WA Indigenous activists organised and motivated

March 15, 2008

A lively forum reporting on the February 12 Canberra convergence for Indigenous rights drew more than 40 people in Perth and set the agenda for further campaigns.

Organised by the WA Aboriginal Rights Coalition, the forum was attended by Indigenous elders who were themselves, or had relatives who were, part of the Stolen Generations. The sentiment among participants was that more than just an apology was needed.

An attendee at the Canberra Convergence last month, Natasha Moore, said that being with all the Indigenous activists and their supporters had been a very powerful experience and had motivated her to become more active. "It was an empowering experience for me and it made me realise that we need to continue to rally and campaign to stop the injustice for good", she said.

One of the issues the activists were most outraged about was the Northern Territory intervention and in particular, the "quarantining" of welfare payments.

All speakers agreed that the only way to get real outcomes for Indigenous Australians was to give them the right to self-determination.

The forum also heard a report from a meeting between the WA corrective services minister, Margaret Quirk, and activists campaigning for justice for a Warburton elder who died in a prison van. Marc Newhouse, a member of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, detailed the policy changes Quirk proposed and argued that they were neither good enough nor quick enough.

"She said they would do a review into prisoner transport in order to make it as safe and as humane as possible, but it shouldn't just be 'humane as possible', it should be absolutely humane", he said.

Newhouse said that the immediate concern was to stop prisoner transport in unreliable trucks over long distances. Quirk had not guaranteed that. The state government has ruled out more expensive options such as air transport, which is used in Queensland.

He also said the government, which owns the trucks but contracts out the service, may try to sell the trucks and privatise the entire process. "Having people who are in state custody then having their welfare and safety handed over to a private company, who are only interested in making money, would be a disaster."

The forum concluded that a community workshop needed to be put on, inviting Quirk and government officials and other interested parties. This would let the family, community and human rights activists conduct their own review rather than let the government handle it.

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