Incidents such as that involving the Yuendemu women and the Alice Springs backpacker hostel this week are not isolated. The NT Anti-Discrimination Commission (ADC) receives several allegations every year (for at least the last five years) about unfair treatment meted out to Aboriginals by some elements within the accommodation arm of the NT hospitality industry. Allegations have arisen in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Three Ways, Katherine, and Darwin, and include refusal to accommodate people, falsely claiming that no accommodation exists, provision of substandard accommodation, and overcharging.

Most of these allegations cannot be pursued by ADC because the aggrieved party, that is the victim of the discrimination, is unwilling to make a formal complaint. This week’s allegation came to ADC via the RLSS trainers, not the aggrieved women. The jurisdiction of the NT Anti-Discrimination Act extends only to complaints by a person aggrieved by the prohibited conduct.

Reasons for the failure of potential complainants to follow through with complaints probably include shyness, lack of confidence, and an unwillingness to become involved in what appears to be a “court-like” investigation process (and many Aboriginals have unsavoury experiences of courts).

Perhaps if people are told that “you’re not good enough because your black”, then the assault on their self-esteem is at such a fundamental level that they just want to withdraw from the scene.

The challenge for ADC is to convince people that if they complain they will be supported, that the investigation process is considerably more user-friendly than the court system, and that unless they make complaints, nothing will change.

We do this through public education and training which consumes a significant part of our budget. This important proactive work of the Commission is designed to promote in the community attitudes of tolerance, understanding and respect.

For the five years that I have held this post, Centralians have been largely denied local access to ADC public education about rights and responsibilities under the Act, and the adoption of appropriate attitudes, because it has not been an NT Government priority to establish an ADC office in Alice Springs. It is difficult to promote the merits of equal opportunity in Alice all the way from Darwin.