Protest against seven years of NT intervention

June 27, 2014
A march against racist laws and racial profiling in Alice Springs on March 27. Photo:

It has been seven years since the federal government introduced the Northern Territory intervention. To mark the date, a protest was held outside Alice Springs courthouse on June 21, demanding an end to the intervention, now known as Stronger Futures, and an end to income management.

Barbara Shaw, a long-time Aboriginal activist and founding member of the Intervention Rollback Action Group  (IRAG) said to the rally: “Seven years ago I was in [my] lounge room and [indigenous affairs minister] Mal Brough made his announcement. We formed IRAG and have remained strong — fighting for seven years against this racist policy that targeted Aboriginal people living in communities. It was supposed to fix our communities.

“The government said they were experts about what would help us — but the only experts about the NT intervention are those who live it. The intervention has done more harm than good.”

Aunty Valerie Martin, a Warlpiri woman from Yuendumu, told the crowd: “The NT intervention made us cattle in our own land. We are like prisoners who can't decide what we can do, it is overpowering us. Nothing has changed for the benefit of our people.

“We need our culture and our language — but the intervention did not give us that. We wait for contractors to fix our housing, rundown housing in the first place. The law and the government are controlling our lives. We’ve got to live every day with their law overpowering us. When is this going end? If the mob stands together we can end it. But we need help — but look what they've done with Muckaty. We have to fight and stand up for our rights.”


Arrente elder, Aunty Raelene Silverton from N’taria said: “When everything started seven years ago, I read newspapers and was sad that the [John] Howard government was changing everything back to where we started from because I didn't want to go back.

“I didn't think anyone was listening or reading the paper but I heard people talking at Central Land Council (CLC) against it. So we are still fighting for the right to be free — we want self management — we want to run our lives and teach our children properly our way.”

Maurice Ryan, Chair of CLC, said: “I was on the basics card for 5 years — I always wear it around my neck and when I was visiting politicians in Canberra to tell them to stop it — my card went off.

“You know the word intervene comes from word interfere. That’s what they are doing to us. Cook interfered 226 years ago, interfered into politics of first nations people. Still, none of the politicians have got up and apologised for the stigma in NT that has been.

“The stigma of not being able to hug your children or grandchild because we are called a paedophile. The politicians are only in there for themselves for control of finances and the economy. They don't care about Aboriginal people – they don't care at all.

“I'm disgusted in what I've seen and continue to see. When are we as a nation of people going to get a real apology for the hurt and stigma attached to this? We are being treated like second class citizens here in the territory, all treated like shit. They don’t treat the rest of Australia like they treat the Territory.

“We just had a victory at Muckaty and then we need to ask how going to stop the NT Intervention? When are we going to become united and say enough is enough? When are we all going to march the streets?

Where are the rest of us here today? They been put down so much they can't get up. We need to lift them up. But we can't do this until the genocide is taught in schools. Arthur Philip was equal to Hitler. When this be taught in schools?”

Alison Furber, an Arrente woman, said: “The NT intervention needs to be exposed. In 2007 an army of troops went into Mutijulu and they declared war on our people. Thanks to John Pilger’s film Utopia which exposed the truth. The intervention demonises our men, who are my uncles, our fathers, our boyfriends, just in order to take over our land. They ripped away our dignity. Everybody must come together and fight this.”

Arrente woman, Stacey Chester said “I came back to Alice Springs two years ago and as soon as I moved here my son got into a bit of trouble. Under the lie of the Intervention there is now a police totalitarian agenda by the Australian government. There is a lot more to come. We have to stand up against this and fight it full throttle. They began with us because we are the guinea pigs.

“We the first nations — we were never counted in the constitution — only British subjects were counted. The crown has no jurisdiction. Fill yourselves with knowledge and we will rise up together and save our country.”


Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, an elder from the Utopia homelands said “it’s great to see a lot of voices here today. We keep paying the price of being first nation’s people and it has got to stop somewhere.

“Yesterday I came past the country of my grandmothers which is north east of here. And I remembered when we went and dug up the honey ant we did not go out and trample it — we released the ant to find its day. There is so much anger in each and every one of us. Our calmness has been shattered by the greed and consumerism of the other value system. This is where they want to close our gap.

“But the amazing thing is that we are still alive, and our social structures are still in place — even though we have the white value over us. We hope it is about to collapse because it forgets about humans, land and social structure that us inclusive of all. I heard Alison call for a united front of people — let’s make it real and feasible. We can do this.

“I sat in Redfern last week and felt the pain. That pain was partly fighting among each other but real enemy is the government now and those from colonisation. Many are kept in the dark from the propaganda.

“They said all black men were paedophiles. Look at that propaganda. What they say in propaganda appears to be real but is not — it is blatant lies. Let’s have a look having a truth and justice journey, let’s not go back to Captain Cook, let’s be proactive and together.

“There will always be racism somewhere along the track. But if a majority of Australians say this is not the way we want to go another way — we can change it. We want a bill of rights — a journey of truth. They want to take your kids and white wash them. I am very happy being black and having my ceremonies. Let’s find the paradise which we have lost.

“Come on people let’s get out of this hell and get the paradise we have lost.”


IRAG spokesperson Adam Sharah said: “They are not telling the truth about the mining. They are coming in for the last of the land. They are smashing land rights and it is happening here in the NT.

“Australia is the only Western nation to imbed [racism] in legislation and law. Here it is law. I visited homes where mothers and aunties are hiding their youth in safe houses because of police stealing children. You can't make a fire in the riverbed now, they criminalised our culture.

“They are criminalising the social effects of decades of bad policy. If someone is sick, you heal them. The intervention is building on decades of failed policy. The ALP’s [Indigenous affairs minister] Jenny Macklin forced Aboriginal people to sign over leases and herded them into proscribed areas. Some people can't live and sit with other people, that is our cultural way, and they are herding us together.

“There is an increase in social problems but Tony Abbott is going to defund us — over $534.4 million in cuts to Aboriginal programs over five years. But there is a $52 million budget for police in regional areas. They say there is no more capacity but they find $52 million for the police. They institutionalise us into white fella programs. Then as soon as night comes we are herded away from the city centre.

“There are significant rises in incarceration rates, indigenous poverty, and suicide rates. These are the effects of apartheid policy.”

Natalie Wasley, Beyond Nuclear Initiative convener, told the rally: "I was in Parliament House in Canberra when the NT Emergency Response was announced. The women I was travelling with were all from communities or camps that became 'prescribed' when the intervention laws passed soon after.

“There was a rally on the Court House lawns in Alice Springs where 'Prescribed Area People' burnt the intervention legislation, which was hundreds of pages long.

“The tentacles have spread over everything and affected every part of people's lives; from shopping restrictions to interactions with people on the street. Straight away in shops Aboriginal people are categorised.

“We have had a big win in stopping the Muckaty nuclear waste dump. It was a grass roots campaign that was driven from Tennant Creek but had national support.

“During court hearings, traditional owners marched the courthouse and held a press conference to say they will block road trains if required to stop the dump. Many Muckaty mob have said explicitly now, we want to shift focus to fighting racist laws like 'Stronger Futures'.”

Paddy Gibson, a researcher with Jumbunna at the University of Technology Sydney, said: “They are rebuilding Aboriginal protection boards with hundreds of millions of dollars to control Aboriginal people’s money. Now the child protection system steals children and spies on families. This is a modern day stolen generation, but we fought and won an Aboriginal child back today. A strong Aboriginal woman had her two-year-old taken away from her. They put her child into a care home where backpackers look after the stolen kids.

“We are going to defeat apartheid — we have to support every Aboriginal person who has had their kids stolen. We have to set all the prisoners free, bring all the children home, and burn this NT legislation.”

[IRAG meets in Alice Springs once a week. Call Barb Shaw 0401 291 166 to support or get get involved in IRAG.]

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