Christian Kerr writes:


After opening his mouth and putting his
foot in it last week, Mal Brough didn’t have the guts to give a Ministerial
Statement of Indigenous issues yesterday. Instead he simply gave a lengthy,
pious answer
to a dixer.

When opposition MPs started interjecting,
they were told to shut up and show some sensitivity on the subject by government members.

What a joke! The one thing we should be
doing on Indigenous issues is talking – even though it might involve listening
to some pretty uncomfortable allegations.

With all the reports on violence in Wadeye,
it might be nice to hear what the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation – funded by the Commonwealth Government to the tune of $115 million – has actually
achieved.

It might be
nice to hear some responses to Michael Duffy’s allegations over the weekend of
censorship of debate over Indigenous policy dating back to the 1970s .

It might be nice to investigate how much
self-censorship of truth-telling on the state of indigenous Australians
exists in the Northern Territory government and its various authorities, from
the police force down.

It might be nice to talk about the threats
against researchers in the past who have been virtually driven out of
settlements for saying what everyone is saying now. There are some appalling
stories to be told all right – and the treatment handed out to these advocates
for Indigenous Australians is one of them.

This is about talking. It’s a big ask for many
Indigenous Australians to really talk to white folks, given the mutual fear and
loathing that exists between us, but we need to talk.

We need to travel this rocky path of
cross cultural communication to reach a shared place. The rewards for effort can
be fleeting, but are also thrilling and inspiring. Positive Aboriginal culture
is good – just look at some of the astounding artwork – and when it’s bad it
seems very bad. Bit like us whitefellas and our culture, actually.

We need to talk. We need to know each
others’ stories. And that requires openness on both sides.

It is an offence under
the Aboriginal Land Rights Act to enter Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory without a permit issued by either the Northern
or Central Land Councils. Perpetrators risk conviction and fine of $1,000.

The case of Paul
Toohey, the journalist who was refused a permit to
report on the funeral of a young man shot by police in Wadeye,
visited anyway and was arrested and charged shows how hard
this can be.

Was it a case of
cultural insensitivity – or a denial of our right to know the state of
Indigenous Australia? There is no fix for problems that remain unknown.
Communication is the start of the process.

Peter Fray

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