As part of a national day of action protesting against the federal government's quarantining of the welfare payments of allegedly negligent parents within Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, 30 students and staff, mainly Aboriginal, held a protest rally outside the Centrelink office on Curtin University campus on March 12.
Representatives of NT Indigenous communities had asked Aboriginal rights groups across Australia to demonstrate outside Centrelink offices on or around March 13 — a month after Labor PM Kevin Rudd's official apology to the Stolen Generations — to demand the repeal of the Howard government's NT "emergency" intervention legislation.
The Curtin University protest was organised by the Western Australian Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC). Curtin academic and Nyoongar elder Ted Wilkes told the protest action: "This is a discriminatory and racist policy. I was in Alice Springs recently, and I've seen with my own eyes the shame that those forced to use the vouchers experience. My mother and father had to endure rations. We can't have a repeat of the bad old days."
ARC organiser and Socialist Alliance member Natasha Moore said: "Far from the Rudd government undoing the Howard government's racist law, welfare quarantining is being extended to more NT communities and Labor governments in WA and Queensland are intent on enacting the same thing."
The protesters pledged to hold monthly rallies outside Centrelink offices until the legislation is repealed and to prevent the welfare quarantine system being implemented in WA. The next protests are likely to be outside the Midland and Gosnells Centrelink offices. For details, phone ARC on 0434 303 248 (Natasha) or (08) 9299 6453 (Annolies).
Zane Alcorn reports from Newcastle that 25 people picketed the Mayfield Centrelink office on March 13 to protest the NT welfare quarantine system. "This is a protest against apartheid — the NT intervention. The quarantining of payments has already spread to Walgett in Western Australia", Awabakal elder Peta Ridgeway told Green Left Weekly. "It is becoming a federal, not just NT-based, intervention, which is taking us back to the days of the ration system."
Ridgeway said she viewed Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations in February as an attempt by the new Labor government to regain "stewardship" of what was becoming an increasingly independent Indigenous rights movement. "People will now have a tendency to say you've got your apology, what more do you want? This takes the focus off the intervention-
and frames compensation in terms of an apology rather than as reparation for an ongoing culture of theft and exploitation."
Bronwyn Power reports from Alice Springs that members of the NT Intervention Roll-back Group surveyed Indigenous people arriving at the town's Centrelink office from outlying areas about their experience of welfare quarantining.
Jim McIlroy reports that around 20 people gathered outside the Centrelink office in South Brisbane. "This is not just about a bad law, but about the suppression of the rights of indigenous people", Les Malezer, chairperson of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Action, told the picket. "The Australian government is victimising the most vulnerable people in Australia. The NT invasion has to stop completely, not just restoration of the permit system and the CDEP [Community Development Employment Program]."