Alyawarr elder Richard Downs spoke at the Prescribed Area People's Alliance (PAPA) meeting in Alice Springs on February 12. Downs is a leader of the walkoff protest against the NT intervention at Ampilatwatja.
PAPA represents Aboriginal people who have had their lands forced on to government leases and half their welfare payments replaced with a Basics card under the intervention.
The speech below is abridged from text prepared by the Intervention Rollback Action Group rollbacktheintervention.wordpress.com.
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I want to thank the unions because last year Harry Nelson and I did a speaking tour right around the east coast and there [was a lot of support and there] were a lot of students and young people.
What a lot of them said was: "We hear [Aboriginal affairs minister] Jenny Macklin giving us all these stories about all these good things that are happening in the Northern Territory and then we hear all these individuals speaking up and coming over here and telling us what's really happening, what the impacts are on the communities."
The unions weren't too sure also, but now they see it's racism. It's about human rights issues and discrimination, but they wanted to hear us mob out there telling the truth.
From there it just started to develop and Arthur from the Wollongong unions said: "Why don't we build a protest house?" And from there we asked if we could do it.
Now it's happening, and we're getting the support. We were donated a house, we moved away from the controls and measures to where it's about freedom, self-determination — us deciding how we're gonna live and what we will establish there.
The unions are coming on really strong, because we talked about the Pilbara walkoff and how the unions wouldn't load the ships because it was slave labor. People stood up and said we wanted wages.
And same with the Gurindji walk-off — the unions and public came on there too and supported it.
It's only a short time again but we're gonna do it. We've got all the unions coming on board. Not only the Aboriginal people and the unions but white people all around Australia — we are all on the same page.
Remember everything is in our favour. We've had the UN here. We've had Amnesty International. They're all saying the same thing. [The intervention's] a disgrace, it's a human rights issue, it's about disempowerment of Aboriginal people.
They're taking everything we fought for over the past 40 years, our land rights, away. So there's a lot of support out there. It's when we all come together that things will happen.
Elections are coming up, they're gonna be chasing … our people, offering money. How are we gonna tackle that? I know on our side we're gonna say, "No — get rid of the intervention, abolish it and start again, but consult with people, the grassroots people".
I want to focus on our people and get us taking the leadership. What we're doing out there, it's Mother Earth and it's our way. So we're walking through that one way now, unions are all coming on board.
Once the government at all levels, and same with our own Aboriginal leaders throughout Australia, once they see all of us coming together the tide is going to change because they don't want to be left out.
We've got no choice, how long can we wait? I see it everywhere — our people are disempowered and oppressed.
But we all know Aboriginal people are going to throw that grog and dope away because our people need us and we're going to show them the way. The government is only focused on those 20 hub towns.
But it's only 20 communities. What's going to happen to the rest of them? Get ready when they set up these hub towns because they're going to start shutting down your communities.
We have a big fight. But again we're going to get rid of our anger and have a clear mind. You all know the Aboriginal way, how it's done. We've got to go back to that again, that one way.
We're different groups but we got this big movement going in the middle and we can all work together. Unions have got their differences, they fight, but they're putting aside their differences. That can wait, we'll argue our differences later.
This is much more important, it's about human rights, deaths in custody and incarceration. The number of our people in prison is very high. It's higher here than in apartheid South Africa. Something is wrong here.
While Australia and America are war-mongering around the world, creating refugees [that are] coming here trying to get a bit of peace, the government is turning them away.
They've stolen our country and pushed us away in reserves, missions and communities. And now they're coming in there too. When are we gonna be left alone with freedom to make choices ourselves?
This is the way we're going and from here it would be great to see which way we're gonna go. It's about getting the message out and shaming the government. Let's get that message out overseas too.