On May 23-25, 160 Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists gathered in Sydney for the Unite and Fight conference, organised by the Sydney Aboriginal Rights Coalition. The conference was intended to update people on the impacts of the ongoing Northern Territory intervention and plan the campaign against it. A key priority coming out of the conference was to build large community rallies around the country on June 21, the anniversary of the announcement of the NT intervention.
Natasha Moore and Wayne Collard, two Nyoongar members of the West Australian Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC-WA), attended the conference and caught up with Green Left Weekly's Annolies Truman, also an ARC-WA member, on their return to Perth.
What are some of the positive things to come out of the conference?
Natasha Moore: Learning more about how the NT intervention is affecting people on the ground. The store cards that are being given to designated community members are proving ineffective in combating the issues of abuse that they were introduced for. People have to travel kilometres to the nearest big town in order to spend their cards. In Bagot, old fellas are selling their cards in the car park for $20 and buying alcohol.
Wayne Collard: Cards are being stolen from old pensioners who are then starving. It's a system that isn't working. The only people benefitting from the intervention are the big supermarket and retail chains where people have to spend their cards.
What are local groups doing to turn the intervention around?
NM: The NT Intervention RollBack working group is challenging the federal government in the High Court. All states and territories are having protest rallies on June 21, on the first anniversary of the [announcement] of the intervention.
Why are the June 21 rallies important?
NM: It's about raising awareness and, here in WA, informing people that welfare quarantining is being introduced into the Kimberley and Cannington, in Perth. The stories from the NT are very disturbing. Aboriginal people are now more disadvantaged than before. We want to send a powerful message that we want the government to repeal these laws.
What is ARC-WA doing for June 21?
NM: We're rallying outside the Wesley church in Perth, where we've had two previous rallies. We've got six Nyoongar speakers, including Professor Ted Wilkes and Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Dennis Eggington. We're raising other pertinent issues of injustice, such as deaths in custody and the government challenge to the Nyoongar Native Title claim. We want to get more of the Nyoongar community involved.
Are you going to keep campaigning after June 21?
NM: We've got two events planned after that. There'll be an information forum on July 7 to inform the community about the human rights being violated by the welfare quarantining legislation. The rights to food, housing, education and health are all being overlooked or violated. We want to enlist more people in our struggle. We'll also be protesting outside the offices of Cannington Centrelink on Monday July 14. We want to consistently inform the community. We're building a broad movement.
WC: We're not going to lie down and give up!
[For more information about the June 21 National Day of Action, see calendar listings on page 23.]