LABOR’S Aboriginal Affairs minister, Jenny Macklin, consistently presents the Northern Territory intervention as a humanitarian effort aimed at supporting remote Aboriginal communities and stamping out child abuse.
But Aboriginal people are overwhelmingly experiencing the intervention as punitive, and one effect is to force people off their country and into the major NT urban centres.
Town camps in Darwin, for example, have doubled in population since the intervention started, and existing services are deteriorating.
The former Howard government was far more explicit about the purpose of the intervention, arguing that the way to solve social problems was to “mainstream” Aboriginal people, and this meant closing down “unviable” remote communities.
Vince Forrester is an elder and long time activist from Mutitjulu, a community at Uluru. He has traveled to Sydney to campaign against the intervention. He talked to Paddy Gibson.
What conditions existed in your community before this intervention?
We’ve been living in a third world community in the middle of Australia. Uluru is a major draw card for the tourist industry in Australia. There would be 5000 jobs across this whole industry, but none of the companies are employing any Aboriginal people. We know the stories from this country, but the tour operators won’t give us work.
Our people were struggling and trying to develop a few things. We had set up a high school. It wasn’t very much, but children could come in from the outlying areas. We had a primary school, in which more than 60% of children had ear infections, so hearing problems were dramatic.
We had a day care centre and we had a youth program going, with junior rangers. We had two doctors and an Aboriginal health worker. This was before that cowboy Mal Brough came along.
Before the intervention he started picking on Mutitjulu. There were allegations of pedophilia and a child prostitution ring run on TV by a so called “youth worker”, Greg Andrews. [Andrews never worked as a youth worker at Mutitjulu; he was found to be a public servant in Brough’s department.]
My son in law was the youth worker. He’s been trained to look out for these things. My daughter ran the crèche. She would have told me if there were problems, she would have been up in arms.
Brough stopped funding and appointed an administrator in the high school, which they announced would close down for 3 years. They would never do this is the city!
They closed down our creche and stopped funding for the youth programs. The Mutitjulu community took them to the Federal court. We won in the full bench of the Federal court. That was on the Thursday. On the Monday, Brough announced his intervention, or his invasion as I call it.
What has happened since the intervention?
They continued with the close down of the school, crèche, youth working programs. Health workers left. They stopped funding going to the community for municipal works, rubbish etc. They also stopped basic repairs, like to sewerage systems.
The government appointed administrators to the businesses that were operating in the community, like our art business. It had a $10 million a year turnover, providing us with some extra money, but has now been taken over. So the community has no income.
The administrators said they were going to move the community out of Mutitjulu. My thoughts were that they were going to build a backpacker resort at the base of Uluru. Of course we jacked up against that, we said no way, we aren’t going to be marginalised and pushed away!
Then they sent out a big mob of public servants; 27 people came to have a meeting about the community, in seventeen different motor cars! No community members were involved in these meetings. They came for five days. We call that a bloody waste of money; we could use that money in our youth centre.
Just before the intervention, seven coppers came to my house, with shotguns pointed at my head! They accused me of planning violence, because of the programs being closed down.
They went through my house, searched everything, pointing a gun at me the whole time. They walked into the bedroom and saw my wife there who demanded to know what they were doing, or if they had a warrant. They backed off because my wife is a white woman.
A few days later I was on my early morning walk. I looked over to my cousin’s place; federal coppers were in there pulling out the guts of her computers. Then they went over to the community office, busted the door down and took all the guts out of the computers in the administrator’s office.
As well as this they are increasing raids on people’s houses, arresting young boys for $20 bags of marijuana.
We have just heard that on 3 April, 123 people were arrested in raids on town camps in Alice Springs, during a “special operation” aimed at alcohol consumption.
This legislation and government action is a form of terrorism used specifically against our people. They are entrenching racism with these actions. Raids at Hoppy’s camp [Alice Springs] would be against Walpiri mob who have been forced into town.
Alice Springs now is full of many people who, because of “welfare quarantines’ have to come into town to get food, then can’t afford to get back to the bush. Only certain shops in town accept the invasion tickets (food vouchers), and these same supermarkets are making big profits by selling alcohol for any remaining cash. They exercise no duty of care, while Aboriginal people are punished.
Why have you come to Sydney?
The recent rally in Canberra was great. I feel a change in Australian society, in the last couple of years. The general population wants to change the situation that Indigenous people are in.
But people can’t here us in the bush. I’ve come as an ambassador from Uluru and Kuta-tjuta to speak up, at universities, at public forums. I’m coming here to tell everyone the truth.