Arnhem Land leaders slam 'wasteful' NT intervention

Aboriginal leaders from Arnhem Land met with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on July 23 and called for the restoration of the Racial Discrimination Act. The act was suspended in June 2007 to allow for the passing of the bi-partisan Northern Territory (NT) intervention legislation.

The Arnhem Land leaders also demanded that the Aboriginal Benefits Account (ABA) no longer be raided to fund the unpopular NT intervention. They called on Rudd, who was conducting a federal cabinet meeting in the region, to establish greater collaboration between remote Aboriginal communities and government departments. The government used the opportunity to announce moves to formally recognise Aboriginal people in the constitution.

The July 23 National Indigenous Times reported that the Arnhem Land elders presented Rudd with a statement signed by 53 elders and representing more than 8000 people.

The document contained 25 demands and read in part: "We recognise that we are now in a new era, and are hopeful of a fundamental change in the way government does business with Yolngu and Bininj clans … Yolngu and other Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory have been marginalised and demeaned over the past decade by the Howard regime and have been denied real opportunity to have a say about our aspirations and future."

The elders called for an Aboriginal "future fund" to help develop local infrastructure. They said the ABA should be dedicated to this purpose rather than to what they termed the "wasteful" NT intervention. They also called for the removal of welfare restrictions.

Funds to the ABA are derived from mining royalties linked to Aboriginal land in the NT. Funds for community projects are made available through a grant process. The document called for ABA funds to be "returned to Aboriginal people to support their development aspirations and priorities as originally intended".

Meanwhile, a report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on July 23, Australian Social Trends 2008: Housing and Services in Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities, reveals little improvement in Aboriginal housing from 2001 to 2006.

It identified many instances of overcrowding in remote townships and that a third of community housing had reached high enough levels of disrepair to warrant replacement.

According to the report, in 2006 some 3400 people in remote communities had no permanent address and were living in temporary accommodation such as sheds or humpies.