A forum titled “An Aboriginal Perspective on Inequality, The Intervention, Racism and Struggle” was held on May 6 in Adelaide. Hosted by the South Australia Aboriginal Coalition for Social Justice, the Socialist Alliance and SIMpla, the forum heard from an all-Aboriginal panel including Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy member Boe Spearim and Northern Territory-based activist Amelia Kunoth-Monks.
The overall message from the speakers was clear: Aboriginal issues must be up front and centre. But no matter how well one argues the plight of communities suffering at the hands of the intervention, or the highest rates of incarceration, or out of control suicide rates of young Aboriginal men in jail, or the importance of organised activism, there still remains a key factor affecting all of these issues — neoliberal capitalism.
As a consequence of Western culture driving the machine of profit before people, the First Peoples of this country have suffered degradation of their culture, language, spirit, identity, land and self respect. If this is not understood, then white culture will continue to oppress Black culture.
In reflecting on the event afterwards, Spearim and Kunoth-Monks spoke about their main areas of struggle and where they would like to see things go from here.
“Income management,” explained Kunoth-Monks, “was implemented in 2007 as part of the intervention, the response to the Little Children Are Sacred report [which did not recommend income management].
“It demonises you to less than a human. You can only shop at Coles or Woolworths, who have agreed to support it. You cannot buy alcohol. You can only buy food, clothing, hygiene and medical products. You cannot even buy Listerine because it has alcohol in it. You cannot buy vanilla extract because that has alcohol in it.
“It goes to show that there is still no trust. There has never been the harmonising between the two cultures. It is a dominating culture pushing another culture out of its way and that is what income management has done. It’s in people’s own backyards such as in South Australia, New South Wales and Brisbane.
“People are walking into shops and feeling shame. I feel shame. Many contemplate suicide and succeed in taking their own lives. Other factors are waiting for two weeks for your payments and going hungry while you wait.
"You are not eating properly because community shops don’t have healthy food. Many people on the BasicsCard are losing weight and going hungry.
“My agenda is to push for the rights of Indigenous, First Nations peoples. There is no bill of rights in Australia. We don’t have one. We are human and it’s time to start realising we have rights.”
The spread of income management has been a gradual process that has largely gone under the radar. One of the relatively new income management sites is Playford Council, in Adelaide's northern suburbs.
Community group, Stop Income Management Playford (SIMPla) has been campaigning to stop this policy for almost two years. In the second half of last year, there was a 700% increase in the number of residents on the program, from 71 in May to 497 in December, with 80% of income management clients being forced participants.
Kunoth-Monks reminded the forum that income management began as a racist project, originally applied only to Aboriginal people, and despite expansions to whites in the NT and other areas, the policy remains racist in practice, disproportionately affecting Aboriginal people.
In the NT, 90% of the roughly 19,000 income management clients are Aboriginal; 90% of the clients who successfully exit income management through appeals or reviews are non-Aboriginal.
Spearim offered his insights in this way: “Coming from the event I feel pretty good and confident that a platform has been set and from that platform, I am sure there were key people in the crowd involved in organising who will get more people involved in the Aboriginal struggle.
“Our struggle gets left behind and so the Aboriginal voice and struggle needs to be put out there. The voice and the movement have been put on the backburner. Coming from Brisbane, it seemed like a big crowd participating, not just in the forum but afterwards with a different range of questions that hopefully will lead to more participation here in Adelaide”.
In discussing his plans after going back to Brisbane, Spearim spoke about forming a new activist youth group. “A young group of people and I are starting a new organisation to work closely with the Aboriginal Provisional Government.
“A few of us younger fellas held a forum on Black nationalism to discuss how it can play an integral part in building a strong foundation to work in galvanising and consciously awakening the Aboriginal people of this country. We can break down the core philosophy of Native Nationalism.
“Back in the '60s, '70s and '80s we could see our mob get out on the streets to fight for the land, liberation and culture. But here we are today, in the same position, without our land or liberation and our culture is disappearing.”