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Racist, not working: UN bashes NT intervention

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

  • 1
    Jim Reiher
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    When voices deny Professor Anaya’s findings, I am left in despair. What will it take in Australia for us to face the facts and do the right thing?

    Rudd and Labor could have been heros. Instead they maintain the system Howard’s gang set up. Labor sees political advantage and practical use for the intervention laws. How disappointing has this all turned out to be.

    All we need now is the Andrew Bolt response, to prove Anaya’s point!

  • 2
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    As with almost every indigenous population in the New World, what happened to the Australian aborigines is an appalling tragedy. And, as many well meaning but possibly misguided folk have discovered, there is no easy solution.

    One thing I don’t understand though: we acknowledge that the indigenous population is severely disadvantaged and needs assistance that is not required by the rest of the Australian population, but every time someone attempts to do this, it fails and the 20/20 hindsight folk tsk tsk about racism.

    I daresay there are some truly racist people about, but I also think that this is not true of most Australians. It’s not racist to acknowledge differences, it’s not racist to admit that particular sections of the community need specialized assistance and try to find a way to do that. It’s not even racist if you try to do this and fail. It’s misguided, ill informed or even incompetent, but it’s not racist.

    Genuine racism, like genuine sexism, is utterly abhorrent, but it’s trivialised when the word is applied to anyone who acknowledges that differences exist.

  • 3
    Gavin Mooney
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Chris Graham reports that Tony Abbott has declared Prof James Anaya ‘an armchair critic’. Now isn’t that the same Tony Abbott who infamously said about Aboriginal people:

    There seems to be an inordinate amount of time taken up with funerals and ceremonies.” And went on:: “If you’re going to develop a work culture, you can’t have a three-month ceremonial season (each year) and you can’t take six weeks off because your cousin has died,” he said.

    ”Why not get them out shooting the camels,” he said. “It gives them something they would love to do and it beats petrol sniffing.”

    Nice chap, this Tony! But at least he is a thing of the past.

    There is entrenched racism in this country (and not just in Tony Abbott) - look at the death of Mr Ward burnt to death in the back of a prison van; the epidemic of Aboriginal youth suicide, etc etc. Who cares? Certainly not our government who seemed to have uses up all their moral strength in saying sorry.

    What now? Surely in the wake of the continuing shambles on housing in the Territory, the failure of the NT intervention and now this damning report, Macklin MUST resign.

    Jenny, for God’s sake just say ‘sorry’ - and go.

  • 4
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Well, he’s right. The intervention is a racist act.
    Compulsory income management for the indigenous; there can be no denying that this is racist. Apply the same regulations to ALL welfare recipients, then it would not be racist. Heck, bring in foodstamps in lieu of cash…
    Anyone who’s been to town on the day the “sit down money” (as it’s called up here) is paid will see where the money gets spent. Restricted trading hours, logging alcohol purchases over $100 and the big blue and white signs plastered up and down the Stuart Hwy aren’t helping anyone.

    Perhaps consultation with the people most effected by this horrendous state of affairs is in order….?

  • 5
    Gary Stowe
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely predictable stuff Chris. Now before you leap at me as a racist, be aware (publicly aware) of the following. I grew up next to an aboriginal camp so my first (and for a long time only) playmates were aboriginal. I married an aboriginal woman and my children, obviously, are part aboriginal. I’ve had frequent close contact with outback communities in the last dozen or so years. Enough on that.

    All that said, the UN regularly jams its head up its arse in this sort commentary. You can bet that if aboriginal people were being herded into compounds then machine gunned by a renegade militia then the UN would be silent. Just like Darfur, or Rhwanda or any of those other vast slaughters. They’re good with soft targets but timid and hopeless in the face of real violence.

    Second, you can call me and the society at large to account for the failure of the intervention in its stated aims (and I’m not arguing that it has or hasn’t, I think it’s probably been both good and bad) when I can call aboriginal people to account for their demonstrated failure to care for their children, their homes or their land.

    Chris, until you can see that aboriginal people have to be held responsible for what they choose to do, just like other people, then you are the racist.

  • 6
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Alas for Ms Macklin do we do her wrong? Is she another Minister in the Rudd Govt being made the scapegoat for policies she has no control over? While we may insist every Minister be brave, be strong and go where their hearts, minds and sense of honesty and fairplay would direct them, it doesn’t work that way. Cabinet majority rules, or perhaps Rudd rules in Cabinet. I feel Minister Macklin is relunctantly firing bullets from someone elses gun. This is not a hard cruel woman. Interested in others views on what appears to be dictatorial policy.

  • 7
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Gavin, nail yourself to the cross son, you are obviously a saint!

    As I am heading out, I will be brief (I would love to right more but am out of time).

    Someone who disagrees with you is not always a racist. This often a cheap, hollow arguement thrown up by useless and ignorant fools who have nothing else to offer. And if Tony Abbott said that, then he has to live with it, not Jenny.

    Personally, I don’t see how you can walk in and declare yourself an expert on an issue after 2 days of talking in conferences. The real problems are not in a conference room, but out on the ground.

    The policy of both the current and previous government have been in place for 2 years, the previous policy was in place for 30 years - did it work?

    As I said earlier, disagreeing with someone does not make you a racist, and being an expert does not make you infallible - or more right than someone else. Experts are often wrong.

    And yes, before anyone asks, I have worked (briefly) in the NT with the aboriginals, but no Gavin, I’m no saint.

  • 8
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Sorry meant Jane, not Jenny.

  • 9
    Chris Graham
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    JANSESHAW: Appareciate the tenet of your comments, and your intent, but have to pull you up on several things: There’s no 20/20 hindsight on the intervention; a great many people were sxaying from the outset this policy would fail. And they were right. It has. And in relation to the word ‘racism’ being bandied about… your comments are best directed to Professor James Anaya - I’m simply reporting to you what he said (much as you might not like to hear it).

    As for Gary Stowe… what I’m about to say you might find confusing, but someone has to tell you… this issue is not about you. Sorry.

  • 10
    Jenny Haines
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Interesting that no one has taken up Chris Graham’s point that not only is the intervention racist but it is also failing. Its stated objectives are not being met and in fact some measures are causing harm. No wonder the Government was very pleased to announce in the last 24 hours the establishment of the Indigenous Congress as some sort of replacement for ATSIC. Given that they have been in office for two years now, this announcement is well overdue. But it seems the Indigenous Congress will have a starting budget of $5 million and an advisory role only. So what role will the Indigenous Congress have in ensuring that future strategies to address indigenous needs are not racist, and that they are practical strategies that address real needs and reach real goals? Or will they just advise and then have to sit and watch with frustration?

  • 11
    Most Peculiar Mama
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    …Brough should have added: “… and we were in government for 12 years and did nothing about it until election eve 2007”….”

    And ATSIC - established by Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke - was finally dismantled after 15 years of bloated self-aggrandisement and gross dereliction of its charter despite being allocated BILLIONS of dollars in Federal government money.

    So much for THAT self-determination experiment.

    Did you forget about them, Chris?

    Cries of paternalism whilst simultaneously having one’s hand out begging for help is pathetic.

    …No-one ever said facing up to our racism was going to be easy…”

    It’s you who continue to wear the black arm-band.

    Others are avoiding the same old rhetoric and moved on to finding a solution…maybe you should too.

  • 12
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Chris, I understand that you are the reporter, not the originator of this story. My comments were meant more generally, not specifically at you.

    With regard to your point about the 20/20 hindsight, I’m sure you’re right, there probably would have been people predicting that the intervention would fail, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

    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?)

  • 13
    James Bennett
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink


    Is giving money and entitlements to aboriginals just because they are aboriginal also racist.

    Chris , any comment on the piece by Bess Nungarrayi Price from yesterdays Australian.
    She sounds like she may have a more relavent perspective than some imported trained UN mouthpiece.

    I wonder why you don’t use her thoughts as the basis for an article?

  • 14
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    I guess the intervention’s racist, in that it targets one racial group and attempts, or at least intends, to impose a set of conditions upon them. I don’t know enough to say either way whether it’s working or not.
    But I have to agree whole-heartedly with Gary Stowe re the UN:
    If we were some third-world hole and the aborigines were being rounded up and hacked to death, or we were, maybe, I dunno, Burma, the UN would be threatening to send us a letter about possibly sending an even more forceful letter in a month’s time.
    It’s far easier to swan in and tell a largely “white” population that we’re racist because of what appears to be an ill-conceived but well-intentioned attempt to lift our indigenous population out of squalor, than it is to go into, say, The Sudan, or Rwanda, and make any kind of effort to stop one group of black people from committing genocide against another. That would actually entail risk, and some kind of moral courage, which the UN seems to be sadly lacking.

  • 15
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    What a load of crap by an outside ‘expert’.

    Something had to be done, the policy of seperate settlements has clearly and totally failed.

    The permanent aboriginal complaint industry will love this, they can whinge and moan about ‘racism’, while getting yet more funding, so they can complain a bit more etc etc.

    And guilt stricken whites living in the cities (who love to romanticise everything to do with aboriginies and have no sense of the practical) will go along with it as well. Juzzy/Gary makes some good points as well above.

  • 16
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Please. The UN has its faults, but it was not “silent” about Darfur. The knee-jerk response of regimes such as Sudan to UN criticism is to shoot the messenger. Let’s not stoop to the same rhetorical level.

    I don’t have much doubt, given what I’ve read, that the intervention is failing on its own terms. But we shouldn’t let that get in the way of acknowledging that those terms in themselves were appallingly paternalistic, illiberal, and, yes, racist. In other words: even IF the intervention had succeeded in enforcing dry communities, banning pornography and the like, what would we have been left with? An apartheid system, no better, in which the rights of a small, highly disadvantaged minority would still be circumscribed in the name of their own protection.

    This is not something that can easily be dismissed by invoking “20-20 hindsight”. Policymakers owe it to the citizens to consider the likely outcomes, good and bad, of a policy they are advocating. In the case of the intervention they fail on both counts, and yes, they should be held accountable for that.

  • 17
    stephen martin
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    I suppose that a defence of the intervention could be made if it was in fact working; but apparently it isn’t, so that defence is out of the window. I imagine that Mal Brough would say that the urgency of the suddenly discovered emergency did not allow for time to be made to apply welfare payments management only to those who were in need of it.
    Watching national news last night, I think the report was on Channel 9, we were told of a couple who left two children aged 4 and 6,on a veranda all night, dressed only in T shirts. Inside there were two unfed infants lying in urine and faeces soaked beds; the couple were found passed out affected by drugs and or alcohol.
    It would seem to me that the couple would certainly be unemployable and would exist on welfare payments. The police stated that they had never seen a worse case. Well maybe not, but there have been similar reports in the media over time.
    It was reported that the authorities wereexamining what could be done!
    If income management is appropriate for all aboriginal welfare recipients, regardless of the necessity, why on earth is it not appropriate for cases such as this? - No votes perhaps, or maybe just to much trouble.

  • 18
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    So I saw Tony Abbott on the TV News dismissing Prof. Anaya’s preliminary statement on the basis of: “…he should go out to those communities and see for himself….” or something similar.
    Guess what? He did!
    Last Friday we had the honour of welcoming Prof. Anaya, Maia Campbell and Taryn Lesser of the UN to Yuendumu.
    They asked many questions of many people and whatsmore listened to the replies!
    Lately this is getting to be an unusual experience for us in Yuendumu (being listened to, that is).
    The ever increasing parade of politicians, bureaucrats and contractors in shiny new Toyotas all busy “Intreventioning” and “Closing the Gap”, with a few exceptions, don’t have great communication skills. In fact some behave in a manner that suggests they think they’re in Terra Nullius.
    Closing the Gap indeed, how about we work on closing the Dignity Gap, Respect Gap, Right to run your own lives Gap….

    In Australia, our ways have mostly produced disaster for the Aboriginal people. I suspect that only when their right to be distinctive is accepted, will policy become creative”… Kim Beazley Sr.

  • 19
    Jon Hunt
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I have to concur with Mr Jungarrayi. The problem is mutual respect, to treat them as equals and listen and take note of what they have to say. Until then, no Gap can be closed.

  • 20
    Jon Hunt
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I have to also add that they clearly don’t realise they are part of the problem.

  • 21
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    If you venture out to many rural places in the USA (West Virginia), you will find similar examples of hopelessly poor, drug afflicted white communities barely clinging to civilisation.

    Surely there are policies on display around the world that have worked in addressing abject poverty and social dysfunction in rural areas?

  • 22
    Chris Graham
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • 23
    Gary Stowe
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Chris, I’m just wondering if you’ve ever heard of the human / personality trait psychologists describe as “reflection.” You might like to look it up some time.

  • 24
    Chris Graham
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, are we still talking about you Gary? I thought we’d moved on.

  • 25
    james mcdonald
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Hot news off the press from Jenny Macklin: she has persuaded Kevin Rudd to include extra outhouses for all outback schools with 20 per cent or more Aboriginal students in the Building the Education Revolution program. Parents and teachers who are still waiting for their homes and who get down on their knees and thank Minister Macklin will be provided with secondhand blankets and may camp on the outhouse floors when it rains. First come first served!

  • 26
    James Bennett
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Chris ,

    Maybe you’d like to comment on the piece by Bess Nungarrayi Price from yesterdays Australian.

    I don’t think she is a racist…

  • 27
    james mcdonald
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • 28
    David Reid
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • 29
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    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!

  • 30
    james mcdonald
    Posted Friday, 28 August 2009 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    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.

  • 31
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    Chris Graham wrote, “As for Gary Stowe… what I’m about to say you might find confusing, but someone has to tell you… this issue is not about you. Sorry.”

    I don’t believe Gary was making this “about him”. I believe he was demonstrating the fact that he may have more right to his opinion on this subject than you think he has, before anyone labelled him as racist. He’s walked the walk and talked the talk, you haven’t.

    He wrote, “…when I can call aboriginal people to account for their demonstrated failure to care for their children, their homes or their land. Chris, until you can see that aboriginal people have to be held responsible for what they choose to do, just like other people, then you are the racist.”

    Those words are probably the most compelling and most important said so far. We can keep passing the buck and pointing the finger as to who’s at fault but where does it finally stop? Does it not take two to Tango? Is ‘White Australia’ going to be made to pay forever and ever for the wrongs committed in the past? When will we be able to stop paying? What point has to be reached to bring this saga to a mutual satisfying conclusion? But more importantly, what WILL satisfy the Aboriginals - does anyone know? Is there any Aboriginal reading these comments and living this situation who could answer that question ? as I’m really trying to understand, and failing miserably.

  • 32
    james mcdonald
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    .. And it has to be at the invitation of the communities, as I said earlier. While acknowledging government is too arrogant and incompetent to actually fix the problem. But when police enter a dwelling to stop a domestic violence incident, they have the right of entry if one person living there asks them to come in, even if someone else living there disagrees.

  • 33
    james mcdonald
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    Cazza you ask “what WILL satisfy the Aboriginals - does anyone know? Is there any Aboriginal reading these comments and living this situation who could answer that question ?”

    Well there’s a post earlier today by Jungarrayi, who I don’t know but I’d hazard a guess he’s not a WASP, who said “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? There’s not much point in this blog if we don’t read other people’s posts.

    How to work on those gaps? Well again, Jungarraye mentioned listening which is a good start, and said this UN mob are doing that. Bess Nungarrayi Price also mentioned we haven’t done much good at listening. I mentioned earlier that when we do listen, beaurocrats like to rewrite it into what they want to hear. So the question is are we going to listen to this Professor James Anaya when he’s done listening to them? Or are we just going to prejudge him, and go around asking mock-rhetorical questions as if to imply that Aboriginals are unsatisfiable?

  • 34
    james mcdonald
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    Sorry Bess, I should take my own advice and pay more attention … Jungarrayi on this blog is from Yuendumu and is actually Bess Nungarrayi, a her not a him.

  • 35
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    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.

  • 36
    james mcdonald
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    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”.

  • 37
    Bob Durnan
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    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.

  • 38
    james mcdonald
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Thank you Bob for clarifying. The coincidence of 9/10 letters in the name being the same and both connected Yuendumu had me there. Small world sometimes, eh.

  • 39
    james mcdonald
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    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?

  • 40
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Cazza and James, you both raise an interesting point - we don’t know what they all want. Having Bess tell us what she wants is not going to provide us with that answer either.

    Each community has different problems and different goals, so perhaps rather than mass intervention, we need a democratic process in the form of mass surveys/polling. Ask the people in each community what they need and let them set their own priorities.

  • 41
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    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!

  • 42
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Obviously I meant, the 12 years of the Howard Government! How many inquiries? 7 or 10 or??

  • 43
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    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.!!!

  • 44
    james mcdonald
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    And Cazza, very well said on your last post. Next problem is to get the Minister to see things that way.

  • 45
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    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!

  • 46
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    great post Veronica.

    I have seen most parts of the world and I still see Australia as a racist (probably, very) country. I highlight the attacks on indian/chinese students in Melbourne as an example.

    In terms of this article, I agree 100% with Tony Abbott. It is better to be doing something than nothing, what does the Professor recommend? with all due respect to the Professor, I really don’t think he had long enough to summise the situation because if he did, he would realise that we are trying to make a difference.

    The state of our indigenous communities is a blight on Australia and something we have never been able to fix. Don’t blame Howard, don’t blame Rudd - blame all governments. It will be generations before any meaningful change is evident. We may never be able to fix it.

    I agree with the posts saying “what do they want?” but this is an unacceptable response. The respective governments have had years and years to figure this out with consultation with the likes of Noel Pearson et al…

    I sometimes think that instead of Rudd grandstanding about the environment, he should have made the indigenous community as his #1 priority however he would not receive the kudos internationally.

  • 47
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    JaneShaw, I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment.

    It’s very easy to point the finger, very easy to criticise after the fact (or condem actions like “The Intervention” from day one, because it’s an unknown approach to a difficult problem).

    It’s equally important to be mindful of what Prof. Anaya has said. Let us improve based on these findings - and if this emergency response is “racist” in the technical sense, let us try to fix this. I don’t believe we have deeply entrenched racism in Australia, at least no more so than any other highly developed first world country. We should not respond with a knee-jerk defensivism to findings that are annoying to acknowledge.

    It’s hard taking harsh critisism when you are actually trying to solve the problem. We may not agree with all of the findings, some of the findings may be wrong, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

  • 48
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    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 ?????

  • 49
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    LIZ45: “I’d still like to know how many applications for mining etc in the NT are waiting to be approved by the federal govt!”

    You and me both! Queensland is being raped to the max for it’s mining possibilities to the extent the gov was going to approve 2 mines both within the outside safety limits of 2 towns. Thank goodness Queenslanders have still got a bit of fight left in them because without the fight, it would have happened! I’m starting to think I’ve lived too long and am sure the gov will be glad when us ‘oldies’ have all exited this country as our age group seem to be causing them much grief. What they don’t realise though is, many of us have taught our children well so hopefully they’ll continue the fight to keep this country as democratic as possible. Can I hope???

  • 50
    Posted Saturday, 29 August 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    The difference in these other nations is rights - in the US, Canada and NZ, Indigenous peoples have treaties.”

    You are seriously suggesting that the treaties here in the US are responsible for closing the expectancy gap? Good grief. Have you ever *read* one of the treaties, or a legal interpretation thereof? What nonsense your suggestion is.