The campaign against the Northern Territory Intervention is taking significant steps forward following a recent east-coast speaking tour by women from “prescribed” communities in the NT.
The tour was timed to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21.
Barbara Shaw from Mount Nancy Town Camp in Alice Springs and Valerie Martin from Yuendumu visited Brisbane and North-Eastern NSW.
Martin also joined Irene Fisher, CEO of Sunrise Health Service in Katherine, for a series of events in Sydney.
Highlights of the tour included a 100-strong meeting at Southern Cross University on March 19, which led to the establishment of a new campaign group in Lismore.
Over 170 people attended a major public forum in Sydney on March 22. Meetings at the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology also helped bring the fight onto the campuses.
Land rights not leases
The speaking tour exposed the growing opposition to the Rudd government’s latest assault on land rights. Rudd is demanding that Aboriginal communities across Australia lease their land to the government for between 40 and 90 years before desperately needed housing is constructed.
At the Sydney forum Geoff Scott, CEO of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, argued that this move was an extension of NT Intervention policies, saying, “we always said to people, if they come for the NT at night, they’ll come for you in the morning”.
Valerie Martin brought the deep anger held by her community to city audiences.
“Why can’t they help us out with money for our housing and services? Why do they need to take over our land? Where they are going is really bad. It’s not on. Since they took the five year leases with the Intervention, they have done nothing. This is our land. We will not sign”.
An interview on CAAMA radio with William Tilmouth, executive director of Tangentyere council, on March 27 indicated that town camp residents in Alice Springs were also moving to reject the leases:
“The NT government, they create a lot of homelessness through failed tenancies in urban housing and the people always come and live on town camps. If the NT housing management takes over the town camps and applies the same rules and regulations, where’s your fallback position if you get evicted from a town camp? Back into the scrub, from whence you came… It’s a push back to the old days 30 years ago”.
Building in the labour movement
The Sydney forum passed a series of motions that give strong direction for the coming months. A major rally will be held on Saturday June 20, part of a national day of action marking two years since the Intervention was announced.
Importantly, the forum recognised the importance of building greater support for the campaign within the labour movement. A resolution called for “all Labor party branches, affiliated trade unions and delegates to move detailed motions calling for wind back of NT Intervention measures at the ALP national conference in July”.
Campaigners now need to work hard to establish more active relationships with unionists and rank-and-file Labor members to maximise impact at the conference.
On March 26, Martin and Fisher addressed a meeting of Unions NSW affiliates in Sydney. Martin read out a letter, prepared in Yuendumu, which invites trade union representatives to visit the community and see first hand the impact of the Intervention.
Community leaders in Darwin town camps and Ramingining in Arnhem Land have also issued an invitation, which begins, “since the NT Wave-Hill walk off in 1966, unions have played an instrumental role in advocating for and protecting Indigenous rights in Australia” (see feature article on page 14).
The idea of a trade union tour of the NT has met with a very enthusiastic response from many unions, including representatives from the NSW Teachers Federation, the CFMEU and Unions NSW. It would be an excellent next step, opening up fresh possibilities for reigniting the much-needed power of unions within the Aboriginal rights struggle.
By Paddy Gibson