness of cultures with others. We are all one blood and connected through our spiritual dreams of pathways, Earth, Water, Trees, Sky, and Wind, which carry our thoughts and spirits across all continents.
Let us once again embrace our younger generation into our folds to show and give them guidance, as these are our next generation of leaders who are lost between two worlds (cultures) but are at the cross roads between light and darkness.
We have an opportunity and one chance in our life time to get it right. Let your hearts guide you, not your government policies which are at the core of the destruction of Aboriginal people.
A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.
Nelson Mandela – Freedom – Compassion
The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Nelson Mandela – Inspirational – Great – Challenges – Determination