On 28 March over 500 people, most of them Aboriginal, marched on the Alice Springs police station under the banner “say no to racist laws and racist policing”.
Driving the protest was anger at Operation Leyland, a police offensive initiated by the Country Liberal NT government in February. Police have been stationed outside literally every bottle shop in town, enforcing NT Intervention laws, which prohibit alcohol on all Aboriginal lands.
Residents of Aboriginal town camps in Alice Springs have long been subjected to police raids and constant harassment under these laws. Police do not need a warrant to enter their homes. The laws were extended by the Labor government in 2012 for a further ten years under Stronger Futures legislation.
Operation Leyland has brought the racism of Stronger Futures into full public view. Police are using the skin colour of shoppers to claim a “reasonable suspicion” that they will be taking alcohol into Aboriginal camps. All Aboriginal people, regardless of where they live, are being questioned, searched and made to produce identification while police conduct background checks. Many Aboriginal speakers addressing the protest described the situation as “apartheid”.
Rally organiser Alison Furber told the crowd: “This is not about alcohol, it’s about racism. Police have just used the grog situation…This policy has been organised to put our people down, they want us to be under their feet”.
The alcohol regime is just one part of the apartheid of Stronger Futures. Most Aboriginal people who receive Centrelink are on a “BasicsCard” which limits where they can shop and what they can buy. White managers have been appointed to every Aboriginal community. Targeted “child protection” squads work solely to monitor and remove children from these communities. The NT has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world and 85 per cent of prisoners are black.
In September 2012, the Country Liberals cynically capitalised on anger at the Intervention, winning government with a massive swing in Aboriginal electorates.
But in power, the Liberals have only strengthened the regime holding Aboriginal people down. New laws allow people to be picked up drunk off the street and incarcerated in “mandatory rehabilitation” facilities for three months despite having committed no crime. Meanwhile, catastrophic levels of Aboriginal unemployment are only getting worse. Aboriginal support workers have been cut from schools and there are proposals to close down remote high schools entirely.
The protest came as a fresh crisis broke inside the Country Liberals. Three Aboriginal MLAs walked out of the party, bringing the government within a single seat of losing their majority. They had been a part of a cynical, opportunistic Country Liberal campaign in the last election, promising to help Aboriginal communities and feeding off dismay with Labor. The MLAs cited pressure from their constituents following the litany of broken promises since the election, as well as the intense racism they suffered trying to work within the party.
By Paddy Gibson
Tangentyere CEO stands up to racist laws
Walter Shaw, CEO of the Tangentyere Council, which represents residents of Aboriginal town camps in Alice Springs, faced court on 17 April under Stronger Futures laws. This followed a police raid on his town camp that found alcohol on the property. Supporters rallied outside the courthouse calling for the charges to be dropped, led by the Four Corners men’s group from Tangentyere and the Intervention Rollback Action Group. Both groups are mobilising for further protests, including on 21 June, marking seven years since the NT Intervention was announced.
Below is an extract from the speech Walter gave at the rally on March 28:
“Over the last few weeks I have been speaking to old men, about life in the town camps. I ask them if things are better today than they were six years ago prior to the Intervention, they all say that things are much worse. How is it that a government policy, that has burnt up billions of taxpayers money and which was launched to improve the lives and safety of Aboriginal people, has made our lives worse and our people are less safe then they were six years ago?
“The targeting of Aboriginal people in Alice Springs is now so overt that no one even tries to hide it. Every hour of every day, police in this community watch and wait for their Aboriginal prey. They move us on from public spaces, they search us, they chase us down. They arrest us, they place us in protective custody.
“Alice Springs police recently put up signs at all bottle-shops, featuring a picture of crow. It’s an official police poster, and it is supposed to remind us that in Alice Springs some people have rights and some people do not. Police use the image of a crow, because crows are scavengers and hang around waiting for the scraps, that is how police in this town view Aboriginal people.
“We are fed up with our men, our women and our children being treated like third class citizens, we are fed up with being beggars on our own lands… This is yet another sad day for Aboriginal Australia, where our social status has been diminished to that of a depreciated jigaboo, wandering the back corridors of Alabama. The back of the bus days are over!”
Photos: Hilary Tyler