Monthly Archives: April 2013

‘Top-down’ policies in NT ‘destined for failure’

Published in the South Sydney Herald, p. 7, 1 April 2013.

Click here to see it online.

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Ada Lee

BROADWAY: On March 21, Labor was put under intense scrutiny – and not just for its infighting. National Close the Gap Day saw nearly 100 protesters voice their frustration over Labor’s continuation of “top-down” policies in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. Blocking the Broadway footpath outside Labor MP Tanya Plibersek’s office, campaigners not only called for the repeal of Stronger Futures but also for the protection of suburbs like Bankstown from being swallowed into the system.

Labor’s Stronger Futures legislation will leave Aboriginal people “without a cultural future”, said Aboriginal activist, Ray Jackson. At the rally, he said: “We have no intention of being assimilated by this government, previous governments or future governments. We are Aboriginal and we are proudly so. We will not become a darker version of white Australia.”

Bankstown Aboriginal activist, Sue Gillett, believes “Stolen Futures” is “all about control and making people feel that they are hopeless, helpless and cannot make decisions to save their own lives,” she said.

Protesters are particularly dissatisfied with the expansion of income management beyond the NT into trial sites, including Bankstown NSW. Federal Greens candidate for Sydney, Dianne Hiles, criticised income management as ineffective. “To dictate where people can shop is … going to build up more resentment and be counterproductive.”

Income management places 50-70 per cent of welfare payments onto a BasicsCard, which disallows purchase of certain goods such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography and gambling products. It can be compulsorily implemented on people deemed vulnerable by a social worker.

However, the Department of Community Services (DoCS) has refused to implement the scheme in Bankstown. Robin Croon from the Public Service Association said: “Since the introduction in NSW, not one single family or person has been referred for income management from the Department of Community Services.” The crowd applauded. “That ban will remain,” Ms Croon confirmed. “If we are taken to court, then that’s my role to battle that out there.” Ms Hiles says she supports the move.

Key protest organiser, Paddy Gibson, advocates for the empowerment of community-run organisations in the NT through a “huge injection of resources into the [Aboriginal] communities”. Asked whether this may be seen as unfair special treatment, Mr Gibson said, “There needs to be a special treatment but not the sort of special treatment we get from the government [under Stronger Futures].”

“[Remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory] are denied what mainstream Australia enjoys,” Mr Gibson said. “They are literally living in third world conditions. The suggestion that [Aboriginal] people are asking for some sort of special treatment in terms of getting more than your average Australian, it’s just ridiculous, really, when you consider the oppression that [Aboriginal] people are living under.”

The Greens’ Ms Hiles suggests that funding should be redirected rather than increased. “We’re already spending an obscene amount of money on this. It’s just not producing any deliverables.”

Howard’s Liberal government introduced the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007. In June 2012, Gillard’s Labor government replaced it with Stronger Futures. Ms Hiles criticised Rudd and Gillard as failing to dismantle Howard’s “top-down, paternalistic” approach, which is “destined for failure”.

Ms Plibersek was at Federal Parliament in Canberra during the Stronger Futures rally on March 21.

For a previous story on this issue, click here.

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All Blacks the team to beat

Published in the South Sydney Herald, back page (p. 16), 1 April 2013.

Click here to see it online.

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Ada Lee

REDFERN: Lisa Williams, the first female president of the Redfern All Blacks (RABs), is optimistic that 2013 will be a better year for the proud rugby league club. The first match of the season kicks off on April 7. According to Ms Williams, with a lineup of local, young and committed players as well as some more experienced players, the RABs will be the team to beat in 2013.

In recent years, however, the All Blacks have been struggling to maintain a strong presence in the South Sydney Junior District Rugby League competition. “Due to the Club contending with the changing face of rugby league, the All Blacks have had to reassess how we operate,” Ms Williams said. “We lost a lot of players to other clubs in the competition [that] looked like they were more organised.”

Since becoming president about eight months ago, Ms Williams has utilised her background in project planning to add more structure to the club. “I think now players feel like they can go and play football and feel very happy that they are going to be supported.”

The proof is in the numbers, with old players returning and new players signing up for the increasingly competitive team. Whereas in the past few years the All Blacks would be lucky to have people show up two weeks before competition, Ms Williams says they’ve already had around 30 people at training every Tuesday and Thursday for four to six weeks before the season kicks off. “We also want to be a club that provides a platform to nurture our young talent through sports development and mentoring,” she said.

Former Parramatta Eel, Dean Widders, is the A Grade captain/coach this year and is currently working with the National Rugby League on youth sports development.

With a deep family history in Redfern, Ms Williams describes the RABs as the “cornerstone of the [Redfern] community”.

Ms Williams sees sport as one avenue to help individuals tackle social challenges. “The football club is one place people can go to escape,” she said. “One of the things that the Redfern community had to contend with for a number of years was that it was infamous for drug issues and alcohol issues. So, over the years, there were a number of people who were involved with the club that have worked really hard to remove that element from the club. The club now is the space for the promotion of health and fitness.”

The RABs might not have a lot of money or even their own home ground – often a key source of revenue for teams – but, Ms Williams says, “It’s not about the money [for Redfern players]. They have commitment to their community … Lots of games have been won on the back of [that] pride and loyalty compared to getting money.”

Emerging officially in 1944, the RABs is the oldest Aboriginal rugby league club in Australia. Ms Williams said one reason the RABs was originally an Aboriginal-only club was because Aborigines “couldn’t get a game anywhere else. So they didn’t want to open it up and then have Aboriginal people miss out.” But today, and for quite some time now, she points out, you don’t have to be black to play for the All Blacks.

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A Decision to Discriminate: Book Review

Published in the South Sydney Herald, p. 12, 2 April 2013.

Click here to see it online.

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Ada Lee

Michele Harris (ed.)
Concerned Australians, 2012

Throughout Australian history, the government has often been accused of paternalism, of imposing policy in respect of Aboriginal entities. A contemporary equivalent can be found in the scrutiny exercised towards Howard’s NT Intervention, now Labor’s Stronger Futures legislation.

Trying to grapple with complex political issues such as this when bombarded by a multitude of statistics, reports and testimonies all claiming different things, with the government telling you one thing and activists telling you another, it’s often difficult to know where you stand. This book adds another piece to the puzzle.

Condemning the government’s consultation process as a failure, A Decision to Discriminate (which focuses on the Senate Committee Inquiry into the Stronger Futures legislation) aims to shed light on the unheard voices, the stories ignored and lost in the sea of political rhetoric and government policy.

Edited by Michele Harris, the book is a sequel to This Is What We Said (February 2010), Walk With Us (August 2011) and NT Consultations Report 2011: By Quotations (February 2012). It is a compilation of testimonies from a wide range of Aboriginal communities directly impacted by the Intervention and Stronger Futures. These personal stories are accompanied by helpful explanations of government consultations, complex legislation and the parliamentary process.

Views expressed are overwhelmingly critical of the government’s approach. Many testify to the disempowerment of Aboriginal communities under measures that are said to be punitive, blanketing and a severe impediment to self-determination.

At times, the book can seem repetitive – perhaps an expression of shared frustration. However, the book isn’t completely one-sided. Most notably, some people expressed support for income management.

A Decision to Discriminate is an easy read in terms of its well-structured format, accessible language and helpful summaries at the end of each section. Where it gets uncomfortable is in the way it forces Australians to re-evaluate government rhetoric about reconciliation, consultations and self-determination.

Non-fiction books can often be harrowing. They invite confrontation with reality.

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