Tag Archives: Northern Territory Intervention

Who Should Tell Indigenous Stories?

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who should tell

To represent a story truthfully is a complex task—particularly when unravelling something that remains a “great mystery” to many Australians. In reporting on Aboriginal issues, I’ve often wondered if I, as a non-Aboriginal Australian, have any right to tell their stories.
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‘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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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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Stronger Futures ‘fundamentally racist’

Published in the South Sydney Herald, front page, 4 March 2013.

Click here to see it online.

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Ada Lee

On March 21, Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS) plans to rally outside Tanya Plibersek’s office in protest against Labor’s Stronger Futures legislation and the expansion of income management.

On February 13, the House of Representatives passed the Act of Recognition, a symbolic move to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as Australia’s first peoples. Sydney Labor MP, Tanya Plibersek, expressed her support: “Aboriginal rights should be an election issue for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Constitutional recognition of Australia’s first peoples is an essential next step in our journey towards reconciliation.”

On the ground, however, the detrimental effects of the controversial Northern Territory Intervention and now Stronger Futures legislation are felt by thousands of Aboriginal people.

In June 2012, the Gillard government passed the Stronger Futures legislation with a 10-year funding commitment of $3.4 billion, which Ms Plibersek said, “will help close the gap”.

According to Ms Plibersek, Stronger Futures “repeals in full” John Howard’s NT Emergency Response Act 2007. “Unlike the Howard government’s approach, the Stronger Futures legislation does not suspend the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act.”

However, President of the Amoonguna community near Alice Springs, Marie Ellis, has called Stronger Futures merely a “fancy new name”. “All the racist policies are still in place,” she said in a STICS press release.

Under Howard’s Intervention, government statistics show increased Aboriginal incarceration, increased suicide attempts and self harm, decreased school attendance and a loss of jobs. 

Ms Ellis has passionately testified to the damaging effects of the Intervention on her community. “Minister Jenny Macklin has us stuck in the welfare days, treats us like children being breast-fed by the government,” she said.

Under Stronger Futures, there are total alcohol and pornography bans on Aboriginal land. The phasing out of Community Development Employment Projects continues, blamed for the loss of thousands of jobs. Kids who miss school more than five times over two terms can cause their family’s welfare payments to be suspended under the expanded School Enrolment and Attendance Measure.

Founding member and organiser of STICS, Paddy Gibson, accused Stronger Futures of holding Aboriginal people in “apartheid conditions”. Mr Gibson says the mindset behind this legislation is “fundamentally racist”. “They’re essentially saying that Aboriginal people can’t take care of themselves,” he said.

In particular, the STICS rally will denounce the expansion of income management to five trial sites outside the NT including Bankstown, NSW.

Introduced under the Intervention, the government says income management is designed to help people manage their money to meet essential household needs and expenses. Welfare payments, stored on a BasicsCard, disallow 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 or child protection authorities.

Mr Gibson called on all people to join the protest against Stronger Futures outside Ms Plibersek’s Chippendale office on March 21. STICS condemns “punitive” methods and advocates for the self-determination and empowerment of community-run organisations through larger funding. “If things are going to change on the ground in those [Aboriginal] communities, it’s going to be the people themselves that actually lead those initiatives,” he said.

Ms Plibersek said, “The government is considerably increasing the number of local Aboriginal people we employ as Indigenous Engagement Officers.”

Click here for the follow-up story.

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