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Aug 28, 2009

Racist, not working: UN bashes NT intervention

Make no mistake, the United Nations' criticism of Australia's Northern Territory intervention was a flogging of colonial proportions.


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Most alcoholics don’t accept they have a problem. Neither do racists. But sometimes, the evidence just overwhelms.

Professor James Anaya is the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous rights for the United Nations. An Apache man, he arrived in Australia earlier this month for a tour of the nation’s Indigenous communities.

Prof Anaya brings within him a big reputation. Or, in the words of Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin, who greeted Anaya at a function when he arrived a fortnight ago: “Professor Anaya is recognised as one of the world’s leading human rights advocates and legal scholars,” Macklin enthused. “His advocacy and legal work on behalf of Indigenous communities command worldwide attention. This is an extraordinary opportunity for an honest and open exchange of views and experiences.”

That’s high praise indeed. So maybe Macklin had something else on yesterday, because she was conspicuously absent as Prof Anaya delivered his “preliminary observations” from his tour of duty, prior to writing a more detailed written report.

By United Nations standards it was a flogging of colonial proportions. After commending Australia for, among other things, endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Anaya got down to the real business of his visit: “After several days in Australia listening and learning … I have observed a need to develop new initiatives and reform existing ones in consultation and real partnership with Indigenous peoples to conform with international standards requiring genuine respect for cultural integrity and self determination,” he said.

“Of particular concern is the Northern Territory Emergency Response. These measures overtly discriminate against Aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatise already stigmatised communities.

“The emergency response is incompatible with Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights; treaties to which Australia is a party.”

Not a lot of wriggle room there. Australia is in breach of multiple UN agreements, and the NT intervention is discriminatory.

But Prof Anaya didn’t stop there. Apart from noting that reparations “should be paid” to members of the Stolen Generations, Prof Anaya went on to use the ‘r’ word. In fact, to be more precise he used the ‘ER’ words.

“A common characteristic of countries where Indigenous people live today is entrenched racism,” Prof Anaya told an open mouthed gaggle of reporters and Indigenous affairs junkies. “And what I mean by entrenched racism is racism that has accompanied historical process of colonisation.

“I’m not pointing my finger at any particular individuals but I am saying that it has happened, it reflects itself in particular events, particular policies over time that have resulted in conditions that Indigenous peoples live in today.

“And I think one need not search very far to find that in various ways this historical racism continues to manifest itself in certain attitudes that we see throughout society.”

Prof Anaya also said: “I’m not saying that as an indictment against Australia, in the sense of singling it out from other countries. I am saying it though as a matter of reality that needs to be addressed, and a matter of reality that needs to be confronted.”

Indeed it does. And so how did we confront it? Well, Tony Abbott was out this morning describing Prof Anaya as an “armchair critic”. And of course, Mal Brough crawled out of to defend his Intervention.

“Let’s get real, look these people in the eye, instead of coming in and telling us that we’ve offended some law rather than offending the right of a child to be healthy and happy and to have a future,” Brough told ABC Radio, apparently without a hint of humour.

Brough continued: “I get very annoyed when I hear people pontificating about human rights when today there will be children sitting out there in abject squalor with diseases they don’t have to have, with inadequate education, poor nutrition and poor access to health and we have some nicety about human rights legislation.”

Brough should have added: “… and we were in government for 12 years and did nothing about it until election eve 2007”. Or perhaps he could have added these words, straight from the mouth of Prof Anaya: “… I think the point is [the intervention] is not working”.

Which appears to be the point that media, politicians and commentators have missed in all this. Yes, the intervention is racially discriminatory — even Brough concedes that. But it also happens to be failing miserably.

The alcohol bans have not stopped the grog, a fact noted by Prof Anaya and acknowledged by the Northern Territory police.

The extraordinary coercive powers (and millions of dollars) handed to the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) to target child abusers have not resulted in the capture of a single paedophile, a fact acknowledged by the ACC.

The compulsory income management has led to increased anaemia rates among children in the Katherine region due to restricted access to food, a fact acknowledged by the Sunrise Health Service. The income management has also resulted in near starvation and demonstrable harm to Aboriginal people, facts acknowledged by the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory.

The emergency housing program has not built a single house in two years, a fact begrudgingly acknowledged by Jenny Macklin.

The p-rnography bans have not stopped p-rnography, nor have sweeping powers to catch people with p-rnography been effective (save for a government contractor brought in as part of the intervention, if my memory serves me).

The compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land to ensure that there are no delays in the construction of housing and emergency infrastructure has resulted in delays in the construction of housing and infrastructure.

The “tens of millions” that John Howard outlined would be spent on the NT intervention has blown out to more than $1 billion.

So the Northern Territory intervention is not only racist, but it’s not working. The experts on the ground are saying it. Aboriginal people themselves are saying it. And now the United Nations is saying it. And we’re denying it.

No-one ever said facing up to our racism was going to be easy, but surely it doesn’t have to be this hard?

Chris Graham is editor at the National Indigenous Times


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106 thoughts on “Racist, not working: UN bashes NT intervention

  1. Chris Graham

    JANESHAW: Re “Do you know if anyone, anywhere, has found a workable solution to the sorts of problems experienced by almost all indigenous populations after European settlement? (I may need to clarify: I am actually asking this as a genuine question, not taking a cheap shot. Has someone else come up with a solution we could learn from?)”

    Unfortunately, no nation on earth in this situation – ie colonised first world nations like NZ, US and Canada – have every got it completely right. The impact of colonisation is enormous, brutal and lon-lasting. But there are differences worth noting. Life expectancy gaps in remote parts of Australia are over 30 years. None of the other countries even come close to that (average gaps in the US and Canada for example are a few years). The difference in these other nations is rights – in the US, Canada and NZ, Indigenous peoples have treaties. They still have problems, but their rights are not trampled so easily for political purposes. They can leverage independence and economic stability through their rights.

    People try to argue that racism isn’t the cause of Australia’s problems – those people need to explain why we jail black males nationally at a rate five times greater than Apartheid South Africa? Either Aboriginal people are genetically pre-disposed to crime, or something else is going on. This ain’t rocket science.

    Like I said in the article, alcoholics don’t accept they have a problem. Neither do racists. And they don’t like being called on it either.

  2. james mcdonald

    Yes I’d like to comment on that, James. My father was one of those Commonwealth negotiators in the 70s and 80s before the Department of Aboriginal Affairs got amalgamated away. This happened because it failed. I was too young to see what slowly broke my father’s heart, only learned later that every report he wrote and submitted on return to Canberra got edited and politically corrected until they could proudly put his name on whatever they had already decided to do. And blame researchers like him when the projects came to nothing, like the latest waste of $65million state money–nothing new. “They” were the well-networked, entreched powers that ran the department for their own edification, and no, not all of “them” were white.

    It was after I travelled through towns full of so many sick people sitting blankly in the sun that they would make a leper colony look like a health spa, and stayed in homes with children where the mothers lived in constant terror of their primary-age daughters being raped by their own neighbors, that I asked my father what had gone so wrong after spending so much money.

    The phenonenon of a broken society has received amazingly little academic research in a world where it happens quite a lot. The anthropologist Colin Turnbull documented an African tribe undergoing social collapse in his book The Mountain People (1972) and for his trouble was ostracised by his academic peers, so he was left to suffer his nervous breakdown alone as he watched this once-happy people self-destruct.

    The causes Colin Turnbull recorded were loss of their land and loss of everything that could count as wealth, starting with food. Most Aboriginals in the bush ask “where are you from” at about the same point in a conversation that white people ask “what do you do”. The closer you get to a big town the less you hear that question, from people who have great difficulty facing the fact that their own origins are lost and they don’t know who their people are or where they’re from. So antisocial crime, some of it extreme, fills the gap.

    A big part of the solution is spending money on those who need it rather than pissing it away on suburban school buildings nobody wants. But Australian commonwealth and state governments are incapable of spending it effectively. My proposal would be to put out a call to the aid organizations, some of whom do brilliant work in faraway parts of the world. Get them to do the research and negotiating, provide them with funds to do what’s needed. Keep the government off to the side until they are called in specifically by the communities themselves for a particular problem–such as the intervention to save the women and children. In which case the government should be doing what it’s asked and no more. This goes completely against government nature of course (which is to govern, i.e. take over), but they really have to let some other type of organisation coordinate the bigger program.

  3. Liz45

    I’d like someone, just one person to explain to me, why it’s necessary to remove the Racial Discrimination Act; only allow recipients of Centrelink payments half their finances in cash; force people out of their ‘homes’ that they were forced into, due to ‘white’ people not wanting them anywhere near them(Darwin etc) and request that indigenous people sign agreements, give undertakings for goods and services that the rest of us demand as our right? These ‘harsh’ measures are not even given a second’s consideration for the rest of the community. Does this mean that domestic violence or sexual abuse of kids doesn’t take place in non-indigenous communities? Of course not.

    In fact, I urge people to take note in one week the numbers of domestic violence incidents, pedophile activities(including those of catholic priests, school teachers, public servants etc) and the high incidence of binge drinking, neglect of children, truancy, sale of pornagraphic literature in the broader communityetc. Why was it necessary to treat aboriginal people in such a different, humiliating and tough manner than non-aboriginals? I’ve never heard of a white person losing half their income due to the man’s violence, sexual abuse – never!
    And, I certainly haven’t heard of a whole race of people being treated in a punitive manner due to the ALLEGED actions of a few. The hype prior to the invasion of the NT led us to believe, that sexual abuse was rife and ingrained and just horrific! As far as I know, maybe a handful or so of people have been arrested; how many have been charged, were they black or white? Every aboriginal male in the NT was made to feel dirty and ashamed, and this damage alone must do terrible things to your self esteem, in fact your very inner fibre as a human being. Not one person in either the Howard govt or the Rudd govt has acknowledged this, not one! If this happened in my area or any other regional non-aboriginal community, there’d be an outcry.

    I hate any sort of abuse of any person, particularly children – of any age. I don’t give a toss what colour they are or what language they speak, but what has been done in the NT has been a disgrace. It would never be condoned in the rest of the country. The abuse of non-aboriginal kids is also alarmingly high, but I’ve not heard of a similar campaign to stamp it out. Aren’t they as important? Aren’t these kids “sacred”? Why the difference. We hear every day of the horrific climb in the consumption of alcohol; we see it on the TV a few times a week, why aren’t pubs/clubs/alcohol sales places forced to shut down in areas where anti-social behaviour is rife, in non-aboriginal communites . There’s a gang rape in each State every week end, but we single out
    aboriginal people to use arbitary and undemocratic behaviours in the name of ‘protection’? It’s BS!

    There’s more hot air being witnessed, rather than any real concrete effort to change the life style of those aboriginal people who are doing it tough with very little.
    The more hysterical some people get, the less they were committed to serving any semblance of justice.

    Finally, I find the comments of Tony Abbott and some of his mates quite alarming more than anger. The Howard govt had many reports in relation to the plight of aboriginal history, and yet it wanted us to believe, that he did it on his own? Not true!

  4. james mcdonald

    Hi Liz, that’s a good question, Bess Nungarrayi Price answers it here: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,25986136-5013172,00.html
    Thanks to James Bennett for drawing our attention to it.

    Yeah, child abuse is child abuse whether black or white. The difference is it’s deviant behaviour in most society but in some communities where not only land but even identity and control over their own food supply (the starting point of “wealth”) has been taken away from them, self destruction has become a way of life, including very high rates of child abuse.

    It can — it does, as you rightly point out — happen to the best of us, but this has happened on a much bigger scale and intensity to many of the Aboriginal communities. The problem is to arrest that damage (without taking a high-handed government approach like “you’re all wards of the state now”), and to start giving those communities the means to rebuild.

  5. Cazza

    James – RE: “There’s not much point in this blog if we don’t read other people’s posts.”

    Thank you for your reply. I have read every comment so far, some more than once.

    RE: “”how about we work on closing the Dignity Gap, Respect Gap, Right to run your own lives Gap…” Would you take that as an answer?”

    No. A certain amount of dignity and respect is un-conditional for any human being but the majority of it has to be earned. And that works both ways. As far as the “right to run your own lives” goes, not one living person in Australia enjoys that ‘right’ 100%. For a society to function successfully with equality there has to be rules…the same rules for everyone and no one should be above the law regardless of their colour or religion. If people want equality they must obey those rules. Even some ‘whites’ don’t have the same so called ‘equality’ as others. I so wish I had the “right to run my own life” completely and not have to answer to any authority at all. Heaven!

    So what do the Aboriginals really “want”? Do they ‘want’ to integrate and live the “white man’s way”? Do they ‘want’ to live on reservations and be left alone to do their own thing having to rely on government handouts to do that? Do they ‘want’ to be educated? Do they ‘want’ to be productive working members of this society that has been forced on them? Do they ‘want’ to distance themselves from everything ‘white’? We have dragged them kicking and screaming through to the 21st century and it seems no matter what has been done it has never “worked” for the majority. Nobody can turn back the clock so they can live the life they were living before and may-be because of their psyche, the one they were meant to always live. Who are we to dictate to a whole race who were “free” for thousands of years, how they ‘should’ be living now? I believe they (and we) are stuck between a rock and a hard place but you can’t stop ‘pro’gress, and if you don’t go with the flow you get left behind. I also believe that it will take a lot more than a flying visit by Professor James Anaya to even begin to solve the problem no matter how much talking and listening he does.

    I don’t mean to sound like I am rhetorically mocking nor am I implying that Aboriginals are unsatisfiable and I’m sorry you seem to have taken it that way. What I’d like is to hear answers to all the above questions from a ridgy-didge, dinky-di, born in the bush, Australian Aboriginal. They are the only people who can answer for themselves without prejudice or bias.

  6. james mcdonald

    Cazza, thanks for the answer. I hope Bess Nungarrayi will address some of both our questions tomorrow (probably you and me still here at this time of night).

    You make a good point “As far as the “right to run your own lives” goes, not one living person in Australia enjoys that ‘right’ 100%. For a society to function successfully with equality there has to be rules …” The liberal John Locke expressed the same idea this way: “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom. ” Of course that depends on the laws being applied in such a way as to preserve and enlarge, not to abolish or merely restrain which is what happens in practice in a lot of the outback.

    Do they want this or that? Well not every black person necessarily wants all the same things, same as you and I may make different choices. The point is that you and I have the means to make those choices. For some that would mean working in a town or city job and for others a life close to the land. But Bess did quote Kim Beasley saying “I suspect that only when their right to be distinctive is accepted, will policy become creative.”

    One thing we’ve never really given back to them after taking it away is control of their own food supply (i.e. wealth, as opposed to money). Self-sufficiency in some form (which doesn’t necessarily mean isolation) will be a necessary part of closing the “Dignity Gap, Respect Gap, Right to run your own lives Gap”.

  7. Bob Durnan

    Once more into the fray with Chris and Liz45? No, not bloody likely; but James, Cazza, good to see that you guys eventually got some sleep.
    Jungarrayi who lives at yuendumu, and has done so since the early 70s, is not an Aboriginal person. His tag is a local ‘skin’ (classificatory) name denoting which section of Walpiri society he is associated with, in order to define his relationship to other Walpiri. It’s a customary and courtesy thing.
    Bess Nungarrayi Price is a Walpiri person from Yuendumu, now residing in Alice. In the late 70s and early 80s I worked for a few years with one of her brothers. He did some training as a draftsman and worked as a liaison/community development officer, but died at a young age on an Alice camp as a result of alcohol addiction. He was a bright young man who got caught up in the contemporary welfare-fuelled cyclone that grabs far too many young Walpiri people and takes them to early graves in the NT. Bess, like most other surviving Walpiri, has lost many relatives to this type of fate.
    Cazza asks “So what do the Aboriginals really “want”? ” Well, it is fairly plain that there are many different “wants”: some clearly want to live in and succeed in mainstream society, others want to succeed in one of the many separate Aboriginal societies, including urban enclaves – which may or may not be sustainable societies. Others clearly are confused, or exist not knowing what they really want at all. Just like most other social groupings, Aboriginal societies are full of variety, contradictions and movement. It should not be too difficult to accept that Aboriginal people have diverse views and needs.
    But importantly there is no need for we non-Aboriginals, or for Aboriginal people either, to accept the prognostications of dejeune fools who imply that all true Aboriginal people will or should want the same things, think alike, or hold the same beliefs; let alone that they will all adopt the simplistic political and social viewpoints (aka “correct lines”), or moral dogmas, of the particular non-Aboriginal prophets who appoints themselves as the current moral arbiters for Aboriginal people.

  8. james mcdonald

    Bob, there’s something I heard a lot about some years ago and I wonder if you can tell us if anything came of it in the outback.

    Restorative Justice Conferencing was an experimental way of getting offenders to face their victims, understand the hurt their actions cause, and rejoin society, without having to go to jail which just builds despair and more violence. There’s a good book on it much of which can be read here http://books.google.com.au/books?id=naa2dRDVx94C&dq=Restorative+Justice+Conferencing&printsec=frontcover&source=in&hl=en&ei=9_iXSuDlJ9SAkQXktKm1BQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=12#v=onepage&q=Restorative%20Justice%20Conferencing&f=false including 2 chapters on trials of this method in Aboriginal communities to break the cycle of violence, rebuild respect and trust. These trials seemed to show real promise.

    Since then I’ve heard of its use in UK and Europe but it seems to have faded away in Australia. But the NT intervention and Bess Nungarrayi Price’s article in the Australian show some imaginative solutions are desperately needed. My question is, have you heard of anything like this being used in the outback recently? Or is it still just cuff-em and lock-em up?

  9. Liz45

    CAZZA – “But more importantly, what WILL satisfy the Aboriginals – does anyone know?” One thing that has been proven NOT to work, is any intervention or autocratic, paternalistic attitudes/behaviours that doesn’t INCLUDE indigenous peoples in the solution. Sadly, govts here of both persuasions still haven’t learnt that lesson. What motivates the autocratic behaviours? Sadly, I think it’s ingrained racism. The proof is in the attitudes to the same issues in the rest of the community.

    There are people in NSW(too many,sadly)who are not aboriginal who abuse, sexually and physically their children. There are parents who won’t or don’t send their kids to school or feed them nourishing food, but it’s unthinkable and laughable to believe, that the NSW govt via the police or army would invade those suburbs? One reason? They’re probably in every suburb in the state – and other states too. That’s my whole point! Why treat aboriginal people as though everyone of them abuses their kids? This is just a nonsense, and with a few exceptions, has only created more resentment, and who can blame them. If it happened in my suburb, men would be out on the streets protesting, and I’d support them. It’s the mindset, that you treat indigenous people differently(as far as justice and human rights are concerned) because they don’t deserve to be treated like the rest of us! Also, Howard’s intention was never to help aboriginal people, it was to use as a springboard for the ’07 election. His last stand to use the racist card to win votes. IF he really cared about aboriginal kids, he’d have done something in his almost 2 yrs of govt – despite the many inquiries, talk fests and photo shoots, he did nothing! He didn’t care, still doesn’t!

    The horrific problem of a few weeks ago, where sewerage was leaching into the homes of aboriginal people, and was not attended to for over 3 weeks? That wouldn’t happen in my street; we’d be out there and protesting. Why do govts think that the only response is by treating aboriginal people as naughty little children on one hand, and criminal neglect of their health on the other. I don’t understand the mindset. I don’t understand the frustrated airing of “what do aboriginals want” either? The same as all of us are entitled to; services including sewerage(or dry toilets or whatever) somewhere decent to live; education for their kids, and the respect at being intelligent and able to follow their own culture etc. That’s an over simplistic view, but what is so hard? We’ve had 108 years of federated govt; what is the damned problem?

    I’d still like to know how many applications for mining etc in the NT are waiting to be approved by the federal govt!

  10. Cazza

    Morning all. Bob re: “Well, it is fairly plain that there are many different “wants”:

    Exactly, and that’s the crux of it all. Remember the song, “We can’t always get what we want”…? 🙂 Needs come before wants and if “needs” are addressed first then the “wants” might be more attainable. Although we all might ‘want’ different things, we all ‘need’ the same things, good health, safe environment, food, shelter etc etc, and those things we have to work for, they don’t come automatically.

    I just read Bess’ article – http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,25986136-5013172,00.html – and that mostly answered my questions, but the one small sentence in that whole excellent speech which stood out above all others was , “We want to be able to help ourselves.” That imo is also a great “need” for anyone, to enable the fostering of dignity, self respect and respect from others.

    There’s a great quote that I live by, “Judge not until you fully understand. And when you fully understand, judgement becomes unnecessary”. It helps a lot.

    People posting here are so much more knowledgeable with this subject than I am and I find the comments very interesting and helpful…..now I have to go to work goshdarnit.!!!

  11. Veronica

    I read articles like this with a feeling of helplessness. Yes, Professor Anaya has correctly found that there is entrenched racism in Australia. It is undeniable. But I see little about what we can do about it. There seems to be a chicken and egg argument going on about whether Aboriginal people need a fundamental recognition of their rights through a treaty first, or whether we should concentrate on improving the state of basic things such as health, housing and education.

    I think the two are interlinked. A treaty or other formal recognition cannot come about without the willing participation of Aboriginal people, and this in itself is a challenge. Every body established to facilitate self-determination, be it a land council, ATSIC or others is enmired in corruption, family politics and the promotion of self interest. So the question of who would negotiate a treaty on behalf of Aboriginal peoples is one that is still open.

    Meanwhile, we cannot neglect the truly dire situation that many Aboriginal people are living in right now, not just in the NT but all across the country. There are some hard questions that need to be asked, like should we be building houses and communities in places that have no prospect of ever being self-sustaining? I don’t believe Aboriginal people will ever have equal access to opportunities while they are bound to the old mission station townships where you can’t get an education, or a job, or anything worth living for. Others will say that Aboriginal people shouldn’t be forced to leave their communities to find these opportunities, but what awaits them if they don’t? A life of substance abuse, poor health, lack of dignity and death – everywhere. Many of these townships were forced on Aboriginal people by the racist policies of the white majority – so why do we insist on maintaining them now?

    Others will say that I am pro-assimilation, and that this destroys Aboriginal culture. But culture is not static. White Australian culture has changed – we are no longer a pastoral, agrarian country; for a long time now the population has become more and more urbanised. Social values have changed; who we are as a people has changed. Likewise Aboriginal people should not feel restricted to conform to ideas of what their culture should be. Culture evolves as individuals make decisions that collectively become ‘culture’.

    Anyway I’m interested in all the comments!

  12. Cazza

    simmobc wrote: “I agree with the posts saying “what do they want?” but this is an unacceptable response.

    Gee I seem to have started something with my question. And yes it is an unacceptable response but I asked it because Aboriginals have been telling us for many years what they ‘want’ and no-body’s listening to the true meaning behind their demands. I’m assuming there is a ‘true’ meaning behind any demands because quite often what people say they want is not what they are really asking for. That’s why I found Bess’ speech very refreshing because she laid it on the line with no trimmings. She even embraced the government’s intervention, as some good did come out of it. It wasn’t a total disaster.

    We can all come up with so called solutions which sound great, which may or may not work, which all sound logical and look good on paper, and which the majority of them would work to a point for (perhaps) white people.

    Bess said this… “We have had so many self-appointed people, black and white, who have decided to be our spokespeople, who know nothing about us and our issues.” …and ain’t that the truth???

    I believe it’s going to take an educated Aboriginal person (Bess?) and/or group, who fully understands the Aboriginal people and the laws of the land, and who has the Aboriginal people’s welfare (not their own) as their agenda, to come anywhere near fixing something which has taken over 200 years of *progress* just to culminate in this disaster. Education is one of the keys if not the master key.

    Us whities are too busy polluting the environment, stuffing up the ecology, adding toxins to the water supply, blindly accepting stupid decisions, desecrating the land, poisoning ourselves with pesticides etc, and electing governments who are all for the economy, money and power only….. not the people…..to actually do anything of any consequence. We let our governments screw us to the point of insanity as to what we let them get away with before we take a stand, if ever, so how can we even hope they will do the “right” thing by or for our Indigenous people unless they’re embarrassed into doing so ?????

  13. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Cazza, I guess it must be a cleansing experience to think out loud, trial and error it, suck it and see, write it down as you go, throw a few grenades over the barricade and cop a bit of flak. After all, it’s a virtual experience with no ‘real’ casualties and no collateral damage. However, if you start mixing virtual reality up with ‘real’ reality it gets a bit problematic.
    It’s hard to take seriously your statement that, “We have dragged them kicking and screaming through to the 21st century and it seems no matter what has been done it has never “worked” for the majority.” I think I know what you mean but I can’t be sure where you want to go with that? “We” clearly does not include you, “them” might as well be lab rats. Maybe you meant that we didn’t get them to the 21st century after all?
    Similarly, “What I’d like is to hear answers to all the above questions from a ridgy-didge, dinky-di, born in the bush, Australian Aboriginal. They are the only people who can answer for themselves without prejudice or bias.” Cazza, would you like fries with that? Or cash out?
    I don’t know which state you are in (some say Queensland is a ‘condition’) but I don’t think it helps to toss out lines like, “Queensland is being raped to the max for it’s mining possibilities…..”, or “We let our governments screw us to the point of insanity…”. Too much information, Cazza. Too much overblown rhetoric for a calm and reasoned exchange.

  14. Bob Gosford

    A quick response to James & Bob D (when will you declare your interests Bob?) – at Yuendumu there has been – for at least the past year – a panel of local men and women who sit with the magistrate at the bi-monthly court sittings as a Community Court – to read more got to my postings on The Northern Myth at: http://blogs.crikey.com.au/northern/2008/10/22/court-day-in-yuendumu-part-1/ and http://blogs.crikey.com.au/northern/2008/10/23/the-community-court-caravan-rolls-into-yuendumu/.

    Unlike others here I’m more than happy to make a quick declaration of my interests – I’ve lived at Yuendumu since 2006 and haven’t taken a cent from the Intervention or those opposed to it. I’ve written about the Intervention (and lots more) from time to time here at Crikey & my Crikey blog The Northern Myth.

    And before we go too far down the track of deifying Nungarrayi and her piece in the Oz of August 27 I just want to make a few comments about that piece.

    In my view it takes a somewhat selective view of some objective facts and presents a number of scurrilous assertions masquerading as fact. And it also reveals an unfortunate willingness to castigate unnamed persons because of where they are from, their racial origins, what language they do or do not speak or just because they disagree with Nungarrayi’s views.

    And surely we’ve long moved on from the simplistic idea that if you oppose some – or much – of the Intervention you support the abuse, murder and degradation of men, women and children. Most of those expressing opposition to the Intervention will agree that there were and still are, many outstanding issues to be addressed and that, in some small ways, the Intervention has done some good and alleviated some of the miserable circumstances that many people found themselves in – and the qualifier “in some small ways” is very important here.

    What Nungarrayi and others of her ilk appear to either ignore or be able to fail to recognise is that for many people the Intervention has had far more negatives than positives. That list is far too long to explore here.

    And I think it just a little too precious for Nungarrayi to complain that she was not able to speak at the ralliess of the noisome protestors that she so vigorously disagrees with and that this somehow represents a fundamental curtailment of her rights to comment – she, and her husband and partner in their cross-cultural consultancy firm Jajirdi Consultants, Dave Price, have been frequent letter writers and correspondents to the local and national press and, as the (appointed) Chair of the NT Government’s Indigenous Affairs Advisory Council Nungarrayi surely has the ear of governments and a platform from which to express her views denied those she rails against.

    And, for those who think that Nungarrayi speaks from and for the residents of Yuendumu, as far as I am aware, Nungarrayi, while still having strong family links to the town, has lived 300km away in Alice Springs for many years.

    Finally, might not we, and the government and government agencies expect a little less in the way of the partisan from a person presumably appointed by government to represent the views of all Aboriginal people in the NT – many of whom undoubtedly are opposed to the Intervention?

  15. Tom McLoughlin

    Whoa. Quite a read that.

    Some brief hopefully humble thoughts:

    This policy area is frontier stuff – these black folks are speaking this international language often 2nd or 3rd in line. So like the pop song methinks a great proportion of this is “communication is the problem to the answer”. Some basic questions therefore apply – are you talking to the relevant people? In a relevant manner such as English or other languag. Very basic stuff.

    Second speaking on the UN back in the mid 80ies at ANU the human rights jurisprudence cause quoted Judge Tanaka of the Int Court of Justice: The essence of discrimination is to treat what is different the same, and same different.

    Just take a pause there. This is a small phrase but a huge multi factorial meaning. An example from each end of the comment (a) all welfare folks should have income management – this is the same with same. (b) remote folks should have more help – different what is genuinely different.

    And so on and on. It’s a big big business all this.

    My last observation: I have a pro bono land use client who is keen to help and advise other people about their problems. Not at first but over months and now years I’ve taken to suggesting to him/her ‘there’s nothing like solving other people’s problems to avoid your own mistakes/problems’. So in this context Howard/Abbott/Pearson failing to implement/honour the the Cape York Land Use Agreement of Black Green Govt brokered by Rick Farley back in 1996, with $40M election promise of both big parties.

    And more generally our own westernised often anglo problems of unsustainability to a culture that held the world record for same – like 40K years. That’s a big come down for the dominant culture and rightly so. Good luck. Thanks for the article and comments read too.

  16. james mcdonald

    Ah, the smell of conflict in the morning. Innuendos of hidden agendas, accusations of virtual turncoating, etc etc. But the fact that so many contributors here recognise each others’ names just shows we’re all using–correct me if I’m wrong–real names here. Where’s the dishonesty?

    Personally I like John Stuart Mill’s principles that words once printed here stand or fall on their own. If someone is factually wrong or dishonest the open forum does, after all, give others an opportunity to expose or correct.

    Thanks Bob Durham and Bob Gosford for following through on my questions about new justice practices. I’m still going through the links from Bob G and finding them very informative.

    Tom: I agree that is a powerful quotation: “The essence of discrimination is to treat what is different the same, and same different.”

    It answers HUMANRIGHTS111’s complaint about affirmative action and the protection of dry areas as being “racism”. There are real differences there which can’t be treated the same as other job applicants not typecasted by their Aboriginal accent, other townships not saving themselves from a devastating addictive drug.

    It’s also relevant to Liz’s objections to the intervention on principle. Liz shows a really admirable spirit of non-discrimination, but still risks ignoring the atrocious statistics: Aboriginal women in Western Australia 45 times more likely to suffer serious family violence than non-Aboriginal women; 16 per cent of female Australian homicide victims being Aboriginal, i.e. from just 2 per cent of the population.

    In case anyone cares, my position is what’s commonly called an inner-city latte sipper (though I actually prefer my coffee black) as I’ve been out of touch with the outback for a long time. I’ve got an interest in the problem going back to my father’s time 40 years ago, and a gratitude to all the Aboriginal people who stuck their necks out for me when I was a drifting hitchhiker, but no special knowledge, hence my questions which Bob and Bob have been ver helpful with.

  17. SBH

    Not quite Ian. Bob Durnam is a long-term vocal supporter of the intervention and has written a string of opinion pieces for major newspapers which strongly back the Howard ‘response’ and which also critique anti-intervention views. No big secret but being married to someone with a vested interest adds another level.

    In the Territory being married to someone isn’t generally seen as creating a perceived (let alone an actual) conflict of interest, but in places where good governance is seen as more important than relationships, it is and it would be at best disingenous and at worst dishonest to suggest otherwise.

    The history of the intervention is one of disembling and half truths about its actual aims. Bob Durnham’s reputation would only be enhanced by an appropriate disclosure.

    James, funding for programs like restorative justice initiatives ceased and the initiatives tended to wither after Toyne left unless some local funding was found and after ATSIC was wound up most of that funding also vanished. I agree with you that we are all trying to learn but your comments about pre-settlement ‘facts’ are very ill-informed and would be offensive to most indigenous people. There were probably more like 2 million people in Australia before settlement, an invention is not necessarily an artefact and aboriginal culture is altogether deeper than a boomerang, they radically changed the environment they found and in common with most hunter/gatherer societies they probably had a lot more spare time that herder/farmers. I’m not having a shot at you but that stuff is just not correct.

  18. Tom McLoughlin

    Ah James Bennett, just to say I started out seeing black then I saw a person and then I didn’t see a colour at all, brothers and sisters.

    As for technology, here’s the thing I envy and it’s a conceptual thing, a professorial thing even, in our language: It’s what western folks call land literacy. There was a (you know latte chattering classes) ANC Radio National show about this once.

    Look at a bit of country – open a page of an encyclopedia. It’s a big entry. Goes for several pages. An hour or more later you’ve read that page/that land. The season, the climate big, climate small, the flora species. the fauna species, the signs of people, the signs of fire, the signs of water. The luxury spots, the hard and dangerous spots. The funny stuff, the new stuff, the surprising stuff, the ancient stuff. The memorials and other cultural bits. The ‘fencelines’, the ‘bridges’, the ‘telephones’ and so on and on.

    And if you’re sitting comfortably, done your work for the day, eaten okay, kids are quiet and wife is out. You might turn your head 30 degrees and read the next entry in the Encyclopedia, or maybe just take a nap. Who wants to work like a gubba anyway? Is that quite what God made us for? And if so where will all that hard work end up? Use up? Finish up?

    It’s not the technology champ, it’s the spiritual development we are considering to maintain one culture for 40,000 years. Puts Britian in the kindergarten really – barely 2000 year heritage. Anyway most of that has been smashed by us, and only now we are picking up the pieces. Should keep us busy our lifetimes at least.

    Think of it like this champ, you don’t know anything about cars and get a repair manual. That’ll keep you busy for years understanding it if at all (especially those circuit diagrams). Land literacy is like that.

    But being human they surely impacted the country big time too but less than us in bulldozer and chainsaw. Pearson used to talk about Indigenous Wilderness. That’s what we do as a species – change stuff only this time it’s surely too late. At least they put on the slow fuse.

  19. james mcdonald

    So Bob Gosford, thank you I have read through the stuff you posted on Community Courts and the stuff it links to. Shows some hope for enlightenment but in great danger of fading away for lack of support and “told you so” condemnation following any teething problems.

    If routinely sending people to jail for driving offences is still the kind of barbarism we bring to this country then its hardly surprising we get little thanks for introducing progress and “dragging them into the 21st century”. A system which uses personal degradation explicitly and the prospect of shower-block rape implicitly as integral parts of the punishment. Great.

    If ever there’s an opportunity to renew support for the Community Courts, Victorian-style Koori Courts, or the Restorative Conferencing models, the Intervention is probably it.

    Reading the material it also strikes me that for all the infancy and experimentalism of these more humane justice methods, they have already surpassed our millenia-old criminal justice system in coming up with actual aims for a criminal proceeding. Something that conventional jurisprudence has yet to figure out after all these centuries–just what do we aim to achieve when we send someone to jail?

    Wouldn’t it be something if the the Intervention could reinvigorate development of these community-focussed justice methods, and the NT Aboriginals could end up teaching us a thing or two about healing people’s spirits instead of breaking them.

  20. Cazza

    Well folks, I’m about to bow out of this discussion simply because I’m far too ignorant with relevance to Aboriginal affairs to comment on your level and realise I’m way out of my depth here. I’m a retired RN and have seen and coped with the results (of this whole fiasco) first-hand in hospitals for many years, so therefore my interest in this was/is mainly *human* physical/spiritual health and well-being, not so much the legalities of it all.

    Ian, you said, “The tone of many submissions here has been “what do they want?” as if they are one homogeneous block and all want the same thing.”

    The same can be said for ALL people living in Australia regardless of race, colour or religion. We ALL don’t ‘want’ the same things either but to live successfully in society as a ‘whole’, compromises have to be made, and that usually culminates in what is needed for the ‘main good’ of the majority. If there is a problem with any group of people, it’s beneficial to find out what’s ‘wanted’, then the next move is to see if those ‘wants’ can be accommodated – but definitely only after the “needs” have been met. It’s not beneficial at all to give a child an ice-cream because he wants it, when he really needs a proper meal. Society (and the government) groups us together and society rules (much as I hate it myself sometimes) but we ALL have to serve this country under the one set of rules or we’ll just disintegrate into many groups of peoples, selfishly ‘wanting’ many different things and serving our own agendas. And isn’t that already happening within certain other elements of this society now? After reading all the above comments once again, my brain is hurting.

    At the risk of appearing even more ignorant, one thing I’ve gathered from the comments here, is that it seems there is also discontent amongst the different ‘tribes’ of Aboriginals (which borders a bit on the side of (? racial) discrimination within itself doesn’t it? ) and perhaps until such time as they themselves can accept each other and join together, it’s much like pushing the proverbial up a very steep hill with a sieve. Sometimes the best solution for a complex problem is the simplest .

  21. Chris Graham

    … And having just read all the posts, God this frustrating.

    This forum includes the usual rednecks and goons desperately seeking attention, but there are also well-meaning posts in here that unfortunately completely miss the mark (and the point).

    VERONICA: Your interest in the issue is wonderful. But White Australia is the problem, not the solution. 200 years of colonisation proves that.

    SIMMOBC: You argue that Tony Abbott is right – something had to be done. The point is, the ‘something’ we are doing is the same ‘something’ that got us in this mess in the first place. Which part of ‘you keep doing the same things, you keep getting the same outcome’ is hard to comprehend here?

    All over the world, international experience has shown that Indigenous peoples must create, own and drive the solutions. The NT intervention is the polar opposite of that. That’s why it failed. That’s why it caused harm. And the morons that conceived and supported this disastrous train wreck of a policy know it. So instead of defending the merits of their atrocious actions, they try to distract. Re-read back over Bob Durnan’s posts and try find ONE EXAMPLE of him refuting the failures of the intervention. Then read his previous articles in support of the intervention. And then ask Bob (and Macklin, and Brough and Abbott) to explain themselves.

    When it collapses, they’ll try anything: ‘But I live with Aboriginal people; What do the urban elites know?’ ‘They’re not locals’? You eat human rights’. They’ll trot out every parochial moronic cliche known to man. But try and get them to defend their policy on its merits? They can’t. They won’t. They don’t. And guess who gets left to clean up the mess, live in the grinding third world poverty? Here’s a tip – it ain’t Durnan, Macklin, Brough or Abbott.

    This whole process is perverted and twisted. It makes me sick to the stomach to watch it, let alone be a part of it.

  22. james mcdonald

    Cazza, it’s a good thing. I was just saying I admired the way you took a fair look at things that at first didn’t seem to agree with you, and based on that you took a fresh approach, eg:

    “I just read Bess’ article – http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,25986136-5013172,00.html – and that mostly answered my questions, but the one small sentence in that whole excellent speech which stood out above all others was , “We want to be able to help ourselves.” That imo is also a great “need” for anyone, to enable the fostering of dignity, self respect and respect from others.”

    … and so on, it’s a mark of enlightenment, whereas some people just dig in their heels. That’s why I didn’t think much of Hugh McColl’s little piece of point-scoring.

    Or as John Maynard Keynes said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

  23. james mcdonald

    Thanks Chris, that certainly is a damning report at http://www.aida.org.au/pdf/submissions/Submission_8.pdf which I hadn’t seen before.

    Now how about some advice that people can actually use. The common question appearing here “what do they want” may strike you as absurdly simplistic, but it reveals that the meaningful, usable messages aren’t getting through. Your’re the reporter, why aren’t they?

    And what is the message? “Aboriginal people want the same thing as everyone else – to be treated dignity and respect.” No disputing that; but you know something? even racists will agree with you that Aboriginals deserve those things. Which means it may be good enough for a song title or an intro line but it leaves people hanging for the next part–how to do it. My impression is people joined this thread hoping for some insight on that next part and they are still waiting.

    “It ain’t rocket science” you say. No, any bleating liberal can recognise a problem. The rocket science is in suggesting specific ways to fix it. The rocket science is the part that should differentiate frustrated naive bloggers like us, and the shallow unimaginative ADD-affected narcissists we always get in government no matter how we vote and always will, from sophisticated informed journalists like you.

  24. Chris Graham

    Sophisticated and informed? I’ve been accused of a lot of things, but…

    James, what you’re asking me to do is provide a 10,000 word essay, and to be honest I just don’t have the energy these days. I don’t wade into this stuff because I’ve done it sooooooo many times and it makes noooooooo difference.

    But here are a few simple facts, cliches and all (and I’ll go away and think about a bigger article… have wanted to do a new mythbusters piece for a while) :

    1. Most important thing to remember: Aboriginal people must be empowered to create their own solutions and confront their own problems. The NT intervention does the opposite by seizing power from them.

    2. Second most important thing: Human rights don’t harm people. They don’t cause poverty. They don’t create unemployment. (Thanks to Mick Dodson for the lines).

    3. You can’t eat human rights, but guess what, you’re not supposed to. Equally, human rights don’t cause starvation.

    4. Assuring human rights and in no way prevents government’s from providing housing, health services, education etc. Political will – or lack thereof is what causes these things). In other words, you can have human rights and you can have housing. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    5. Fixing the problems – ie tackling generations of government neglect – is very expensive and will take a long time.

    6. Aboriginal people want to be treated the same way other Australian citizens are treated – it’s not a lot to ask. They want their human rights respected (imagine what would have happened if Macklin tried out the welfare reforms on, say, Melbourne). If that’s too broad a sweeping statement, then put it this way – think of an NT intervention policy (the compulsory land acquisition for example) and then think how you would feel if it were forced on you. Put yourself in their shoes. That is fundamentally what causes the gaps – Australians don’t seem to have the capacity to empathise on this issue.

  25. nungarrayi

    I don’t have time for this. Some of us have work to do and family crises to deal with but these white men with so much time on their hands have made me angry. I want to answer some of the attacks on me. I have left people unnamed for two reasons. My life has already been threatened five times by Warlpiri men because I am a Warlpiri woman who stands up for herself. All of these threats resulted in just one traffic related charge and a fine. I have been told that the police will not take further action if blood is not spilt or no-one ends up in hospital. I have had to have police protection while walking the streets of my own town. The people who have done this are amongst Mr Gosford’s favourite informants and the ones he supports. I have also not mentioned names because some are close family to me. I know their life stories and they know mine. I know how their children died or killed. I know the things they have done. I want to protect some and I am afraid of others. Yes I live in Alice Springs but I am in constant contact with my own family personally and by phone. My life has been threatened here in Alice Springs not by white racists but by people related to me who speak my language. And yes my husband is a white man who loves his family and wants a better life for them. Bob Gosford is a recently arrived white man who thinks he knows my people now better than I do. What is your stake in this Bob, why are you so keen to support the violent ones and the liars? Why are telling so many lies about my people and their problems? Why do you think you know more than I do about my own family? What are you getting out of this? We could do it your way and see our families feuding forever. Maybe you do, you would be nice and safe and could run back to wherever you come from. This is my country.

    Jungarrayi is also a white man, Mr Frank Baarda. He has been in my community for too long. [edited]

    I don’t want to be deified and I do not represent all Aboriginal people in the NT. I believe in working with democratically elected governments. So far I have worked with three Aboriginal women ministers. We have five Aboriginal MLA’s in our government but you whitefellas, Bob and Jungarrayi, and you Graham, have never acknowledged that or supported them because you think you know better. You try to bring them and me down. Who voted for Bob, Jungarrayi and Graham? Certainly not my people. Prof Anaya is an Apache. maybe their women have the same problem that we have, women oppressed by their own men using culture as an excuse and being supported by ignorant white men while they are doing it. That debate is going on in Canada right now. They have the same problem. Maybe the UN should send a woman next time, one whose body has been scarred by an indigenous husband like mine is. My old husband beat me up every time he got drunk. My husband is now caring and supportive. I’ll show you the scars next time I come home to Yuendumu if you like Bob. In our culture you take off your clothes when you are really angry, when you are insulted the way I have been by this ignorant white man. Let’s do it blackfella way Bob. You think you know my people and my culture better than I do. You have told lies about me to the world. You should face me in person. You would rather our people died than support a government that is trying to save our lives and educate our kids.

  26. JaneShaw

    Nungarrayi, thank you for your posts, and for the courage it took to do it.

    I am a white woman, I’ve lived in inner Melbourne all my life and I’ve had a comparatively privileged existence, so I have no way of understanding what your life has been like, or what life is liek for those people living in the remote communities.

    I would like to tell you though, that while it must seem that many white people are racist, condescending or just simply apathetic, most of what you hear (like some of the people in this post) are the vocal minority.

    The vast majority of us say nothing, not because we don’t feel tremendous sorrow for what has happened to your people – we do – but we know enough to know how ignorant we are, and that we are helpless to do anything that could make a real difference.

    I wish there was something that could be done to change the plight of aboriginal people, I wish there was some way we could show you that most Australians are not uncaring or contemptuous towards Aboriginal people. Unfortunately, like most of us, I don’t know how we do that, and so, usually, I don’t say anything.

    I am also sorry that you feel under attack here. If we are to have any chance of making real change, we need to be able to discuss all the aspects, and exchange stories and differing opinions with a wider audience than just think-tanks in Canberra. I don’t know where else that can happen if not places like this.

    So, again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and stories. Even if they haven’t all said so, many people have read them and understand a little more than they used to because of it.

  27. jungarrayi

    Bess Price wrote “Jungarrayi is also a white man, Mr Frank Baarda. He has been in my community for too long.” [edited]
    She’s got the first bit right (my name and race), however I am hardly ever in Alice Springs.
    I’ve lived in Yuendumu for 35 years and in fact was living here when Bess left Yuendumu for Alice Springs some three decades ago.
    Bess has also accused me as claiming to “speak for my people”. Wrong again I have never claimed that. I speak for myself as a long time resident of Yuendumu. But this isn’t about me (or her).
    In my opinion Bess gives us vocal (loud) white men far too much credit in being able to “manipulate” the Warlpiri residents of Yuendumu. The Warlpiri (men and women) are more than capable of forming their own (divergent) opinions, its just that they are not given the same opportunities to express them and are just not being listened to by the authorities.
    Professor Anaya, when he visited Yuendumu last week, really did listen:
    A week ago David Read wrote:
    “Professor Anaya is the world’s leading authority on the rights of indigenous peoples. He is most eminently qualified to assess the current situation of Australia’s Aborigines.
    Those who label him as an “armchair critic” or try to dismiss his comments really have nothing constructive to offer themselves. They are indeed part of the problem”.
    From a Media Release by church leaders:
    ” Catholic Bishop Eugene Hurley of the Diocese of Darwin happened to be spending a couple of days in the Yuendumu Community when Professor Anaya visited. He said, “I attended a community function with him. My observation was that he listened carefully to the people of the community and seems to have respected faithfully what he saw and heard.
    It seems to me that it is not helpful to “shoot the messenger”. Indeed it would be wise to listen both to the message and the messenger.”

    Amén to that!

  28. nungarrayi

    Yes Frank I do live in Alice Springs not for 35 years as you say, but for 26 years. I have also lived on Melville Island with the Tiwi for 3 years, with the Walmatjari in the Kimberley for over a year and I managed Yurrampi Crafts at Yuendumu for three and managed the Central Land Council office for two years there as well. I also lived in Adelaide for six months in that time. I have also managed to study successfully for a degree from Curtin University. How many of the Warlpiri have done that. Yes I live in Alice Springs with hundreds of other Warlpiri people, at the jail. in the hospital and in the town camps and there are hundreds more across the NT and interstate. The most senior man from Yuendumu, my brother in law, is staying in my house right now. In those town camps my people live like dogs. The organisation that is supposed to look after their welfare hasn’t done that. These are the same people who are with the Roll Back the Intervention Action Group who invited Prof Anaya here. He listened to me at the meetings I went to but he didn’t hear what I was saying. He doesn’t care how my people live in the town camps which is like living in the shanty towns of South Africa. The Warlpiri that I spoke to here didn’t know that he was even in town. I am speaking for them because they don’t have a voice. You talk about ‘the Warlpiri’ as if we are all the same, except of course for me because I live in Alice Springs. I know ‘the Warlpiri’ that you talk to and I know a lot of others who think differently but don’t have a voice. I was born at Yuendumu and that is my country and always will be no matter where I live. My family are all from there, my mother still lives there and I am related to all of the people of Yuendumu but you are not. Why are you so concerned about the NTER. IT doesn’t affect your family like it does mine. You know about all the problems it is trying to address. You know how my people use their money on gambling, grog and drugs. You know about the violence and the child abuse but you have done nothing for my people to fix these problems. Instead you fought against the women’s centre who are trying to make a difference in the community and make it a better place for their kids by setting up their own shop in opposition to yours. You have been there a long time maybe you should try getting a job somewhere else and let a local blackfella do your job that you have held onto for more the past 35 years. So much for Aboriginalisation. You should get out and see the world like I have Frank. I know what my people are capable of, we don’t need well meaning but wrong headed whitefellas holding us back.

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