On June 21, hundreds of Aboriginal people and supporters marched in the biggest Aboriginal rights demonstration seen in Darwin since John Howard announced the Intervention in 2007. The demonstration launched a statement, Rebuilding from the Ground Up: An Alternative to the Intervention.
This eleven-point program was initiated by the anti-Intervention campaign and endorsed by a Prescribed Area Peoples’ Alliance meeting representing more than 15 language groups on the day before the rally.
Based on principles of self-determination, the statement includes demands for immediate repeal of all Intervention powers, re-instatement and proper resourcing for Aboriginal community councils, scrapping township leases and a new employment program to give all willing workers a job developing their communities.
The latest government Closing the Gap in the NT Monitoring Report also released in June confirms an accelerating process of social breakdown under the Intervention.
Rates of attempted suicide and self-harm have almost doubled. Thirty per cent more Indigenous people are in prison and 38 per cent more children are being removed from their families. School attendance dropped by 5.4 per cent in the last year alone.
These shocking statistics were no surprise to the Aboriginal leaders protesting in Darwin. They have seen punitive Intervention powers used to seize assets, decimate well functioning programs, cripple Aboriginal authority and transfer thousands of people from paid employment onto Centrelink and the BasicsCard.
The day after the Darwin rally, the government launched its own paper, Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory. This is an aggressive push forward with the attempt to centralise remote populations and socially engineer Aboriginal communities into models of “mainstream” behaviour. It will ensure there is no future for the vast majority of remote communities.
The government aims to break Aboriginal communities by installing government-run neo-missions, and replace goals of community well-being with acceptance of the need to leave the community in search of work or basic services.
It calls for the maintenance of key Intervention powers such as race-based alcohol restrictions that have been condemned as discriminatory and ineffective by all major NT Aboriginal organisations. Communities are urged to sign “voluntary” long term leases with the government before 2012—a veiled threat that further compulsory acquisition is on the table.
Stronger Futures stresses the importance of education but does not commit to funding any new teachers in chronically under-resourced bush schools. It will expand a scheme that cuts parents off Centrelink if their children don’t attend school, but refuses to canvas reinstatement of bi-lingual education programs.
There will be accommodation subsidies for people who migrate to find jobs, but no new jobs on Aboriginal land or new housing for the vast majority of communities.
Community control not sham consultation
Merely five days after the paper’s release, Jenny Macklin began a tour of Aboriginal communities to “consult” about the Intervention’s future. At Lajamanu, residents did not even know a meeting was happening until they heard the government planes fly in.
The consultations will continue for five weeks. This period offers an opportunity for the national campaign to highlight what’s wrong with the Intervention agenda.
But we must remember the lessons from the 2009 consultations. The process is completely fraudulent and pre-determined. In 2009, despite overwhelming community opposition to key Intervention powers, the government passed legislation that rebadged them as “special measures” under the Racial Discrimination Act, developed in consultation with Aboriginal people!
Some campaigners have called for Aboriginal language interpreters, or for a longer period of consultation. But such tacit support for any process centered around Stronger Futures only helps Macklin spin her new legislation. Consultation meetings are easy for the government to manipulate.
The first consultation in Tenant Creek consisted of Jenny Macklin being passionately criticised for two hours. And yet this meeting was reported in The Australian as being in favour of the government’s plans!
Aboriginal people have made their demands clear. Racist laws must be scrapped and organs of Aboriginal control established to take charge of development.
Community control is at the centre of Rebuilding from the Ground Up. The statement is gathering momentum with endorsement from major organisations such as Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, Tangentyere Council, the CFMEU and celebrities like Ian Thorpe. Senator Lee Rhiannon told a vibrant rally in Sydney on June 25 that The Greens are behind the statement.
Cohering opposition around Rebuilding from the Ground Up will be crucial as the government attempts to stitch up new Intervention legislation before the end of the year.
By Jean Parker and Paddy Gibson