IRAG submission for Stronger Futures 2012


Olga Havnen, employed for a year as Co-ordinator General of Remote Services in the Northern Territory, released a report on her findings in September 2012.  Subsequently Ms Havnen was dismissed from her job and the position abolished.

Following is the link to Olga Havnen’s report.


Crikey on December 5th, 2011 published an article describing how there is still no evidence for Macklin’s intervention. 

It can be found at:’s-nt-intervention/,

or here:

Still no evidence for macklin’s intervention

The longer full version is reproduced below:

Still no evidence for Macklin’s Intervention

A review of the Community Safety and Wellbeing Research Study

By Dr Hilary Tyler and Paddy Gibson

In the past month, FaHCSIA has released more than 1000 pages worth of reports that seek to justify an expansion of the NT Intervention.

One of the most important for Minister Jenny Macklin has been the Community Safety and Wellbeing Research Study (CSWRS). This analyses the results of a survey and a voting process with more than 1343 people across 16 unnamed NT Aboriginal communities. Its findings are a cornerstone of a 400-page evaluation of the NTER.

Despite being touted as proof that communities want the Intervention, the 17 page survey form used in communities does not once refer to “the Intervention” or the “Northern Territory Emergency Response”.

Survey participants were never asked about whether they actually agree with, or consent to any law that has been imposed on them through the Intervention, much as happened in the ‘Stronger Futures’ consultations. This illustrates contempt for both the right and the capacity of Aboriginal people to shape their own future.

Ideology of the Intervention

The headline statistic for Macklin is “almost three out of four people surveyed by this study said their community is safer now than it was three years ago”. She has implored anti-Intervention activists, “Look at the evidence. This has nothing to do with ideology or politics”.

But the ideology of the Intervention is on clear display through the CSWRS survey design and the report itself. The survey is fixated on questions about dysfunctional Aboriginal behaviour. Despite this, the clearest evidence provided by the report is that meeting shortfalls in services and infrastructure is the main challenge facing communities.

Despite being touted as the work of independent consultants, the report thanks FaHCSIA’s evaluation branch for guiding the project “from conceptualisation to completion” and thanks 20 Government Business Managers, the on-the-ground authorities imposed by the Intervention, for their facilitation role (p3). Prominent pro-Intervention personalities also worked as staff.

On the question of leadership, the report claims:

“Many of the comments relating to loss of leadership and community control are made by middle-aged men, who are likely to be the main group who used to be closely involved in community affairs, and have now lost that role” (p42).

A central, racist, premise of the Intervention has been that the social problems facing Aboriginal communities stem from the degenerate nature of Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal kinship obligations are fuelling “humbug” and poverty. “Big men”, whose political power comes from their cultural status, ran corrupt community administrations that had proved incapable of progress. Then Minister Mal Brough disgracefully accused these “middle-aged men” of harbouring pedophile rings in their communities.

The Australian Crime Commission has dismissed these allegations. But Macklin’s new legislation keeps ACC “star chamber” powers on the books. Bans of X18+ material are maintained, literally treating Aboriginal people as children. Courts will still be banned from considering Aboriginal customary law and culture practice in bail and sentencing. These powers serve only to further demonise Aboriginal culture.

But the largest positive response generated through the entire CSWRS survey, in a section on Values, demonstrate a clear desire to defend the Aboriginal kinship system and Aboriginal culture:

“Having a strong connection to your culture, living traditionally, speaking language” and “Being close to family and friends” were rated “very important” by 91.2% and 92.4% of participants (with 96% and 97% of participants rating them as overall important) .

These responses were not mentioned in 140 pages of analysis in the CSWRS report, and can only be found buried as raw data in an appendix (p149). In contrast, there is eight pages of analysis into the detail of responses around inter-personal violence. This is just one of the more stark examples of how the ideology of the Intervention has profoundly shaped the selective presentation of data, and precluded conclusions which may be uncomfortable for the government.

Inconsistencies in presentation of the data


For a number of reasons, it’s very hard to draw conclusions about the usefulness of any data obtained from this survey.

Many questions clearly lead participants. The survey begins, for example, with 15 positive assertions that things have improved compared with “three years ago”. People are asked to register their level of agreement on a range of topics, from “less people smoking ganja” to “easier to get help at the clinic” to “community is safer”.

The survey process ran from December 2010 – June 2011 (p4). “Three years” prior to these dates (late 2007 – mid 2008), the Intervention was in full swing. It is unclear why communities weren’t clearly asked to compare their condition to before the Intervention.

The report acknowledges on many occasions that its “quantitative” data is unreliable. But these admissions are carefully made, in a way that does not compromise the headline statistics.

i) Are some people saying “what they thought they ought to say”?

The survey is thick with questions about deviant Aboriginal behaviour, with a focus on attitudes to different kinds of violence. For example, 9.1% of people thought it was OK for a man to hit a woman, “if she argues or refuses to obey him” and 26.4% said it was OK for a woman to hit a man, “if he wastes a lot of money on gambling/alcohol/drugs”.

The presentation of these figures comes with a caveat:

“Feedback from data collectors also suggests that some of the responses may have been what the participant thought they ought to say, rather than what they really thought – which suggests that the true level of sanction for inter-personal violence may be higher than appears here” (p137).

This is an obvious point. This was essentially a government survey and people would be eager to give authorities positive impressions of their community. But this suggestion of bias towards a “positive” answer was not made in any other context.

For example, 63.1% of respondents said they agreed with the statement that school attendance had increased from three years ago. This is clearly incorrect. Hard data shows that school attendance has not increased under the Intervention.

The report registers concern at the “apparent disjuncture between what many respondents believe about school attendance, and what NT Department of Education and Training data tell us is the reality” (p98). But this is put down to lack of information, “there may be a case for widely publicising school attendance data within each community” (p143), not people saying what they “thought they ought to say”.

ii) Are communities safer since the Intervention, or have they always been safe?

One of the cruel features of the survey is that there is no opportunity for people to comment on the strengths of their community. There are strong themes of Aboriginal dysfunction and an assumption that government Intervention, rather than community initiative, is responsible for positive outcomes. For example, questions gauging strength of leadership or children’s happiness are only posed in comparison with three years previous.

It is clear however, that large numbers of people wanting to express pride in their community, ignored the three-year comparison and took the opportunity to make a general statement.

This is selectively acknowledged in the report. For example, on responses to the statement, “there is more respect for elders than three years ago”, the report says:

“In the largest communities the community is fairly evenly split, with 48.7% agreeing, compared with 51.3% disagreeing. This is a marked contrast between the smallest communities, where 89.2% agree and 10.2% disagree. It is difficult to interpret this result. It may be that people are in effect saying that respondents are commenting (sic) more on the extent of respect for elders in the community, rather than whether or not it has changed in the last three years” (p83).

This analysis has serious implications for Macklin’s headline assertion – that three-quarters of people feel safer than three years ago. Perhaps many just think their community is a safe place to be?

The qualitative data quoted by the report seems to confirm many people just believe their community is a safe place to be, and were not referring to improvement since the Intervention:

“Small remote communities are seen as safer than larger ones and Alice Springs/Darwin as the least safe. As this young woman expresses ‘This is a small community and that’s why it is always safe for us to live in’.” (p72)

On the same page:

“The following quote by a middle-aged woman reflects many more in the same vein: ‘It’s a safe community because it’s a family community. There are some problems here, but we have a strong community and we sort it out before we call the Night Patrol or police'”

Despite the clarity of this evidence, the validity of the “communities are safer” mantra is not questioned.

Services and “growth towns”

The stand-out finding of the report is that many in communities appreciate any increased investment in services, but that shortfalls in services and infrastructure are still of urgent concern.

Parallel to the survey, the CSWRS ran a ballot on key changes and challenges facing the community. This seems to have been a more collaborative process than the survey design, with community feedback playing a role in setting the categories for voting.

In the vote on challenges facing the community, huge numbers voted for improved services and infrastructure, including housing. Next in the rankings was “young people”, but it appears “more activities for young people”, rather than any behavioural problem (a massive focus of the survey), was the most frequently cited challenge in this category. Closer analysis is not possible because the raw data from the voting process is not in the appendix.

In the survey itself, large majorities register that it is “easier to get help” from services provided by key government agencies. 78.3% either strongly agree or agree it’s easier at the clinic; 76.3% from the police; 80.6% from Centrelink and 83.1% that the school is better.

In light of the limitations of the survey data outlined above, these findings need to be treated with caution. But it is important to note that increased investment in public services has never been opposed by the anti-Intervention activists derided by Macklin. These investments come off a base of documented and disgraceful neglect and need to be increased into the future.

The anti-Intervention campaign has criticised extreme waste of funds on bureaucracy. The NTER evaluation report says:

“Analysis of Visiting Officer Notification system shows that 45,000 personal visitations were made during the period from August 2007 – August 2011” (p5). This is an extraordinary number of trips by ‘fly-in-fly out’ bureaucrats and staff, a slightly higher figure than the 44,500 people residing in prescribed areas!

We have opposed discriminatory legislation. We have opposed the dismantling of employment and service delivery programs operated by Aboriginal organisations. The survey form gave no opportunity to comment on the impact of these changes, but there is plenty of Aboriginal opinion that the experience since 2007 has been one of profound loss of service and opportunity.

At Daguragu for example, residents have protested the loss of a host of services that used to be provided by their local community council and the Community Development Employment Projects, both of which have now been abolished. These include a bakery, brickworks, family centre, bus service, art centre and canteen.

The federal government is concentrating efforts on 16 large “priority communities” in the NT. The NT government has added five more, declaring a total of 21 “growth towns”. These are the only communities earmarked for increased investment in housing, services or infrastructure into the future, leaving smaller communities and outstations to languish.

Outstations, or homelands, have been completely neglected through the Intervention, not even receiving renovations under SIHIP. No outstations appear to have been included in this survey, despite holding around 30% of the NT Indigenous population.

Laynhapuy Homelands CEO Yananymul Mununggurr has said “Government seems ready to let homelands wither on the vine, which is what will happen if only current levels of inadequate funding are maintained particularly in relation to new housing”.

A constant theme through the CSWRS was that smaller communities, and especially the smallest communities, were seen as safer, more robust, with stronger leadership. These are the very communities in danger of being left behind. For example, the Stronger Futures jobs package, announced with the new legislation, guarantees a job in the public sector for students who complete year 12 – but restricts this to students from “growth towns”.

But the survey analysis does not comment on implications for the “growth towns” policy of the findings that there is a statistically significant trend for survey respondents to prefer smaller places. This finding has not been mentioned in any official media release or media coverage.

Withdraw the legislation

There is plenty of evidence that the very serious social problems facing NT Aboriginal communities are becoming more acute. Reported incidents of attempted suicide and self-harm (p66) have more than doubled since the Intervention. There has been a 41 per cent increase in Indigenous incarceration and a 38 per cent increase in the numbers of Aboriginal children being taken into “out of home care.”

The emergency ward in Alice Springs hospital is dealing with increasing numbers of Aboriginal people, many suffering trauma as a result of assaults. Overwhelmingly, alcohol and homelessness are contributing factors in these incidents.

The Women’s Shelter in Alice Springs, providing shelter for women from domestic violence, had its busiest year ever in the last financial year.

But there is still no evidence that the raft of explicitly racist laws, which Minister Jenny Macklin’s new legislation would extend for a further 10 years, have the consent of Aboriginal people.

The Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association said in their Health Impact Assessment of the NTER in 2010:

“The impoverished notion of governance that the Intervention represented has profound, far reaching, and serious negative effects on the health (psychosocial, physical and cultural) of the people whose aspirations, knowledge, experience and skills were ignored; and it means that investments in housing or education of health ‘… are unlikely to pay off” (pg18)

Elders throughout the NT, Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the NT (Land Councils, Legal and Medical), ACOSS, ANTaR, the Public Health Association of Australia and many others are all calling for the Stronger Futures legislation to be withdrawn.

The CSWRS report does not offer any credible evidence that would support this new legislation. It shows Aboriginal communities want investment in services and infrastructure. There is strong evidence presented that Aboriginal people believe  smaller communities in particular are robust, safer, and happy places. The government must abandon the “growth towns” model immediately.

Minister Macklin’s legislation continues to concentrate power in the hands of government and vilify Aboriginal people. This is not what people asked for and not what will deliver sustained improvement in the lives and livelihoods of remote living Aboriginal people in the NT.

Dr Hilary Tyler is an Emergency Physician working in Alice Springs.

Paddy Gibson is a Senior Researcher at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning.

Both have been active in the campaign opposing the Northern Territory Intervention

Still no evidence for macklin’s intervention

Intervention Rollback Action Group Response to ‘Action for Alice’

Thursday March 3rd 2011

The Intervention Rollback Action Group condemns the racist advertising campaign being run by business owner group ‘Action for Alice’ and their calls for further incarceration of Aboriginal people.  We are extremely concerned at deteriorating social conditions facing the Aboriginal community both in urban centres and bush communities.  These problems are the fruits of discriminatory government policy. Meeting this crisis must start with a strong stand against racism and for empowerment and positive investment in Aboriginal communities.

The Intervention has failed

Both former Howard government Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and members of ‘Action for Alice’ have recently said the NT Intervention has been a failure because crime rates have increased.  But it is not just crime that has become worse.  Government figures show that a broad range of social indicators have worsened since June 2007.

Incarceration rates are up 20 per cent (NT Department of Corrections annual reports). Incidents of suicide and self-harm have increased by more than 50 per cent (NT Closing the Gap Monitoring Report 2010).

More children have been hospitalised for malnutrition since income management was introduced (Closing the Gap in the NT Monitoring Report). School attendance is down across the board and in many communities attendance rates have plummeted – by 30 per cent and Yuendumu and 23 per cent at Lajamanu for example.

It is wrong to claim as Brough does that the Intervention has somehow become ‘soft’ under Labor.  Every key Intervention measure remains in place, from compulsory five year leases over Aboriginal land, the imposition of Government Business Managers to ‘run’ Aboriginal communities, race-based alcohol and pornography bans, the dismantling of Aboriginal community councils (an NT government reform facilitated by the Intervention) and the abolition of the Community Development Employment Program or CDEP.

Brough says the difference is he would have had an ‘honest conversation with remote communities about their viability’.  But since 2008 Labor has been sending this message loud and clear.  There are no new houses planned for the majority of communities despite desperate need.  The shut down of Aboriginal community councils in favour of 9 super shires has left remote communities stripped of representation, employment and millions of dollars worth of assets necessary for a functioning community.  With CDEP winding up, thousands of Aboriginal workers have been forced onto dole queues while the basic services they provided in remote communities like rubbish collection and sewerage maintenance collapse.

‘Action for Alice’ claims that grog restrictions are bringing people into town. While this may be true in some cases, most are economic refugees. Without local leadership structures, employment prospects, services or support in remote communities, the urban drift identified by representatives of the local Aboriginal organisations can only escalate.

The urban centres lack the necessary emergency accommodation, social services or employment programs to adequately deal with such a population influx, leading to increased homelessness, more public drinking, more property crime and increased contact with police.

Apartheid in Alice Springs

But it is mistaken to simply blame ‘urban drift’ for social problems.  And it is outright racist to talk about ‘sending people back’ to bush communities – denying Aboriginal people the basic entitlement of freedom of movement.  Out of 26 juvenile break-ins which have occurred since Christmas, 17 were undertaken by youth from Alice Springs, not the bush.

The Aboriginal community in Alice Springs has itself suffered many heavy blows in recent years, fuelling poverty, resentment and marginalisation.  The intervention has created an atmosphere of apartheid in Alice Springs.

Race-based restrictions see police and security guards brutally target Aboriginal people in public for simply carrying grog or doing their shopping.   Compulsory Income Management has set up a system of segregated service delivery where Aboriginal people are constantly shamed by shop assistants.  Prominent signs outside all prescribed areas reinforce stereotypes of Aboriginal people as problem drinkers and sex offenders.  Town Council by-laws essentially criminalise public Aboriginal life.

Aboriginal unemployment is at more than 90% in prescribed areas and reforms to CDEP have left the program gutted, with many participants now simply working for quarantined Centrelink payments.

Communities Need Support not Punishment

Since the Intervention, incarceration rates in the NT have risen by 20 per cent. The NT already has one of the world’s highest imprisonment rates, with 83% of the adult prison population being Aboriginal.  In Juvenile Detention the rate of Aboriginal incarceration is 88%.

But rather than recognise the obvious failure of punitive policy, ‘Action for Alice’ and Mal Brough are calling for ‘zero tolerance’, mandatory sentencing and more cops.  This will only serve to increase incarceration rates and fuel racial tension. Mandatory sentencing was trialled in the NT from 1997 and repealed in 2001 in recognition of its profound failure as a deterrent policy.

Positive solutions must start with the repeal of discriminatory legislation and recognition and encouragement of Aboriginal leadership and Aboriginal rights.  An Action plan to meet current social problems must include:

– Reinstatement of land rights in all communities and re-establishment of local government councils.  Return of all assets seized through the shire takeover or compensation paid for lost assets.
– Rescinding the 40-year leases taken through blackmail of town camp housing associations.
– Massive investment in community controlled employment and housing programs in all prescribed areas.
– Reinstatement of bilingual education and investment in recruitment and empowerment of local Aboriginal people in the school system.
– Repeal of race-based grog bans and proper investment in communities to deliver alcohol plans and rehabilitation services.
– Reinstatement of Aboriginal customary law and empowerment of elders to deal with justice in communities
– An end to compulsory Income Management and redirection of $350 million budgeted for Income Management over the next four years towards positive social programs.

Calls for more punitive measures must be resisted. We must act immediately to force the removal of the racist advertisements and an end to vigilantism sponsored by groups like Action for Alice. The Intervention must be scrapped and the millions currently being spent on bureaucrats and punitive programs must be redirected to rebuilding Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal leadership.

Take action against racist advertisements: Action for Alice’s ads calling for more incarceration and a night-time youth curfew depict all Aboriginal youth as lawless gang members involved in criminal activity. They must be removed from air. A complaint has been lodged with the Human Rights Commission and an injunction against their screening has been sought.

You can help by making a complaint to the Advertising Standards Bureau at:

To view the ads go to:

Please contact us at for more updates on this campaign.

Jobs with Justice Statement Launched 29 October 2010:

Jobs with Justice Statement

Statement on Tony Abbott’s Wild Rivers bill from the Intervention Rollback Action Group Alice Springs

Wednesday October 6 2010

Tony Abbott and Nigel Scullion don’t care about Aboriginal Land Rights

We have been sickened by the hypocrisy of Liberal leader Tony Abbott and Liberal NT Senator Nigel Scullion on their recent crusade to overturn Queensland ‘Wild Rivers’ legislation.

Tony Abbott has argued he is “defending Indigenous Land Rights”. Nigel Scullion has talked about “the fundamental principles of self-determination and informed prior consent”.

This from politicians who launched and continue to support the NT Intervention, the most destructive and disempowering policy in Aboriginal affairs since the Stolen Generations.

Land Rights? These politicians suspended the Racial Discrimination Act to compulsorily acquire Aboriginal township land across the Northern Territory, a policy which has seen millions of dollars worth of land, property and assets transfered from Aboriginal to state ownership.

Informed consent? When Scullion was confronted in 2007 by elders in Arnhem Land about the Intervention he said, “I know you are angry you were not consulted – but we didn’t consult with anybody”.

They say they care about economic development and jobs opportunities in Aboriginal communities. But 7500 Aboriginal people were employed in Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) in the NT before 2007 when the Liberals started to attack the program. Thousands of these jobs have now been lost, throwing people onto the dole. The remainder will go in 2011 when the program stops for good. We know Cape York communities are also suffering under this policy.

These jobs cuts are not happening because of a shortage of money. Unprecedented levels of public money are being spent  on paying government bureaucrats to control Aboriginal people. $350 million will be spent on Income Management in the NT alone over the next four years.

The only “economic development” Abbott and his supporters want Aboriginal people to have is the kind that supports the interests of big corporations like the mining company Cape Alumina who are lobbying to overturn Wild Rivers. In the NT too, communities are being told they are ‘unviable’ unless they can attract major corporate investment.

The toxic trade-off Abbott would further enforce on Cape York is already in play here. Aboriginal people from Muckaty north of Tennant Creek were told by the Liberal Party they would only receive funding for roads, housing and education if they accept a nuclear waste dump on their land. Abbott and Scullion are continuing to support laws which would force this waste dump on Muckaty by over-riding the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT), the Aboriginal Heritage Act and the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

We support the Greens in opposing Tony Abbott’s bill. They are rightly demanding that the principle of Indigenous ‘informed consent’ for developments on Native Title land should take place through amendments to the Native Title Act that apply nationally. To have any value, ‘informed consent’ must be for all developments including mining – not just a set of environmental regulations in Northern Queensland. Even better – lets put national Land Rights legislation back on the agenda.

As it stands Abbott’s bill will further lock the future development of Aboriginal communities into the straight-jacket of high-impact, destructive projects.

The Greens have been attacked in this debate by conservative Aboriginal figures Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton. But Pearson and Langton too have lost all credibility. How can they talk about Aboriginal rights after their high-profile support for the dispossession of the NT Intervention and the suspension of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act to enforce punitive welfare regimes on Cape York?

Aboriginal communities across Australia badly need the resources and full Land Rights to both develop their communities and protect the environment. Rejecting the disgusting hypocrisy currently on display by the Liberal Party is an important part of this struggle.

Intervention Rollback Action Group Alice Springs


Resolutions from the Defending Indigenous Rights Conference Alice Springs 6-9 July 2010.

We the people in attendance at the Defending Indigenous Rights conference held in Alice Springs from the 6-9th July 2010 stand in solidarity with Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory to condemn the NT Intervention.   We call on all political parties to call for the abolition of the NT Emergency Response legislation and return rights of self determination and restore control over Traditional lands, including remote communities, homelands, and town camps.

1.         Women’s Statement

To Prime Minister Julia Gillard:

We, the women, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters in support of our men who are the shared caregivers of the NT wholeheartedly demand the NTER be abolished immediately.

The media has heralded your promotion to PM as a breakthrough for women.  All this talk is a slap in the face for Aboriginal women whose communities are being devastated by this government’s racist intervention.

For three years the removal of our human rights has been justified with lies about protecting women from violence and feeding our children.  We are living proof of the damage it has caused to us as Indigenous peoples of the NT who are trying to survive, live and practice our way of life.  Shame on you!

We call on you, and Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, to abolish this law that takes away our human rights as Indigenous peoples of this country.

Minister Macklin consistently claims that women support Income Management and the Intervention.  This is not the truth.  Under current policies we have no choice and no change and now a big cloud is covering our struggle and journey.  The Working Futures policy is about closing our homelands and communities.  This is damaging and destructive to our families, our language, law, culture, everything that is important to us.  This is our identity, passed down through generations, and this is what makes us the oldest unique culture in the world.

Income Management, cuts of the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), the bi-lingual education ban in schools, compulsory five year leases over our land and housing – all these measures are taking away our control over our lives and our communities.  Your legal discrimination against us has given a licence to racists to abuse us in the street, in supermarkets and to attack our kids at school.

We call for the immediate end of the NT Intervention and the resignation of Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.

2. Worse than Workchoices: Exploitation of Aboriginal workers must stop!  Jobs with Justice now.

The Rudd government committed to halving the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in a decade.  But due to a continuation of Howard era policies such as the NTER, the gap is becoming far wider.  ABS data released on June 3 shows that Indigenous unemployment has drastically worsened from 13.8% in 2007 to 18.1% in 2009.  The employment to population ratio of Indigenous males in remote areas decreased 6% in just one year 2008-09.

Minister Macklin has promised to deliver ‘real jobs’ for Aboriginal communities through the NT intervention.  Instead, thousands of CDEP positions have been lost.

At the end of 2010, 500 ‘real jobs’ created to replace some of the lost CDEP positions in remote shire councils face the axe.  The Commonwealth is refusing to release the $8.5 million per year needed by the NT government to keep the jobs.  Many Aboriginal communities serviced by these shires already suffer atrocious living conditions which shame Australia – 500 more job losses will be devastating.

Worse than Workchoices

Under the new CDEP scheme designed by the federal Labor government, Aboriginal people no longer receive wages.  They are being forced to work providing vital services such as rubbish collection, school bus runs, sewerage maintenance, construction and aged care in exchange for quarantined Centrelink payments.

There are cases of people working between 25-40 hrs a week for a base rate of approximately $120 cash and $110 on the Basics Card – that is $4 an hour plus rations. Centrelink is threatening to cut off payment entirely if people do not participate in CDEP. This is far worse than anything the Liberals inflicted on workers under Workchoices.

Minister Macklin has referred these shocking revelations to a departmental enquiry and to Fair Work Australia.  But this is not good enough.  The gross exploitation of Aboriginal workers must stop immediately.  The government is planning to spend $350 million (over 4 years) to expand income management across the NT.  This money is desperately needed to create real jobs in remote communities and ensure the provision of basic services.

We call on the trade unions, State Labour councils and the ACTU to endorse this statement, provide funds for its publication and help organise members to attend a national day of action in September to push these demands.

The government must act immediately to:

-Guarantee the 500 threatened Shire jobs

-End compulsory income management

-End current CDEP arrangements forcing people to work for the BasicsCard

-Turn all CDEP positions into fulltime waged jobs

-Provide massive investment in job creation and service provision in all NT communities.

3. No to Radioactive Racism

The nuclear industry continues to have a disproportionate impact on remote and Indigenous communities in Australia and overseas.  Nuclear projects leave a lasting legacy of environmental contamination and adverse social issues.  The NT Intervention, NT government ‘Working Futures’ and other regressive and paternalistic policies are stripping communities of funding and resources and pushing Traditional Owners and communities to consider high impact projects like uranium mines and nuclear waste dumps in exchange for essential services which are basic human rights.

The Defending Indigenous Rights gathering calls for full government investment to provide services for all communities.  The gathering supports the strong stance taken by the Electrical Trades Union in banning their members from working on nuclear projects and commends the support of the Maritime Union of Australia, Unions NT and the Australian Council of Trade Unions in solidarity with Muckaty Traditional Owners opposing the federal radioactive waste dump.

The gathering supports the upcoming Australian Nuclear Free Alliance meeting and will start work to support delegates to attend the conference.

We commit to immediate and ongoing protest actions in cities/towns and a blockade at Muckaty if the site is announced and the community calls for support.

4. Defend Aboriginal Languages – Scrap the Bi-Lingual Education Ban

Stop the erosion of Aboriginal language rights.  The government is denying Aboriginal people our identity and culture through the Bi-lingual education ban.

The Defending Indigenous Rights gathering calls on the Australian Education Union to pledge support for any teachers who refuse to follow the policy of assimilation being enforced on NT communities – the restrictions on teaching in Aboriginal languages. That all conference participants work to get signatures on the AEU petition against the Bi-lingual Education Ban and works with teachers around the country to build forums and protest actions.

5. Indigenous Media and Media Representation

The Defending Indigenous Rights gathering i) calls for a boycott of the National Indigenous Times, and ii) condemns the ABC Lateline program.

i)        The conference congratulates Chris Graham, Amy McGuire, Larissa Behrendt and others who have edited and written for the National Indigenous Times over many years.  They have reported the truth about Aboriginal affairs, an area characterised by mainstream media racism and propaganda.  This conference condemns the push to run a pro-Intervention editorial line in the current National Indigenous Times to gain access to government funding.  We call for a boycott of National Indigenous Times while this sell-out strategy continues.  We support efforts by former NIT staff to establish alternative forums for news and critical analysis of Indigenous issues.

ii)      That this conference calls upon the Federal Minister for Communication to investigate the ABC’s Lateline program of reporting false, inaccurate, misleading statements on Aboriginal communities in its program of 2005 of alleged sexual abuse in Mutitjulu.  Participants of this conference condemn the ABC on this program and call for an on-air apology in casting all Aboriginal communities in a derogatory light.  Particularly the male participants at this conference condemn child/sexual abuse and agree that those matters should be properly investigated without racist targeting of all Aboriginal communities.



6 – 9 JULY 2010

Stop the Intervention

We the people in attendance at the NT Anti Intervention convergence
held at Alice Springs 6-9 July 2010 Stand in solidarity with the
Aboriginal Peoples, Traditional Owners of Northern Territory to
condemn the NT Intervention and call on all political parties to call
for abolishment of NT Emergency Response and return rights of
self-determination control over their traditional lands, including
homelands, outstations and town camps.

We call for a national, independent inquiry into where/how
intervention funds have been spent.

We demand all intervention funding from income management/GBMs and
SIHIP etc are placed under Aboriginal community control to fund jobs
and basic services in all communities

That this conference calls on Amnesty International and other
supporting organisations to assist with sending prescribed area
delegates to the United Nations for the 77th session of Committee for
the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

We call on the Australian Social Justice Commissioner of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islanders to provide personell and resources to
Aboriginal Peoples in the NT to hear and document cases of
discrimination.  These resources and people need to be language

Women’s Statement:

To Prime Minister Julia Gillard:

We, the women, mothers, Grandmothers Aunties, sisters in support of
our men who are the shared caregivers of the NT wholeheartedly demand
the NTER be abolished immediately.

The media has heralded your promotion to PM as a breakthrough for
women.  All this talk is a slap in the face for Aboriginal women whose
communities are being devastated by this government’s racist

For 3 years the removal of our human rights has been justified with
lies about protecting women from violence and feeding our children.
We are living proof of the damage it has caused to us as indigenous
peoples of the NT who are trying to survive, live and practice our way
of life.  Shame on you!

We call on you band Federal minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny
Macklin to abolish this law that takes away our human rights as
Indigenous peoples of this country.

Minister Macklin consistently claims that women support income
management and support the intervention.  This is not the truth.
Under the current policies we have no choice and no change and now a
big cloud is covering our struggle and journey.  The working Futures
policy is about closing our homelands and outstations.  This is
damaging and destructive for our families, language, law, culture,
that is important to us.  That’s our identity – passed down through
generations, this is what makes us the oldest unique culture in the

Income Management, cuts to CDEP, bi-lingual ban in schools and 5 year
leases over our land and housing – all these measures are taking away
our control over our lives and our communities. Your legal
discrimination against us has given a license to racists to abuse us
in the street, in supermarkets and to attack our kids at school.

Stop the NT Intervetnion immediately – Jenny Macklin

Jobs with Justice

Resolution “Jobs with Justice”

Worse than Workchoices: Exploitation of Aboriginal workers must stop!
-Stop the jobs massacre in NT Aboriginal communities

The Rudd government committed to halving the gap in employment
outcomes between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in a
decade.  But due to a continuation of Howard era policies such as the
NTER, the gap is becoming far wider.  ABS data released on June 3
shows that Indigenous unemployment has drastically worsened from 13.8%
in 2007 to 18.1% in 2009.  The employment to population ratio of
Indigenous males in remote areas decreased 6% in just one year
Minister Macklin has promised to deliver ‘real jobs’ for Aboriginal
communities through the NT Intervention.  Instead, thousands of CDEP
positions have been lost.
At the end of 2010, 500 ‘real jobs’ created to replace some of the
lost CDEP positions in remote shire councils, face the axe.
The commonwealth is refusing to release the $8.5 millionper year
needed by the NT government to keep the jobs.  Many Aboriginal
communities serviced by these shires already suffer atrocious living
conditions which shame Australia- 500 more job losses will be

Under the new CDEP scheme designed by the Federal Labor Government,
Aboriginal people no longer receive wages.  They are being forced to
work providing vital services such as rubbish collection, school bus
runs, sewerage maintenance, construction and aged care in exchange for
quarantined Centrelink payments.
There are cases of people working between 25-40 hrs a week for a base
rate of approximately $120 cash and $110 on the basic card – that is
$4 an hour plus ration!  Centrelink is threatening to cut off payment
entirely if people do not participate in CDEP.  This is far worse than
anything the Liberals inflicted on workers under Workchoices.
Minister Macklin has referred these shocking revelations to a
departmental enquiry and to Fair Work Australia.  But this is not good
enough.  The gross exploitation of Aboriginal workers must stop
immediately.  The government is planning to spend $350 Million (over 4
years) to expand income management across the NT.  This money is
desperately needed to create real jobs in remote communities and
ensure the provision of basic services.

We call on the trade unions, State Labour councils and the ACTU to
endorse this statement, provide funds for its publication and help
organise members to attend a national day of action in September to
push these demands.
The government must act immediately to:-
-Guarantee the 500 threatened Shire jobs
-End compulsory income management
-End current CDEP arrangements forcing people to work for the Basic card
-Turn all CDEP positions into full time waged jobs
-Provide massive investment in job creation and service provision in
all NT communities

No to Radioactive Racism

The nuclear industry continues to have a disproportionate impact on
remote and Indigenous communities in Australia and overseas.  Nuclear
projects leave a lasting legacy of environmental contamination and
adverse social issues.
The NT Intervention, NT Government “Working Futures” and other
regressive and paternalistic policies are stripping communities of
funding and resources and pushing Traditional Owners and communities
to consider high impact projects like uranium mines and nuclear waste
dumps in exchange for essential services which are basic human rights.
The Defending Indigenous Rights gathering calls for full government
investment to provide services for all communities.
The gathering supports Traditional Owners and communities resisting
the imposition of uranium and nuclear projects on their country, and
will organise supportive actions, events and alliances in towns and
cities to build the nuclear free campaign.
The gathering supports the strong stance taken by the Electrical Trade
Union in banning their members from working on nuclear projects and
commends the support of the Maritime Union of Australia, Unions NT and
the Australian Council of Trade Unions in solidarity with Muckaty
Traditional Owners opposing the federal radioactive waste dump.
The gathering supports the upcoming Australian Nuclear Free Alliance
meeting and will start work to support delegates to attend the
We commit to immediate and ongoing protest actions in cities/towns and
a blockade at Muckaty if the site is announced and the community calls
for support.

Defend Aboriginal Languages

i) That we call on the Australian Education Union to pledge support
for any teachers who refuse to follow the policy of assimilation being
enforced on NT communities – the restrictions on teaching in
Aboriginal languages.
That everyone here works to get signatures on AEU petition against
this policy and works with teachers around the country to build forums
and protest actions.

ii) Language is Power!!
We have the power of our own languages!
We don’t need the Intervention/Government to erode our languages by
stopping our children being taught their languages in our
We must harness our power through our languages and NOT allow this to happen!!
Stop this erosion of our language rights. The government is denying us
our identity, culture through this process

Indigenous media:

i)    Call for a boycott of National Indigenous Times:

That conference congratulates Chris Graham, Amy McGuire, Larissa and
others who have edited and written for the National Indigenous Times
over many years. They have reported the truth about Aboriginal
affairs, an area characterised by mainstream media racism and
That we condemn the push to run a pro-intervention editorial line in
the current National Indigenous Times to gain access to government
We call for a boycott of National Indigenous Times while this sell-out
strategy continues.  We support efforts by former NIT staff to
establish alternative forums for news and critical analysis of
Indigenous issues.

ii) Condemn the ABC’s Lateline

That this conference calls upon the federal minister for communication
to investigate the ABC’s Lateline program of reporting false,
inaccurate, misleading statements on Aboriginal communities in its
program of 2005 of alleged sexual abuse.  Participants of this
conference condemn the ABC on such program and calls for an on air
apology in casting all Aboriginal communities in a derogatory manner,
particularly the male participants at the conference condemn
child/sexual abuse and those matters should be investigated and not
targeting all Aboriginal communities.

We the people in attendance at the NT Anti Intervention convergence
held at Alice Springs 6-9 July 2010 Stand in solidarity with the
Aboriginal Peoples, Traditional Owners of Northern Territory to
condemn the NT Intervention and call on all political parties to call
for abolishment of NT Emergency Response and return rights of
self-determination control over their traditional lands, including
homelands, outstations and town camps.


Professor James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues, has released his Advance Report on his observations from his visit to Australia.  The link to Professor Anaya’s report is:

Statement on the NT Intervention by Senator Rachel Siewert to mark the 2-year anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations.

First of all I would like to pay my respects to the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we are gathering, past and present …

The Australian Greens still remain united and steadfast in our opposition to the approach taken by the NT intervention.

We continue to oppose …

–         the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act,

–         compulsory seizures of lands,

–         indiscriminate quarantining of welfare

–         and to the trampling of the human rights of Aboriginal people in the NT

–         the lack of consultation with Aboriginal people

The Rudd Government made a fundamental error when backed the racist approach of the previous Howard Government.

They are now compounding that error by extending elements of the intervention across Australia  – with the introduction of new national welfare quarantining laws.

The Greens have opposed quarantining from the outset  – we don’t think it is any more or less wrong when single mothers in Melbourne or Perth have their income quarantined than it was wrong when they decided to pick on blackfellas in the Territory…

We do hope, however, that this will mean that more ordinary Australians come to understand the injustice that has been done here … and will stand side by side with us to condemn it.

Let me also put down once and for all the myth that Kevin Rudd’s new laws will restore the Racial Discrimination Act.

They do not.

These laws are just as discriminatory and just as wrong – simply sharing around the misery a bit more doesn’t alter the fact that these laws target and disproportionately impact on Aboriginal people.

The Greens have introduced a bill that would restore the RDA, but we know the major parties will vote against it – just as they voted against it when we first tried to restore the RDA in November 2008.

There is no doubt that more resources are needed to address Aboriginal disadvantage and to close the gap … but this type of Intervention is not the way.

It is outrageous that after so many years of crying out for these resources, they are being so blatantly squandered on unnecessary, ill-conceived and ineffectual measures … while successful Aboriginal programs and organisations still go begging.

Where are the new schools and houses? Where are the new health clinics and day-care centres? Where are the new jobs and the community enterprises?

This is why The Australian Greens are calling on our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd to admit that he has made a mistake … and to start to put these scarce and precious resources to more effective use.

The heavy handed and paternalistic approach of the intervention isn’t working … and very clearly was never going to work.

The huge amount of resources being poured into the NT has the potential to turn around lives on remote communities – but most of the money is being spent on administration in Canberra and Darwin …

It is not hitting the ground to address the real needs.

This is a massive opportunity that is being wasted. More needs to be done to ensure this money is spent wisely on the things that actually make a difference.

We’ve had too much frivolous spending…

…and too much ignoring of Aboriginal peoples’ wishes…

… and far too much of this total disregard for the basic human rights of Aboriginal people in the NT.

The so-called ‘consultation’ process to ‘reform’ the NT ’emergency response’ laws was a total sham.

This was not full prior informed consent … the Minister had already announced her intention to go on with the intervention, and the consultation meetings were only allowed to discuss the narrow range of options the government had already chosen.

The suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act remains an international embarrassment for the Rudd Government.

The proposed new laws do not deliver on our international human rights commitments – and we can be sure that the UN will, again, be highly critical of this response.

The Greens will continue to oppose the racist NT Intervention policy … to get our brothers and sisters down in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart, Brisbane and Perth informed and stirred up about it… and to seek at every turn to bury it for good.


The Unheard Truth in Australia

Address to the National Press Club

By Irene Khan

Secretary General, Amnesty International

18 November 2009

It is a great pleasure to be back at the National Press Club again. I was last here in March 2002 during my first visit to Australia as Secretary General of Amnesty International. I came here during a dark moment in the history of human rights, just months after the attacks of 9/11, as government after government, including the Australian government of the time, was following the lead of the then US Administration to roll back human rights in the name of counter-terrorism. In Australia, the politics of fear was compounded by a harsh policy of detention of asylum seekers which did little to deter arrivals and much to cause human suffering. A country known for its contribution to multilateral diplomacy and the rule of international law had turned its back on the world, rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, defying international refugee law, and turning a blind to the injustice, discrimination and deprivation faced by its own indigenous peoples.

Seven years later I have come back to what seems a very different country – optimistic, upbeat and professing its readiness to engage with the world and set straight the tarnished record of the past.

Woomera is closed, the Pacific solution in Nauru and Papua New Guinea is gone, the temporary protection visa regime has been removed and the shameful practice of detention debt has been set aside. International engagement on climate is back on the agenda. The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples has been endorsed and an apology to the Stolen Generation and other Indigenous Australians made by the government.

These are measures for which Australia deserves applause. It raises hope and expectations but I temper my enthusiasm with some degree of caution as there are still many questions unresolved and challenges to overcome.

In the lead up to Copenhagen, where will Australia put its marker down on the climate change debate?

How far and how quickly – in terms of concrete change in the lives of the people concerned – will the Australian government go in its promise to reset the relationship with the Aboriginal peoples?

Similarly, on asylum, as the media and politicians whip up frenzy over the arrival of boats carrying Sri Lankan asylum seekers, is there a risk that the humanitarian obligation to protect those fleeing persecution could be eroded in the race to prove which political party is tougher on border control? I urge the government to resist the temptation to look for quick fixes and instead take leadership on opening multilateral solutions based on international standards and principles of refugee protection.

In many ways, Australia is at a defining moment in its history. Every challenge is an opportunity to rethink past responses – how confidently, courageously and creatively will the government move forward to turn crisis into opportunity?

World’s worst human rights crisis

It is against this background that I want to set out my talk today on the challenges of global poverty, and explain why human rights is deeply relevant both in defining the problem and in finding solutions to it. I will also speak about the problem plays out in Australia and what Australia could do to fight it at home and abroad. I stress abroad along side home because a country as rich and fortunate as Australia can afford to do both.

Let me begin with the story of Elsie.

She was squatting in the raw dirt of an open field, surrounded by all her belongings, which bore the dents and scratches that I have seen inflicted on scant possessions when people have to flee, for example from flood, war or forced evictions. I walked down the desert track, past the filthy and worn mattresses set out in the open air that were used as beds by Elsie’s mates, past the wooden crate perched on a rough hewn bench that is their kitchen, stepping over the tangled extension cord that brought electricity – unsafely, I must add – to their single lamp.  I squatted beside her in the slight shade cast by the blue plastic slung over the sticks that marked her living space. She and I did not share a common language but through an interpreter she said: “Lady, I pay rent to the government for a sleeping on a mattress in the desert, I have no home, I don’t have a voice, no one is listening to me or my family. No one wants to know what we see, what we think, what we know that would make this right.”

Did I meet Elsie in Sudan, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan? No. The political leaders responsible for Elsie’s situation are not to be found in Khartoum, Colombo or Kabul. They are in Canberra and Darwin. I met Elsie in Utopia in the Northern Territory.

In the heart of the first world I saw scenes more reminiscent of the third world, of countries torn by war, dominated by repressive regimes, wracked by corruption. How is it possible that in 21st century Australia – in the land of the fair go – its own First Peoples should be the first among those living in abject destitution, in such appalling poverty?

Australia is one of the world’s rich countries with most scales ranking Australia among the top 30 countries by GDP per capita.  By other measures, such as health, longevity, community life, political stability and political freedom, the world’s quality of life indexes rate Australia quite differently.  On these scales Australia leaps well up the world’s league table and into to the top ten.  I did not expect to see abject poverty to this degree in the lucky country. Quite simply it is unacceptable – unacceptable anywhere and more so here.

Utopia is a microcosm of what is happening on a larger scale around the world. In a period of unprecedented economic growth globally, the real numbers of people living in poverty has increased, as has the gap between the richest and poorest groups of people in every country of the world. Billions of people are living in poverty. Why is it so hard to end poverty?

Because despite extensive research findings, government officials, policy makers and international financial institutions too often tend to define poverty in terms of income. But economic analysis does not capture the full picture of poverty and economic solutions cannot fully address the problem of poverty.

Poverty is the world’s worst human rights problem. That is the premise of my book, The Unheard Truth, and that is the message of Amnesty International ’s campaign to Demand Dignity.

Unless and until we address the human rights abuses that impoverish people and keep them poor we will fail to eradicate poverty.  That is as true in Australia as it is in Somalia.

Deprivation, discrimination, insecurity and voicelessness

People are poor not just because of how little they earn but because they are discriminated and deprived, because they live in insecurity and are marginalized and excluded, and because their voices are not heard. It is important to consider each of those elements but it is also important to recognize that these elements reinforce each other in a downward spiral that traps people in poverty. The answer to tackling poverty lies not in enrichment but the empowerment of the poor.

The poor live in deprivationand this is the most visible feature of poverty: they often lack access to health, education, housing and opportunities which are essential to a live a dignified life – with disastrous consequences.  At birth indigenous people in Australia are twice as likely to be low weight, as they age they get sicker and die younger. The life expectancy of indigenous people in Australia is 17 years lower than that of the Australian population. The rate of infant mortality is twice as high. Similar statistics are repeated across the world between those living in poverty and others.

Why do the poor live in deprivation? The answer often lies in a mix of discrimination, insecurity and exclusion and powerlessness of the poor, each factor reinforcing the other and dragging people down into a poverty trap.

The poor live with discrimination.Women, ethnic minorities and Indigenous populations are disproportionately represented among the poor.It is no mere coincidence that 70% of the world’s poor are women and that proportion is growing – a phenomenon which has been called the feminization of poverty.

Discrimination can be overt, e.g. when the law discriminates against women in some countries. Discrimination can be covert when equality laws are in place but not put into policies by governments. Discrimination can be in denial when laws and policies are in place but social discrimination is fed by deep-seated prejudices. And sometimes despite government policies and efforts social discrimination, continuing prejudices and paternalistic policies are compounded by historical injustices to leave the minority disempowered and entrenched in poverty. The tendency then is for the mainstream community is to blame the minority for their own condition of poverty or exclusion. This reflects in many ways the situation of the indigenous communities in Australia. Many of those to whom I met in Utopia and Alice Springs spoke of the prejudice and stigmatization they feel they continue to be subjected, for instance by the compulsory income management scheme in Northern Territory – which they say has left them feeling discriminated, disempowered and disillusioned.

The poor live in constant insecurity.As we all know, war torn countries are among the poorest in the world. But insecurity for the poor extends across a wide spectrum – from physical insecurity to job insecurity to lack of land tenure, to high levels of crime in poor neighborhoods and police brutality. In the favela slums of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo in Brazil, entire communities are criminalized by the police. From prostitution to trafficking, from rape and to high rates of maternal mortality poor women face higher levels of gender based violence because they are more exposed to it and have far fewer options to escape violence. In Australia Indigenous women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalized due to domestic violence, and ten times more likely to die as a result of assault. Little Children are Sacred report highlighted the level of violence, abuse and neglect of children in Indigenous communities.

The poor have no voice – they have no political clout – they are not heard – they are shut out. That is not what the poor themselves say, for instance in the World Bank’s Voices of the Poor report which collected testimony from 20,000 people living in poverty in a number of countries from across the world.

The government can build a dam and drown your village without your consent or even knowledge. An oil company can build a pipeline through your land and displace you. Your landlord can evict you without any due process or compensation.  Millions of people are forcibly evicted from slums every year, often to make way for urban beautification or other development projects. Three hundred thousand people were evicted in Beijing by the Olympic Games construction projects with no remedy, and if they complained they were sent to re-education camps. A number of them were adopted as Prisoners of Conscience by Amnesty.

If you and your community try to organize yourselves, you may be beaten up and thrown into prison. One of AI’s best known prisoner of conscience in recent years was Magdalena Duran, an indigenous woman in Mexico, a street vendor who protested the arbitrary way in which the laws were being applied by the authorities. She was released after two years of campaigning by AI.  If you are poor, you cannot afford lawyers to plead your case and the judicial elite do not understand your language, recognize your experience or have sympathy for your cause.  Your government does not care about you because you have no political clout.  They do not give you the information you need and they do not listen to you.

Elsie’s words in Utopia are echoed by poor people everywhere. No one hears us, we have no voice. We are told what will be done. Consultations are not real. If we don’t comply with their plans we do not get help.

This is what poverty is about: the stuff of real human insecurity; this is the stuff of real terror: the stuff of marginalization, of voicelessness, of degradation, of inequality and of injustice. These are human rights abuses. And so, respect for human rights is deeply relevant to the solution of poverty. Economic and social rights address basic needs and seek to ensure secure livelihoods (e.g. right to decent work and social security). The right to non-discrimination and equal protection seek to end exclusion. The right to physical protection promotes security and an end to violence. Human rights promote political participation, information, and accountable government which go to the heart of the issue of exclusion.

In other words, the solution to poverty lies not in enrichment but in the empowerment of people.

Obstacles to a human rights approach

What I am saying is not new. The Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen said it in Development as Freedom, freedom as the tool to promote development and freedom as the end goal of development.

So why isn’t the truth being heard?  I would give at least three reasons:

First, the belief that markets will solve the problem of poverty, in other words the answer to poverty lies in economic growth. Open markets will float all boats – so the argument goes.  I do not disagree with the importance of economic growth in addressing poverty – but I do not believe it is the full or even the most crucial element. On the contrary, economic growth leads to growing inequalities. The poor are the last to benefit from a boom, first to suffer in a bust.

Furthermore, economic investment by itself cannot correct the underlying injustices and inequalities that keep people poor: such as land tenure, gender equality, and other forms of discrimination. Building a school by itself does not ensure that girls have equal access. Investing in agriculture can increase crop yields but will not give a landless peasant security of land tenure. By the same logic, additional money will not solve by itself the problems of communities like those living in Utopia.

Second, the “bread before ballots” argument: in other words the argument that economic development is most efficiently secured through authoritarian imposition. This is not unlike the argument that in order to gain security we must be ready to sacrifice such liberties as the right to a fair trial or the right not to be tortured. Well, we know how wrong that argument is. Equally wrong is the approach that economic development must come before we can have civil liberties.

The strongest proponent of that line of argument is China. But there is no evidence to show that China’s impressive economic development was in any way linked to its ruthless suppression of civil and political rights. There is no proven cause and effect relationship. Suppression of human rights is not an economic necessity but a policy choice.  On the contrary, suppression of human rights, discrimination and growing inequalities between China’s urban and rural populations and within the urban population – including urban migrants – are leading to deepening social unrest. This is the latest in the long litany of disastrous outcomes of China’s “bread before ballots” strategy, such as the Great Famine. Its characteristic lack of transparency and absence of public accountability has delivered – in fact – deep inefficiencies, hampering and stultifying China’s capacity to address and correct the mistakes that have occurred. The HIV scandal, the SARs debacle, the human disaster of melamine in milk powder, the natural disaster of an earthquake revealing corruption in the building of schools:  the inability of people to speak out deepened these problems, and hampered development.

Even in open democratic societies, participation of poor people in development processes is often seen as a technical issue, a bureaucratic matter of ticking boxes in forms and holding meetings under the euphemism of consultations. True participation however means much more. It means access to information, and the possibility to understand, challenge and engage with the process. It means being heard, it means being able to hold governments accountable, so that “voice” becomes more than protest.

The third critical barrier which hampers genuine incorporation of human rights in poverty solutions is the construct that economic, social and cultural rights are not real rights: they are not fair dinkum, as you would say here. The US is the strongest proponent of this position, refusing to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child because it protects a child’s right to health and education. I should point out that the proposal currently on the Australian Human Rights Act does not include economic, social and cultural rights, even though they are recognized in international law and Australia is a party to the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Looking at the appalling shanties which go for housing in some of the outstations, one wonders if there would be more pressure to get them fixed and less concern about the government getting leases for the land before doing so, if Australia acknowledged the right to housing in its laws.

This paradoxical situation – that there is no shared vision of human rights among the world’s leading nations – is the outcome of unfortunate history that saw a bifurcation of human rights.  When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted, no such distinction was made nor intended.  At that time, Western democracies and socialist states alike subscribed to both sets of rights.  Indeed, US President Roosevelt spoke of freedom from want along side freedom from fear even before the Declaration was drafted. The unfortunate bifurcation was the result of the “Cold War” ideological battles that pitted economic, social and cultural rights versus civil and political rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects all rights. For the poor, free speech is as important as access to education, because without it they cannot speak out against oppression. To the poor, the right to live has no meaning if there is no right to health care. To the poor Indigenous communities the right to live on their land is as important as the right to conscience, for their conscience demands they care for their land of their ancestors.  The point that I am making is that is that rights are indivisible and inter-dependent. They must be applied holistically, not sequentially, nor selectively, nor partially.

How is this relevant to Australia?

I would point out two key ways in which this issue of poverty and human rights is relevant to Australia: first in relation to the Indigenous communities and second in relation to its (position) as a member of the G20, the emerging club of world leaders.

First, looking at the Indigenous communities, the deprivation and discrimination to which Indigenous Australians are subjected is a base violation of their human rights. That these violations occur on a continent of such privilege is a moral outrage. The moral imperative to eradicate poverty is no less strong than the moral imperative to eliminate torture. Just as government policies – and choices – can perpetuate torture, they can also perpetuate poverty.

I see at the heart of this historically intractable problem, not just a failure of conscience but also a failure of comprehension and a failure of vision.

For Australia, this is the most pressing frontier for human rights on its own soil and the question is can human rights as Peter Allen sang still “call Australia home”?  Bringing rights home is the central duty of the Australian government and the opening act on this critical stage must cast the very first Australians as its lead players.

Yesterday, I had the privilege to meet Minister Jenny Macklin whose portfolio is shaping the current government’s response to the humanitarian crisis that is facing Aboriginal Australia and surely shaming the rest of Australia.  We of course discussed what I have seen this week in Utopia and elsewhere.  The Minister laid out for me in some detail the financial and other resources that the Government has committed in order to “close the gap” and lift indigenous Australians out of poverty.

At the same time, having met with Aboriginal elders, having talked to old people, young people, having sat with women, I have also heard their distress – even as they acknowledge the advantages they have gained from some of the measures such as the placement of police in their communities – and their deep sense of disempowerment, robbed of their dignity, threatened with the loss of their identity and attachment to their ancestral lands.

An enormous opportunity for change could be squandered if there is not a profound shift to engagement with and empowerment of indigenous people – in mutually respectful, responsible and accountable partnership with the rest of Australia. This emphasis on promoting and achieving ownership of solutions must come to the fore of the strategies for healing, for recovery; must displace the current policies of imposition and blunt blanket approaches.  Into the mix, the government must introduce an explicit agenda for the preservation and celebration of traditional culture.

NTER was born out of fear and in response to a crisis. Now the Government needs an approach that builds a path out of crisis and fear to sustainability and to hope.

Minister Macklin assured me yesterday that the government is determined to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act and respect the obligations of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. That would be a very important step. It will be equally important to ensure that any special measures not only respect international standards but are genuinely designed and implemented with community support and with a view to upholding all human rights for all.

By separating out and comprising one set of human rights – for example through the ongoing suspension of the RDA – in order that another set of rights be better protected: women and children’s rights to live free from violence, their right to education, their right to shelter, the Government has fallen into the same trap as that the US and China, which I explained earlier: the false argument that progress on some issues requires human rights issues. We heard that in the context of the War on Terror: that our right to be safe required us to violate the rights of others not to be tortured or detained arbitrarily. That was a false argument then. It is a false argument now to argue that protecting women’s and children’s rights means ignoring the right of others not to be discriminated against. Pitting the rights of one group of people against the rights of another group usually leads to undermining the rights of both eventually. As I said, no strategy to fight poverty can succeed if rights are sequenced or only partially respected.

For the sake of the rights of first Australians, the Government must move out of the knee jerk emergency measures and lift its policy approach on to more stable and sustainable ground in which there is integration and involvement: communities are fully and properly involved and all human rights are upheld simultaneously – not merely some human rights.

The participation of Aboriginal communities themselves is crucial in addressing the discrimination and exclusion they experience, in accessing their rights and in upholding the spirit and letter of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This Government must move rapidly and comprehensively to remove the barriers that are preventing the active participation of Aboriginal people. It must give true meaning to “empowerment”  – if long lasting local solutions are to be found to longstanding local problems and if it is to genuinely confront the legacy of decades upon decades of what some have called Australia’s dirty little secret – its racist underbelly.

A recent landmark study by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development concluded that, when Indigenous people make their own decisions, they consistently outperform external decision-makers in areas such as natural resource management, economic development, health-care and social service provision. So there is both a utilitarian as well ethical argument for an empowerment approach.

This is not a matter for one government minister alone nor even for a select number.   It is a responsibility of the whole government and it demands a whole-of–government response.  And it is a matter in which every Australian too has their part to play – perhaps the greatest challenge lies ahead – How to convince the general public to confront something that they will tend to deny – that the poverty of Aboriginal Australia is a moral burden on all Australians.

The pathway out of poverty for Aboriginal people must have the hallmarks of respect for human rights: voice must matter, equality cannot be compromised, security must be delivered on a human scale and active engagement must be made perennial.  That is the pathway out of the shame that I know so many non-Aboriginal Australians feel.

Moving now to Australia’s international role, I believe success in fighting poverty and racism in its own country will give Australia greater credibility to lead internationally. As a member G-20, placed in the global South geographically, and with its strong commitment to multi-lateral approaches and human rights principles, Australia has a unique opportunity to make change the debate on poverty and bring to it a human rights dimension.

The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the most significant international anti-poverty commitment right now. Australia funds developing countries, particularly in the Pacific to reach the targets set by these goals  While the MDGs have many advantages, it is clear that none of the goals will be fully met by the end date of 2015, and that some will be disastrously under-achieved, e.g. the goal to cut maternal mortality. The statistics have not budged on that in the last two decades, with one woman dying every minute. There are many reasons for the poor performance of some MDGs, but one, surely, is the failure to acknowledge human rights as the breakthrough strategy for development.

The Goals are silent on discrimination and do not even ask for disaggregated data – so if the goal is halve the numbers of poor, the question is which half is being left behind? Given the role that discrimination plays in entrenching poverty, who is being counted, and who is not, is a deeply political issue. The MDGs seek to end gender discrimination and achieve gender equality but they do not speak about gender-based violence which hold’s back women’s ability to get out poverty. The MDGs seek to end poverty but say nothing about the participation of people. It is silent on empowerment and accountability.

As a major donor, Australia should take an active role in shaping the MDGs within a human rights framework. It can do so at the UN Review Summit in September 2010.

As a member of G20, Australia can also play a key role in developing a shared vision of human rights among world leaders. The US does not recognize economic, social and cultural rights, and China does not acknowledge civil and political rights. The G-20 includes also countries with serious under-performance of human rights. There is a risk that the global values of human rights could be undermined as a diverse group of G20 leaders gain prominence on the world stage. Australia could play an important role in building global acknowledgement that human rights matter. To do so, however, Australia must itself incorporate economic, social and cultural rights in its proposed national Human Rights Act. Doing at home what one promotes abroad is the key to credible leadership.

To conclude, translating human rights into Australian means giving a fair go to all people, fair enough. Thank you.




Stop the Intervention: Self-Determination not Assimilation

We members of the Prescribed Area Peoples’ Alliance have made the following statement from our June 18-19 meeting.

Everybody else has their rights. Aboriginal people aren’t recognised. They don’t want to listen to us because they want our land. We are our own leaders, passed down through our families. We don’t need leaders in parliament to speak. We can use our own voice. The government says they support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples but they haven’t made it legal. The government has to make it legal. All Aboriginal people are being treated as second class citizens.
Moving Forward
We mob gathered here from all over. Black people and their supporters need to stand and fight together. We Aboriginal people are getting big problems from the mainstream system. We’re disempowered. The Intervention is taking our rights away. We need to be recognised, even though we are a minority in Australia. Support us to fight both the Federal and NT government, their system and what they’re doing to us.
Assimilation and Rights to Culture
We are who we are. They want to make Aboriginal people into white people. They are pushing us into a corner. That will mean they will take away everything that we belong to. Our culture and lore would be lost. If we go the white man way and they don’t recognise our culture they control you by the laws they make.
The Intervention is an attack on Aboriginal people’s identity.
White law is not working otherwise we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about the Intervention.
We shouldn’t have separate Aboriginal policies.  Racism cuts us away.  It feels like we’re not citizens of Australia. People discriminate against us in every way. We don’t have our rights.
We went through racism and hardship at school in the old days, and today our children are still going through that. There is still a lot of prejudice. The government is running us down altogether under the Intervention. It’s demeaning to us.
We want the government to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act (1975). Human rights for all.   Empower the law, bring it out in the open.  Bringing back the Racial Discrimination Act will empower us again.
Homelands and Communities
Homelands are our traditional country.  It’s where we teach our kids about our culture.  It’s been handed down from generation to generation.  We need to keep the traditional ties to our land.
People are healthier and stronger living on homelands.  Eating traditional foods.   It’s the right environment to raise kids.
Everybody pays rent but there are no basic services like running water for our homelands.   The government says no more funding for services.
If people are forced to leave off homelands they will lose everything, their identity.   When the communities are empty the bulldozers will come in.   Why would we give it up now, after what our old people went through to get it?
We sat down on the land, said we wouldn’t move until our rights to our country was recognised and protested to get the land to begin with, and that’s how we will keep it.   We are not moving!   These are our homelands.   We fought long and hard to get native title and now they come with this policy of denying of services and resources.   It’s wrong.
We are going to stay there forever – We are not moving!
Government demands regarding homelands
We need more housing on our homelands and provide basic services like phones, water and electricity.   We want help to set up our own enterprises on homelands.   We need public transport to help people get home and out of town.   We should have rights for public housing on homelands.
Both governments must respect and recognise people living on homelands.
Government Business Managers
The GBMs think they’re the controller. As Traditional Owners we don’t have a say anymore.   They’ve got the policy and procedures manual behind them and think they wield the power.   They made all these rules down in Canberra, never consulted with us and the GBM just tells us all the new rules.   They are working against our people.
In communities GBM’s houses get put up in a matter of days, but we’re still waiting for houses and schools.
The government is not accountable to communities.   We have to prove where every dollar is spent, why don’t they?
Government demands regarding GBMs and public servants
We’ve got people with skills that can do the work of the government business managers, people from our communities should be managing our communities.
Income Management
The basics card is discriminatory to us all.   We have had no consultation.   It’s taking away our rights and degrading us. It’s disempowered us.   It’s very racist.   We are going backwards to the welfare days.
Little children are sacred, but under the Intervention they are going hungry.
The basics card makes it hard to travel for cultural obligations.   Basics card cannot be used to help family out with food when you’re stayng with them.   Basics card takes away our ability to contribute and our independence.   It makes it hard to travel for funerals and cultural business.
Nothing has changed since the basic card has been introduced.   It’s gotten worse and worse.   It’s not doing anything for the kids.   They’re saying it’s working but where is their accountability?   Show us the figures – where it is helping?
We need more support for those that need help with income management, not blanket quarantines for everyone.   It’s making it harder for us to live day to day.   The kids are suffering too.   Income management should be voluntary.   We need to fight for our rights – they’ve been taken away from us.
We want basic rights – not Basic cards!
Demand regarding income management:
The Income Management system should be voluntary.
The government will only give you a house if you sign a lease.   Our houses are broken down.   We don’t believe the government’s promises anymore.   We’ve come to a dead end.   The only way we can get services and housing is to sign a lease.
They’re pushing us into a situation where land is the name of the game.    They want the minerals that are in the sacred lands right across the territory.   They want to take the town camps now but there are always strings attached.   The government will control the country then.   We want to stay in control.   We need to work together.   We don’t want the government to take over our communities and camps.
The government is only promising housing to a few communities who sign leases.   All the rest miss out.   It’s causing argument and division between communities.   We are all in this together.   We want housing without signing a lease.
Demands for government re housing
We want houses without having to sign leases and give up our land.
We want houses on remote communities and homelands.   We want proper infrastructure.   We need electricity and water; we don’t want to have keep using generators and water trucks.   We need proper roads to our communities.
We feel shame.   This policy is continuing to put us down.   There is no consultation.
People need to have ownership over decisions that affect their community.
Jenny Macklin says she is talking to people in the communities, but everytime we invite her to come meet with us she refuses.
Demand regarding consultation:
Proper consultation is government coming to our homelands or communities, sitting down with us without a time limit and listen and talk to us face to face.   Listen to our ideas.   Talk to us properly.   What we want.   Come out to our homeland.
Bilingual Education
We didn’t come on the boat with the Government, they need to understand we had our own language before they came with English.   We want to keep passing it on.
Demand regarding bilingual education:
We want the government to support bilingual schools.   We want Aboriginal languages taught in schools.   All schools should have cross-cultural training for teachers.   Bilingual language is keeping our culture alive and strong.
This Intervention was supposed to be about helping Aboriginal people.   Health and education should be the first priority.   It’s a disgrace.
People needing medical help have to travel into town.   Pregnant women have to travel long distances on buses to give birth.   We used to have a mobile clinic that visited outstations.
The government has made a lot of cut backs to health and mothers’ services on communities.
The government says they’re closing the gap, but it’s getting wider.   Under the Intervention policy the government said they’re going to make it better for indigenous people – better in housing, education and health.   They say they’re closing the gap in a few years but it’s not getting smaller, it’s getting bigger and bigger.   It’s dividing the nation and getting worse for everyone.
Demand regarding health:
We want Aboriginal controlled medical services to be fully-funded.   Remote communities need clinics with full-time staff.
Under the Intervention police have Star Chamber powers where they can hold Aboriginal people for longer periods.
Police should not be able to enter our ceremony.   The police think that we are low down people.
Deaths in custody are increasing.   We should have independent people investigating any deaths in custody.   We don’t trust the police.   Police should have permits to search our houses and people.
Demand regarding police:
Implement the recommendations from the report into Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Statement made by members of the Prescribed Area Peoples’ Alliance from:
Angkelengklwe, Black Tank, Harry Creek, Sixteen Mile, Angulur, West Waterhouse,  Iteyepinpye and Laynhapuy homelands, Yuendumu, Finke, Papunya, Tara, Ntaria, Mutitjulu, Galawinku, Ramingining and Milingimbi communities, Hidden Valley, Palmers, Mt Nancy and Trucking Yards town camps.


Stop the Intervention: Self Determination not Assimilation

No takeover of Aboriginal town camps

Full funding, housing and services for all communities and homelands

No blanket welfare quarantines

Reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act (1975)

Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs

Yananymul Mununggurr Homelands speech 20.06.09

ACTU speech Homelands Policy

I have been asked to talk about the Territory Government’s new policy for remote indigenous communities A Working Future – particularly as it relates to ‘homelands’.

But the Northern Territory policy cannot be seen in isolation from what is happening at the Commonwealth level.  Next week is two years since Mal Brough and John Howard launched their ‘Intervention’ into the lives and communities of Indigenous people.

An ‘Intervention’, that more than anything else, exposed the neglect and pretend ignorance of successive generations of government.  An Intervention that tried to blame Indigenous culture, our ‘permit system’ and ‘land rights’ for their ignorance and lack of action over decades.

It is important that people understand that A Working Future is in many ways an extension of recent Commonwealth thinking about indigenous affairs.  The Intervention was focussed on major communities.  The subsequent MOU in September 2007 on remote housing and related infrastructure services implemented a ‘ban’ on new housing in homelands.  It sought to normalise and mainstream Indigenous people as much as to tackle disadvantage.

Then a few months ago in December 2008, the Council of Australian Governments entered into Partnership Agreements of remote services and indigenous housing which confirmed this focus on major communities – 15 in the NT – and re-stated the ban on the growth of homelands.  It was a partnership between Governments, not between Government and Indigenous Australians.  Now A Working Future has re-stated this position gain, re-affirming the ban on homeland growth but focussing on 20 major communities, not just the 15 identified by the Commonwealth out of the 73 prescribed communities under the Intervention.  So in many ways the Territory Government has simply agreed to implement Canberra’s plan, while adding a bit of its own flavour.

The Territory Government has simply continued the completely inadequate level of funding for municipal and essential services in homelands that was passed over to it by the Commonwealth along with the responsibility for homelands when they signed the MOU in 2007.  A level of funding that has not been increased in real terms for about a decade.

It is important for us all to remember that until very recently homelands were the responsibility of the Commonwealth.  It is the Commonwealth that is responsible for the historic lack of investment in infrastructure, the lack of investment in economic and community development, and indeed for lack of investment in health, education and housing in homelands given the structure of Commonwealth – Territory financial relations.  The Commonwealth is responsible for the ‘backlog of unmet need and the ‘gap’ that now needs to be closed.  It also needs to be remembered that both sides of politics at both levels of government are guilty of this neglect – as both have had significant terms in government since 1970.

To give credit where credit is due, both the Commonwealth and the Territory are now making a significant financial effort to turn things around in some respects – at least for the major communities.  The increased commitment of funds to housing in major communities is welcomed, as are the commitments to services such as policing, health, and education.

However, it must be said that in our major communities in NE Arnhem Land there is not yet much to see for this promised investment of funds.  And of course it is not targeted for homelands.

The commitment by Minister Macklin to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act is also welcomed.  Tying housing and infrastructure development to ‘land tenure reform’, however, is not.  Indigenous people are being asked to give up the basis of their culture and social organisation, and their only economic asset, in return for public housing and other assistance that any other Australian citizens with the same socio-economic status would be entitled to.

Like the National Partnership agreements on remote services and housing, A Working Future is based on a perspective of what is good for my people, that has not come from my people.  It has not come from homelands people.

What is particularly concerning is that neither the Commonwealth nor the Territory Governments seem capable of embracing a long term vision for the social and economic development of homelands, or for the future of Indigenous people who wish to sustain their culture and tradition.

We have such a vision for the Laynhapuy homelands, but we need those in power to understand us, trust us and support us.  As Pat Dodson said, Government seems ready to let homelands ‘wither on the vine’, which is what will happen if only current levels of inadequate funding are maintained.  Particularly in relation to new housing.  Our homelands have had no funds for new housing since 2003.

Before I talk specifically about the homelands component of A Working Future, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not opposed to Government investing in major communities – this is long overdue.  Let me also say that I am speaking only for my own area and Yolngu people of NE Arnhem Land.

I believe homelands are of fundamental importance to Indigenous people and the survival of culture across the Territory.  However, I recognise that the development of homelands has been different in different parts of the NT.  Each homeland location or group of homelands poses different opportunities and challenges. An effective homelands policy must be able to accommodate these differences.  The current policy may work well for some homelands, but it is not appropriate for the Laynhapuy homelands region of NE Arnhem Land.

There are some common misconceptions about homelands that are often repeated in the media and by politicians, that I want to clear up.  Some of these seem to underpin A Working Future.

Myth 1

Homelands people are somehow trapped in their homelands, which are being kept as ‘cultural museums’.  We choose to live on our homelands – our traditional clan estates.   And it is our human right as Indigenous people to do so.  We chose to move back to our homelands in the early 1970’s and have chosen to remain there since. No one is forcing us.

We are not ignorant or unaware of how people live in big communities, towns and cities.   We choose to live in our homelands because this is a better life for our people – including our children. You may not understand this, but you do not know our law, ceremony, culture, or kinship and how these tie us to our particular country.  It is not right for us to go and live on other people’s land in the big communities or elsewhere.

Myth 2

Homelands are not permanently occupied  –  that they are just weekenders, or are inhabited by nothing but lizards, insects and footprints.  This is not an accurate or complete perspective – particularly in NE Arnhem Land.  Most homelands, particularly the larger homelands, are permanently occupied.  Laynhapuy Homelands Association  represents 25 permanently occupied homeland communities in NE Arnhem Land with a combined population of about 1,200 people.  They are occupied 12 months of the year.

In addition to these homelands, Laynhapuy has 4 smaller homelands that are not permanently occupied.  Our homelands range in size from small family groups to over 150 permanent residents.  Our homelands represent about 5% of the 560 homelands in the Territory, and about 12% of the estimated 10,000 homelands population.

Homelands that are identified as not permanently occupied do not attract funding support, and have not done so for many years.  Even if a homeland is not permanently occupied it is necessary to maintain the building and infrastructure assets to ensure they are not destroyed by annual bush fires, termites, etc. Usually there are understandable reasons why homelands become unoccupied and may remain so for periods of time.   It may be that significant individuals have passed away, or have had to go elsewhere for medical care.  It could be that key services such as water have failed and there is a long period before funding and subsequent repair.  It could be that anticipated services such as schooling have never been delivered.  Overcrowding may also force people to move, as does limited access during the wet season.

These people have not abandoned their homeland or country – practical circumstances simply force them to live elsewhere during this time. It is the law, the ceremony, the knowledge, the spiritual connection, and family that make homelands significant to particular individuals.  This can never be abandoned.

Myth 3

People have moved away from established service centres. Yolngu in the Laynhapuy area have never completely left their traditional clan estates, although many moved into the Yirrkala mission over a short period between 1936 and 1970 – directly in response to social tension in the main communities and the onslaught of alcohol and other problems that came with the establishment of Nhulunbuy and the mine.

The homelands in this region have existed since early 1970s when people started to again live permanently on their traditional lands – building houses, constructing airstrips and establishing bores.  Most of the Laynhapuy Homelands pre-date Northern Territory self-government, pre-date land rights, and the rebuilding of Darwin after Cyclone Tracey.  They certainly predate the modern development of non-indigenous communities such as Palmerston or Dundee Beach.

It is a myth that homelands people have moved away from established service centres and are thereby imposing additional costs on the taxpayer and Government.  The fact is that these homeland communities have largely been bypassed by Government in the develop- ment of publicly subsidised infrastructure and services elsewhere in the Territory.

Myth 4

The costs of maintaining homelands is excessive and remote homelands have received more than their fair share.  For the Laynhapuy Homelands, funding for Municipal and Essential Services (power, water, airstrips, tips, rubbish collection) is around about $580 per person per year, and for housing maintenance about $275 per person per year.  A total of about $860 per person per year.

Our members pay rent and power charges in addition to this, and recently purchased their own community tractors to support these services .  Power is charged at significantly more than the subsidised rate available to other Territorians.

How does this compare to the public subsidy for urban services and housing for other Territorians  –  especially when you remember that homeland residents don’t usually benefit from funding of things such as public transport, sport & recreation, the arts, libraries, public swimming pools and so on?

The fact is that we do not know how it compares, because Government has not done the hard work of analysis and modelling.

How many other Territorians pay for their own school buildings?  Through pooling their Isolated Students Allowance, homeland parents have even funded their own secondary school classroom and boarding facility at Garrthalala homeland..

Myth 5

Opportunities and wellbeing are better in the big communities.  Research shows homeland people are healthier.  There is less violence and crime.

There is virtually no alcohol, drugs or gambling.  Most people are working through CDEP.  No work no pay.  They are not receiving sit down money.  More Yolngu in homelands have salaried jobs as Rangers, Health Workers, Teacher and Teachers Aides,  than are employed in the nearby major communities.  Homelands people are starting to access more training opportunities because of our Association’s training coordination role.

Although our housing is overcrowded and often very old, it is better maintained, looked after and lasts longer than in major communities because we don’t have the alcohol and the violence.  We have better school attendance, and through our secondary school program we have made a very significant contribution to the number of Indigenous children graduating in the NT.

As an organisation of homelands we employ 117 people, 70% of whom are Yolngu.  We run a construction and civil works business, an airline charter business, health service, ranger program, and other activities.  We have recently employed an enterprise development officer.  Homelands perhaps have better economic development potential than larger communities.  Ownership of land and resources is clearer, communities are more stable and less dysfunctional, the natural and cultural assets on which tourism and land management enterprises can develop are in the homelands.  Homeland life requires independence and resilience. Homelands people are the major producers of traditional indigenous art.

Homelands still face many challenges and there is much to be done, but it is wrong to see our physical isolation only as a disadvantage, and to assume bigger more urbanised communities are the answer to ‘Closing the Gap’.

Myth 6

Land Tenure arrangements are the biggest obstacle to economic development and related opportunities for employment and income, and essential for Government investment in housing, infrastructure and services.

There is secure land tenure.  It is our communally owned inalienable freehold title under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.  Our land can already be leased if we agree to the terms.

There are areas on aboriginal land where ‘town leases’ and sub-leases already exist to test this new idea.  How many Yolngu homeowners, landlords or renters, Yolngu businesses, Yolngu employees are there in Nhulunbuy after 40 years of ‘town leasing’?  Basically none.

Land tenure is only one small part of a much bigger picture.  Our homelands have some 150 houses, 9 clinics 10 school buildings, homeland offices, bores, tanks, airstrips.  Most of this has been government funded over the past 30 years. These assets are under no threat and are used for the intended purposes.

What has changed?  Why has ‘secure land tenure’ suddenly become the holy grail for government after refusing to negotiate leases for decades?  We do not believe ‘secure land tenure’ is the real obstacle to government investing in our homelands.  We believe government simply sees a different future for our people.  But we will negotiate leases on our terms if that is what the Government requires.

Myth 7

They say that Homelands are not under threat.  WRONG!

A Working Future does not say that funding to our homelands will be cut.  It does not say that our people will be forced to move.  What is says, is that for our homelands things are likely to stay the same.  This is NOT okay.  We do not want this slow death.  We have been working for 30 years to grow and develop our homelands.  To improve our opportunities and our standard of living, our self-determination and independence.  We have no intention of giving up now – of stopping and staying the same.

To address sub-standard housing, to address overcrowding, to further improve health and education, and develop enterprise opportunities we need to be able to access funding assistance for housing.  We need to ‘Close the Gap’ on homelands as well.  More importantly, we need to ‘Close the Knowledge Gap’ that the Canberra bureaucrats have.

A ‘ban’ on new housing leaves us with nowhere to go.  Our houses will just become more overcrowded and deteriorate faster.

The reality is that our people are very poor.  For the most part they would not be eligible for, or be able to afford, any of the housing finance schemes available.  We are entitled to housing assistance and we expect government to work with us to find appropriate and affordable ways to provide that assistance.  Social housing assistance comes in many forms around Australia and across the world.  It is not appropriate for Government to say that Aboriginal land is private land and not suitable for a ‘public housing model’ and offer no alternative.  This is just further neglect of our people’s needs and citizenship entitlements.

I call on both the Territory and the Australian Government to work with us to find a sustainable solution to this homeland housing issue.  They are both responsible for the ‘ban’ on new housing, and both must help find a solution.



Our concern about the approach of both the Territory and Australian governments is that they have no long term vision for homelands that takes into account our aspirations.

Just maintaining the status quo is to maintain a situation of long term neglect – most of which is the Australian Government’s responsibility.


No serious attempt has been made at research, economic modelling or cost-benefit analyses of the social, cultural, economic or environmental impact of this homeland policy.  What are the costs and benefits of homelands compared to major communities, compared to mainstream towns – not just for the government but also for Yolngu?

We simply do not know since the work is yet to be done.  Personally I believe that parallel Commonwealth and Territory Parliamentary inquiries are needed to ensure this work is done thoroughly and independently.  It is 20 years since the Blanchard inquiry into homelands.


While we support significant new Government investment in all major indigenous communities, we are cautious about Government capacity to delivery, and the timeframes.  We can only hope.  The wholesale alienation of community land through long term leases is also of concern.  But don’t improve the wellbeing of major communities at the expense of homelands  people.  Don’t destroy what we have been building up.  The challenges and solutions for homelands are different.


Consult with us in good faith.  Listen and learn from us, and really look at what is working for Yolngu people and build on that.  We need local, incremental solutions – not grand plans delivered from on high.  When our people met and put their trust in Pat Dodson, we believed we were consulting about how to develop a better future for homelands.  But instead the government gave us a strategy for ‘growth towns’ – that is why we are angry.

We are not happy with A Working Future and the ideas behind it in regards to the future for homelands.  We hope the Territory Government and the Australian Government have now got that message.  We will not give up the fight for our rights, but we will work with them to achieve our vision for homelands – which we believe is in the long term interest of all Territorians and Australians and Yolngu.

In this regard we welcome the offer of Chief Minister Henderson to meet with our Mala Leaders in our homelands on the 29th July to discuss our concerns and find a way forward.

Thank you for listening.

Yananymul Mununggurr

Chief Executive Officer

Laynhapuy Homelands Association Incorporated



TANGENTYERE COUNCIL – Support statements and background information


by the

Indigenous Peoples Organisations of Australia

attending the eighth session of the

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

New York, 18 to 29 May 2009

28 May 2009

On 24 May 2009 the Minister for Indigenous Affairs announced the Australian Government is taking steps towards compulsory acquisition of the Alice Springs town camps ‘to give children in the camps a better chance at a safe, healthy and happy life’.  The Minister described the conditions in the camps as appalling, referring to acute overcrowding, sub-standard housing, alcohol abuse, despair, hopelessness and horrific crimes.  The Minister announced intentions to implement a comprehensive plan to transform the town camps and provide intensive support services.

We the Indigenous Peoples Organisations of Australia attending the eighth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues decide as follows:

We strongly oppose the proposal by the Government of Australia to compulsory acquire leases over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands or territories without their free, prior and informed consent.

We call upon the Government of Australia to comply with its international obligations to respect the rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia by ensuring that the representatives of the Aboriginal people in the region of Alice Springs are able to make an informed decision regarding the provision of adequate housing and services for their populations.

Specifically, we urge the Australian Government to re-open negotiations with Tangentyere Council, in concert with other relevant representative Aboriginal organizations, and facilitated by the Australian Human Rights Commission, with a view to concluding as soon as possible an agreement for urgent funding for suitable housing to meet the needs of the Aboriginal people of the region.

We ask the Australian Government to withdraw their decision to compulsory acquire the lands held by the Tangentyere Council.

In regards to the international obligations of the Australian Government we note the following paragraphs regarding the rights of Indigenous Peoples and relevant recommendations by the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations and international human rights treaty bodies.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted two years ago by an overwhelming vote of the UN General Assembly.  Australia was one of only four governments to vote against the adoption of this universal Declaration but on 3 April 2009 the Government announced its support for the Declaration.

‘Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development.  In particular indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions.’

(Article 23, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)

In May 2007, following a visit to Australia during 31 July to 15 August 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, recommended to the United Nations in Paras 98 and 135 of his report that Aboriginal people should be given control to the greatest extent possible of our affairs and expressed his particular concern that removal of Aboriginal people as decision makers over the use and access of the land in the Northern Territory would undermine the right of self-determination.  He advised that such action ‘may call into question Australia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including its provisions on self-determination’.

‘Australian governments must urgently address the humanitarian tragedy of the lack of housing and basic services for the indigenous peoples of Australia, living on indigenous lands and elsewhere. To this end, the Special Rapporteur encourages relevant government staff to visit and reside in indigenous communities, including town camps, and rural and remote communities, in order to better comprehend the reality and the challenges faced by the populations and communities in these locations.’

(Para 133, Report on Mission to Australia, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, UN Document A/HRC/4/18/Add.2, 11 May 2007)

On 13 March 2009, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) wrote to the Australian Government expressing its concern that the Racial Discrimination Act was suspended in the Northern Territory and calling for a report to the Committee by 31 July 2009 on the progress made in redesigning its (the Government’s) approach in the Northern Territory in consultation with the Aboriginal communities.

‘… In order to continue a constructive dialogue with your Government, the Committee requests the State party to submit further details and information on the following issues no later than 31 July 2009 progress on the drafting of the redesigned measures, in direct consultation with the communities and individuals affected by the NTER, bearing in mind their proposed introduction to the Parliament in September 2009 [and] progress on the lifting of the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act.  The Committee welcomes the government’s commitment to building a new relationship with Indigenous Australians based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and responsibility.’

On 2 April 2009, the Committee on Human Rights released its findings on Australia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Committee expressed its concern with the Northern Territory Emergency Response measures and particular concern about the negative impact of the measures on the enjoyment of the rights of indigenous peoples and at the fact that they suspend the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and were adopted without adequate consultation with the indigenous peoples.

‘The State party should increase its efforts for an effective consultation with indigenous peoples in decision-making in all areas having an impact on their rights  … The State party should redesign NTER measures in direct consultation with the indigenous peoples concerned, in order to ensure that they are consistent with the Racial Discrimination Act 1995 and the Covenant.’

(Concluding observations on Australia, Human Rights Committee, UN Document CCPR/C/AUS/CO/5, 2 April 2009)

On 22 May 2009, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in examining Australia’s periodic report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, expressed its concern that some of the Northern Territory Intervention measures are inconsistent with the Covenant rights, in particular with the principle of non-discrimination, and have a negative impact on the realisation of the rights of indigenous peoples and noted ‘with regret’ that measures were adopted without sufficient and adequate consultation with the indigenous peoples concerned

‘The Committee recommends that the State party take effective measures, in line with the Committee’s general comment No.4 (1991) on the right to adequate housing (art. 11, para. 1, of the Covenant), to address homelessness in its territory. The State party should implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing contained in the report of his mission to Australia… The Committee calls on the State party to take immediate steps to improve the health situation of indigenous people, in particular women and children, including by implementing a human rights framework that ensures access to the social determinants of health such as housing, safe drinking water, electricity and effective sanitation systems.’

(Concluding observations on Australia, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN Document E/C.12/AUS/CO/4, 22 May 2009)

We also appreciate that the Australian Government has presented to this session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues a joint statement with our delegations expressing a desire that Australia meet its human rights obligations, and we recognise that a critical factor in achieving this goal is the degree to which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can set the agenda, and affect policy and service delivery.

Our delegations are encouraged by the Australian Government’s decision to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Therefore, in conclusion to this statement, we support the view that the Government of Australia should establish and implement in conjunction with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process to adjudicate the rights of the Aboriginal people in relation to our lands.  This provision is stipulated in Article 27 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We strongly recommend that the Australian Government provide, as a matter of priority and urgency, extensive human rights training on how human rights apply to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the areas of non-discrimination and civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.  The training should target all sectors of society, but particularly it should target State officials having a direct role in engagement of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the judiciary.


Statement Opposing the Commonwealth’s Proposal to Compulsorily Acquire the Alice Springs Town Camps

We recognize the right of Tangentyere Council and town camp residents to self-determination. Town camp residents have called upon governments to address overcrowding and poverty in their communities over several years. More often than not, their demands have been ignored.

We support the recent decision by the Council to reject the Commonwealth’s proposal that would transfer control of housing and tenancy management to the Northern Territory Government. Representatives from all town camps voted to maintain community control. This is vital because of a long history of neglect and indifference to the needs of Aboriginal people by Northern Territory Housing. People rightly fear eviction and rent-increases that are beyond their capacity to pay. It is critical that Aboriginal people have the power to shape their own destinies.

We condemn Minister Macklin’s proposal for the Commonwealth to compulsorily acquire the town camps of Alice Springs. We call on the Commonwealth to respect the independence of the Tangentyere Council and to act in good faith in all of its negotiations with the Tangentyere Council.

We recognize the long struggle for land by both town camp residents and Aboriginal land holders throughout Australia. We condemn the Federal Government’s policy of withholding funding for desperately needed housing in Aboriginal communities, before Aboriginal people relinquish control of their land.

It is disgraceful that the party who championed the first land rights legislation in Australia is holding impoverished Aboriginal communities to ransom. This Government has lost its moral compass. We offer our full support to the Tangentyere Council in their struggle.



Thursday 21 May 2009

My name is Dr Gawirrin Gumana AO of Gangan, and I am one of the old people who fought for our Land Rights.

Government, I would like to pass this on to you, my words now.

If you are looking for people to move out, if you want to move us around like cattle, like others who have already gone to the cities and towns, I tell you, I don’t want to play these games.

Government, if you don’t help our Homelands, and try to starve me from my land, I tell you, you can kill me first. You will have to shoot me.

Listen to me.

I don’t want to move again like my father moved from Gangan to other places like Yirrkala or Groote. I don’t want my children to move. I don’t want my family to move.

I will not lose my culture and my tribe to your games like a bird moving from place to place, looking for it’s camp or to sleep in other places, on other people’s land that is not our land.

I do not want my people will move from here and die in other places. I don’t want this. We don’t want this.

I am an Aboriginal from mud, red mud.

I am black, I am red, I am yellow, and I will not take my people from here to be in these other places.

We want to stay on our own land. We have our culture, we have our law, we have our land rights, we have our painting and carving, we have our stories from our old people, not only my people, but everyone, all Dhuwa and Yirritja, we are not making this up.

I want you to listen to me Government.

I know you have got the money to help our Homelands. But you also know there is money to be made from Aboriginal land.

You should trust me, and you should help us to live here, on our land, for my people.

I am talking for all Yolngu now.

So if you can’t trust me Government, if you can’t help me Government, come and shoot me, because I will die here before I let this happen.

Gawirrin Gumana*

* Born in the 1930’s, Gawirrin Gumana is a leader of the Dhalwangu clan. He is one of the most senior Yolngu alive today and is renowned for his artwork and knowledge of traditional culture and law. Gawirrin was a contributor to the Yirrkala church panels that are a statement by clan groups regarding their equal authority with the church and in 1992 he was ordained as a Minister of the Uniting Church.

He was a major litigant in the 2005 Federal Court Blue Mud Bay decision that granted inter-tidal rights to traditional owners.

Following the AboriginalLand Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, Gawirrin led his clan back to its traditional country at Gangan, about150 kilometers southwest of Nhulunbuy. Gangan, with a population of around 80 people has been acknowledged as one of the notable success stories of the homelands movement.



Harry Jakamarra Nelson from Yuendumu


Land for Housing

We are just being blackmailed. If we don’t hand over our land we can’t get houses maintained, or any new houses built.

We have never given away any Warlpiri land and we are not going to start now. They have taken land off us, but we have never agreed.

We got some land back under the NT Land Rights Act. Now they want to take the land our houses are on, so they can control us. They are talking about 60 or 80 year leases, but we know that we won’t ever get it back.

We have cultural ties to our land. Our land is not for sale. Without the land we are nothing. Our spirit is in the land where we belong. If we give up our land we are betraying our ancestors. Every bit of our land is precious.

Also they are trying to break up our community by bribing some families, offering them $1 million dollars to sign away Yuendumu land. Jenny Macklin wants to break up Yuendumu land into sub-leases so that “Aboriginal families can own land”. We already own it!

She is just trying to split us up and make us weak.

Warlpiri don’t have boundaries for land. We have Dreaming tracks and song lines. Many Dreamings go through Yuendumu land: Honey-Ant, Possum, Snake etc. It just won’t work to try and change us into white people’s ways of living and owning land.

Propaganda and Lies

This Intervention has just told lots of lies about us. They keep on lying. They make the rest of Australia think we are useless, don’t want to work, can’t make our own decisions, can’t run our own lives, and that we are violent and neglect our children.


We love and care for our children and families very well. They should come and see our children: beautiful, happy and healthy. They have been well cared for since long before this Intervention.

Many Warlpiri people are working in our organisations (shops, school, hospital, police, childcare, aged care, garage, youth program, art centre media association, mining companies etc.)

There have been hardly any new jobs since the Intervention.

The Commonwealth appointed GBM (Government Business Manager) who works two weeks on and gets flown home to Perth every third week, doesn’t talk to us. He just does his own silly projects- a big expensive fence around the rubbish dump, a terrible little cage for men which has never been used, and his own compound with its high barbed wire fence.

He is the highest paid person in Yuendumu.

More Lies

Pornography – we have never had much pornography in our community.  Most people didn’t even know what it is, before this Intervention.

‘Rivers of Grog’ – We already had Women’s and Men’s Night Patrols dealing with grog.  We already had strict penalties – people lose their cars and face court for grog offences.

Yuendumu was already much quieter with much less violence and drinking before the Intervention.

Poor nutrition – we already had two locally owned shops selling fresh fruit and vegetables and lots of good food before this Intervention.

When our local shops refused to cooperate with compulsory income management, the Intervention shop was set up, which is much dearer.

Aborigines on Communities get free Housing – NOT TRUE, we pay rent, only some white people don’t pay rent. We are the same as any people in Housing Commission houses. The Government provides houses for people to rent.

Suspension of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and the NT Anti-Discrimination Act

We are no longer full citizens of Australia.

We are treated differently. Every time there are different conditions for white and Indigenous people, we Aborigines get the worst deal.

We have different conditions for housing and employment in our communities.

White people get well-maintained houses, many rent-free. We can hardly ever get anything fixed.

White people get big salaries. Very few Aborigines get full salaries. Most are on the lowest rates of pay or are unemployed.

Now with this Intervention we have compulsory income management and increased police powers to enter our homes without a warrant.

Because of all the bad stories and lies they told about us, when we go to places like Alice Springs, more white people than before look down on us and treat us with disrespect.

Income Management (‘Quarantining’)

We had our own income management before this Intervention.

Pensioners and any one could leave their money at our Social Club shop and get money for food every day. But this was by choice, not forcing, and didn’t cost anything.

Now people have no choice, even pensioners with no children, non-drinkers, and other responsible people who care very well for their families, all have to have income management.

People in Yuendumu are forced to go to the Intervention shop or go to Alice Springs. Many do go to Alice Springs to spend their income managed money, and many stay there and some go drinking.

Shopping with the ‘basics card’ is awkward and shameful. In town they look at us as if we are bad parents or hopeless people. In Yuendumu, the Intervention shop has a sign saying: “You must know the balance in your basics card before shopping”. It is hard to find this out by ringing Centrelink or by waiting in line at the Centrelink office.

NT Government Attacks

At the same time as this Intervention the Northern Territory Government is also attacking our community and culture.

We no longer have a local Yuendumu Council. All decisions are made outside the community. There is almost no communication between us Warlpiri people and the Government.

The NT Minister for Education has ruled that the first four hours of schooling has to be in English. We have ‘two-way’ bilingual programs in our Warlpiri schools. This is the end of these programs.

Now our children are forced to learn in English right through primary school. Our little children don’t understand English.


Every time Government officials come to Yuendumu to ‘consult’ with us, they don’t listen to us. They just tell us what their plans are. When any of us speak up about our concerns, it’s as if they have deaf ears. They just go on with their plans as if we had said nothing. There is no communication. They treat us like kids.

We are proud Warlpiri people. It is a great insult to be treated like this.


The Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and the NT Anti-Discrimination Act should be restored straight away.

Don’t ignore the recommendations of the Report of Peter Yu’s NTER Review Board.

Put the Intervention money now being wasted to good use. Fund our local organisations to employ more people on full wages.

Re-establish local leadership and decision making power. Restore Yuendumu Council.

Apologise for all the hurt and the lies and insults that have made us look so bad in the eyes of the rest of Australia.

That Australia adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This declaration includes the right of people “providing education in their own languages”.

Above all give us back our respect and dignity and support us in running our own lives.

Don’t talk down to us and listen.



Today, Monday October 27th, Harry Nelson, former Yuendumu Council President, presented Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin with a statement signed by 236 residents in a meeting at the community before the Minister opened the new pool, funding of which predates the intervention.

The statement read:

‘We, the residents of Yuendumu, want you to listen to the following statement and take our message back to the Federal and NT Governments:

When John Howard and Mal Brough lost their seats, we were happy. But now you are doing the same thing to us, piggybacking Howard and Brough’s policies, and we feel upset, betrayed and disappointed. We talked to the Review board, and now the Government is not even listening to the report, and is keeping this intervention going almost unchanged. It is an insult to us.—————————————————————————————————-

This is our land. We want the Government to give it back to us. We want the Government to stop blackmailing us. We want houses, but we will not sign any leases over our land, because we want to keep control of our country, our houses, and our property.

We say NO to income management. We can look after our own money.

We want the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 reinstated now, not in 12 months.

The Government Business Manager is useless, expensive, and we don’t need them. We want our community councils back instead. We want community control, not Shires. We don’t want more police, we don’t want more contractors, we don’t want more government people.

Everything is coming from the outside, from the top down. The government is abusing us with this intervention. We want to be re-empowered to make our own decisions and control our own affairs. We want self-determination. We want support, funding and resources for things coming from our community, from the inside.

Yuendumu has a lot of things to be proud of. Our community programs, like the Mt Theo program, the bilingual education program, Warlpiri media, the Old People’s program, Warlukurlunga arts centre, childcare, the youth program, should be supported, celebrated, and used as a model for other communities.

We want to keep our bilingual education program and use our own language to teach English, maths, and other things in schools.

We want you to give us respect and dignity, and stop telling lies about our people.

We want the Government to listen to us, talk with us, consult with us, and do things proper way.’

Peggy Brown, in her welcome to country at the pool opening, talked up strong in defense of Yapa country, in reference to Government pressure to sign leases over the community or housing stock in exchange for housing.

‘This is our land,’ she said. ‘Government gotta support yapa. We want to keep control of our land.’

‘I will not rest until these issues are sorted out,’ said Mr Nelson, after presenting the statement. ‘Jenny Macklin did not properly read the statement and respond, so we will be expecting a formal response from her.’

For more information, contact:

Harry Nelson;

Peggy Brown;

Valerie Martin;

Robbie Wallitt

c/o Yuendumu Mining Co. 8956 4040

GUMATJ STATEMENT 26 October 2008

Sun, 26 Oct 2008
Message from Gumatj clan nation, MataMata Homeland, NE Arnhem Land.
There is a new wave of attacks on remote Indigenous communities. The government is set to close down most remote schools. Because CDEP and welfare are linked to school attendance this is a retraction of any government support from these communities. Schools will no longer teach in the local Indigenous languages either. English only.
They are also proposing to stop all funding to small remote communities, called Homelands or Outstations. These communities – like that we live in here at MataMata – is the cultural source of identity, pride and indigenous religion and law. These are sacred Homelands that the people WILL NOT leave.
There are also ominous signs the government wants to change the land tenure in these communally held estates (free hold title under the Land Rights Act).
These, among many other measures suggest the government seeks to move remote community people into larger centres. This is exactly as Vanstone suggested, but with more subtle rhetoric.
It may seem crude, but what would the response be if the government proposed to shut down all schools in white communities? If they proposed to shut down all service provision to white communities? If they started unilaterally CHANGING LEGAL LAND TENURE LEGISLATION in white communities?
People out here on the Homelands are both saddened and angry. However, they are defiant, that no matter what the government does, they will not leave their sacred lands and their law. The government will be condemning them to a life of EXTREME poverty. Is this ‘closing the gap’? Is this ‘reconciliation’?

They call this a representative democracy. What a joke – what representation do my family have out here? What say do they have in deciding on legislation that directly affects them and their children and their property?”
For more info, check out these government discussion papers on the proposed legislation:$file/Increasing_Indigenous_Employment_Opportunity.PDF————————————————————————————————

GURUNDJI STATEMENT 29 September 2008

The Gurindji people who are famous for the Wave Hill walk-off that in itself pushed the Government of the day to start to recognize Aboriginal people have equal rights and abilities to the not indigenous people of Australia. The strike was triggered by the ongoing oppression of the Gurindji and tribal groups (who were the main workforce on the cattle stations operated by wealthy people from Australia and overseas) through a payment system of some basic food stuffs and little if any cash, while non indigenous people were paid award wages. This strike and subsequent public meeting etc in 60s earmarked the beginning of a long struggle that some had thought was over but the imposing of the intervention on the people have brought back the days of being under and control of a government manager (GBMs, CEBs, and other bureaucrats) who tells you what you can and can not spend your income on, regardless of your real needs. Thereby leading to a system which under the Racial Discrimination Act could have lead to a class action against the Government due to the extreme control of the communities life which everyone else in Australia does not have these restrictions, so is the plan to make the Aboriginal People second class people again without rights or are to be the one people of Australia or not?

Michael Paddy

On behalf of Gurindji People

29 September 2008



We Aboriginal women from the Prescribed Area People’s Alliance meeting yesterday, September 29 2008, met to talk on issues that affect us the most out of this intervention.  We have made a statement. We don’t want the intervention.  We want to manage our communities the proper way, the way we want it, this is our community, we are the ones that live there, listen to us and our cultural ways.


The intervention law is racist and we want protection under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.


Intervention has taken away our people’s rights.


There is one law and that’s our law. Our laws don’t change.  White people are changing their law all the time.


We have been practicing our culture for thousands and thousands of generations. We want to strongly maintain and practice our culture.  We want to stay in our communities and pass on traditional knowledge to the future generations.


Governments don’t listen to us.  We want another government who is good, honest and respectful, with good people working for us.  White men are trying to put us back, they like to be in the front. They’re always taking over. Stay with Aboriginal law. Government people bringing in new ways are destroying our way.


We want more consultation and communication.  We want consultation in our languages.  We want to work together. Intervention workers come in, they don’t know our community and what we need, they don’t work with us.  Government Business Managers are not working properly for our community needs. Community management belongs to us.  Government works 9 – 5, community is 24/7.


Police can do what they like, get away with anything since the intervention started. We’d like them to ask us how we’d like to deal with community issues.  We’d like to work in partnership to deal with community problems.

Income Management

There’s no financial programs to support our people. A blanket approach to Income Management is the wrong way. Income management is bringing everyone into town.  People don’t want to have to come into town.  They want to stay in their own communities.

Nothing has improved

There’s no new houses, schools or anything for communities. They’ve only built new houses for the new intervention staff.  We had programs created by the community for our community.  We wanted more support for them.  Community programs have been taken away.  They’ve taken away our night patrol, community bus and women’s centres.

Going backwards

For old people the intervention is bringing up bad memories of the past, the old days, the ration days, the dog tag days and the mission days.


We want permanent doctors and nurses in our communities that we can trust, not the fly in fly out, one-day or one week intervention doctors.  Give our people the opportunity to be health workers in our communities.


We want to our young people to stay on land and learn culture.  We want to see kids going to school and getting a proper education in a school that’s on Aboriginal land, not to have to send them away.


Our old people are our government.  We listen to them. We want to employ our own people, young people, to care for families.

Elders want “Return to Country” programs and aged care facilities in their communities.  We listen to our old people, government should listen to them.

Calls to action:

1. We call on Quentin Bryce, the Governor General, to come and meet with us women.

2. We call on Jenny Macklin to have proper consultation with us women.

3. Stop the intervention.  We want to manage our communities the proper way, the way we want it, this is our community, we are the ones that live there, listen to us and our cultural ways.


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