'Shame on Australia for making us work for that Basics Card!'


Under the Northern Territory intervention, in the "prescribed areas" the government has taken control of communities, acquired compulsory leases of Aboriginal land and introduced "welfare quarantining" — in which half the income of social security recipients is replaced with a "Basics Card", which can only be spent at specified shops on specified items.

Anti-intervention campaigner and Warlpiri language interpreter Valerie Martin spoke at the Prescribed Area People's Alliance meeting in Alice Springs on February 12. An abridged version of the speech is printed below. It was transcribed by Intervention Rollback Action Group. For more information, visit www.rollbacktheintervention.wordpress.com.

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We need to stick together because it's coming down now, hammering down on us really hard. We should be able to get together and be strong about it though, because I heard what's happening over there at Ampilatwatja [where elders have walked off the prescribed area] and I'm proud about it. It made me cry when I heard it.

It's really sad what's happening to our land. Our culture is connected to the land. And now this invasion coming, another invasion. They're not even for a minute thinking, they just want to go ahead and do it whether we like it or not. I'm still talking to people and everyone tells me it's getting harder. We need to come together strong now.

I'm living where it all started: Wave Hill [scene of the 1966-75 Gurindji people's walk-off]. It reminded me of where the things are happening now, the walk-off there, sitting down with your people there, especially old people getting their history.

It seems to us we're going backwards. They're going to take everything away from us. The way the government is trying to overrule us now [shows] they don't understand at all in the parliamen what the land means to us and our culture . It's really sad.

Because I sometimes sit down at night and think: "What's going to happen next to our kids?" It's going to be really sad for our kids in the future, harder and harder. All these rules they're creating, hammering down on us. Not for a minute do they think: "let's ask them, communicate". None of that. They just throw the rules down onto us: the Basics Card, do this, do that.

It's supposed to be a free land, this place, but it's not. We're struggling. They treat us with no respect. How are our kids going to grow up knowing what to do with their lives when rules are being thrown from all sides.

Everyone needs to stick together and talk up [not] sitting back and letting other people talk. We've all got to talk, together.

This is the time, now, because it's really hard for us. Our law doesn't change. Through the ceremony, we don't change it and it makes us strong.

My knowledge and my ceremony that I went through, I'm now teaching my kids and grandkids. I'm out there but I'm still joining in. I feel really strong inside.

The way the Basics Card is now, you've got to deal with Centrelink [and] it's a headache how the government talks. You've got to do this and that, you've got to work for that dole. Shame on Australia for making us work for that Basics Card!

A lot of people were surprised and I was surprised too. People were working and they were expecting money but were told: no, you've got to work for this. [The] Basics Card is working [but] not for money.

People are really angry. They are saying: we can't work for this! How can they feed their families? What's wrong with this government of ours? It's disgusting. This government of ours is treating us just like mild people, expecting us to get on the Basics Card and work for it. It's a shame job: they make up new rules, and say they're good for Aboriginal people, but they're not.

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