Aboriginal leaders reject government ‘consultations’

Rally against the intervention in Darwin, June 21. Photo: rollbacktheintervention.wordpress.com

The federal Labor government released a discussion paper, Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory, on June 22. It suggests the continuation of much of the NT intervention after the Northern Territory Emergency Response legislation expires next year.

Releasing the report, PM Julia Gillard acknowledged that the intervention introduced by the Howard government in 2007 was “started without consultation with Aboriginal people”, which “did lead to feelings of hurt and feelings of shame”.

Within a week, the government had begun another of its own deeply flawed “consultation” processes.

In a June 27 letter sent to Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin on behalf of several Aboriginal, religious and other figures, Alastair Nicholson, former Chief Justice of the Family Court, raised a swathe of problems with the government’s scheduled meetings with Aboriginal communities.

Nicholson wrote: “There is already a perception, arising from the perceived inadequacy of earlier consultations, that the government's approach to consultations is simply an exercise designed to achieve an already determined outcome.”

He urged the government to provide the discussion paper in local languages and in hard copies well in advance of meetings, and to provide proper interpreters.

Former PM Malcolm Fraser raised similar issues in a June 27 statement, pointing out the lack of real evidence in the Stronger Futures report of the intervention’s alleged achievements to date.

The Tennant and District Times said on July 1 that Diane Stokes, a traditional landowner and leader of the campaign against the nuclear dump at Muckaty, said many people had no idea that the first consultation took place in Tennant Creek on June 28.

“This consultation process is a sham and it’s looking a lot like the government is trying to hide something from us”, she said.

In a written response to the government initiative, Aboriginal elder Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra said: “The Aboriginal people in the 73 prescribed communities of the Northern Territory do not welcome any further consultation with the Government until it acknowledges the failures of the current Intervention.”

Gondarra called for “diplomatic and respectful dialogue, negotiation and relationship with the traditional lawmen and lawwomen in the communities to be affected” and for any educational initiatives to “support the right of Aboriginal people to maintain their Indigenous languages, cultural practices and the capacity to live and work on country”.

In a June 27 interview on PAW Media radio, Gondarra said the intervention is racist, and has “brought hurt, pain and suffering to our people”. He said “people are now living in poverty. There’s more crime, there’s more violence happening because of what the government has done and [how] the people have reacted, especially the young people.”

He called for any new initiative in Aboriginal communities to be controlled by Aboriginal people. “It must be a people’s movement, it must be a people’s agenda.”

Gondarra also called for the removal of the Business Managers installed in Aboriginal communities under the intervention.

“They don’t have our agenda,” he said, “they have an agenda that belongs to the Australian government”.

What is needed, he said, is a mentor who lives with the people, knows their language and “understands their pain, their suffering and agony” and who is “trying to give power back to the people”, rather than “just being there as a spy for the government”.

In another interview on July 4, Gondarra told Paul Wiles on the Strong Voices program on CAAMA Radio that the first thing the Gillard government must do is rescind the intervention legislation.

He said he had “invited all Australian people to walk with us, to fight that racist legislation”, because “democracy is to do with the empowerment of the people, the right of the people to determine their own life”, which is “not happening to Aboriginal people in this country”.

At the same time as the government was embarking on its latest charade, hundreds of Aboriginal people and supporters rallied in Darwin on June 21 for the launch of “Rebuilding from the Ground Up: Alternatives to the NT Intervention”.

Unlike the government paper, this document outlines a genuine way forward for Aboriginal communities based on self-control and the provision of necessary resources.

As Gondarra said, the government must “stop pushing their own ideas” and “listen to the people”.