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Jul 29, 2009

Racism is a blanket in Alice Springs

Alice Springs town council is proposing a range of new powers; all pointed to one end: tackling anti-social behaviour. Except, it includes throwing out blankets used by homeless people...



News emerged from Alice Springs this week of new by-laws being floated by the local Town Council, aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour.

My personal favourite is the one that allows council rangers to dispose of stuff they find around the town. Stuff which they reasonably believe to be abandoned. Stuff like … blankets used by homeless people.

In Alice today, it’s standard practice for the homeless (also known as “Aboriginal people”) to store their blankets somewhere in public (in some bushes, for example) during the day, and then collect them again in the evening, in preparation for a cold Alice night where temperatures can drop well below zero in winter.

As it stands, it’s already routine for local rangers to seize the blankets — they wander about in the morning and collect them from bushes and wherever else the homeless have stashed them. But by law, the rangers are not allowed to dispose of the blankets, so instead they’re dropped off at Tangentyere Council. Inevitably, the blankets are collected again later that day and re-utilized by the homeless that night.

It’s a merry game the local council plays. The practice is meant to make life as uncomfortable as possible for Aboriginal people (as though sleeping in the freezing outdoors weren’t already uncomfortable enough). But under the proposed new by-laws, rangers would be able to throw the blankets away. Nice.

The proposed new powers don’t stop there. The council is also aiming to stop camping on the Todd River, where a lot of homeless Aboriginal people congregate. They presumably share the council’s desire that they do otherwise. Most people don’t sleep in a freezing river bed by choice. They do so because they have nowhere else to go.

Then there’s the proposed law to fine people for begging. Basically you can be fined if you’re caught “soliciting” from someone in the Alice Springs town limits.

Why do people beg? Because they have no money. And how do we stop it? By issuing them a fine for $130. And can they pay it? Of course not, at least not without begging a bit more. And then we fine them again. And eventually, they go to jail for non-payment of fines. No need to beg in prison, where in the Northern Territory, the population is already 83% black. It’s pretty unlikely that outlawing begging among a dirt poor population is going to help reduce it.

Russell Goldflam, Principal Legal officer for the Alice Springs office of the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission has written a submission to council about the proposed laws. He notes that the Alice Springs Council is seeking to give itself powers that far exceed even those of the Northern Territory police.

For example, Goldflam notes the council wants to empower its rangers to demand identification from local residents. NT police are allowed, in certain circumstances, to demand a person’s name and address, but not date of birth. Council rangers will be able to demand the whole kit and kaboodle. Council is also proposing to extend its powers to make only certain types of identification acceptable. Again, a power NT police do not enjoy.

Under the proposed by-laws, the Council is seeking to make it illegal to stage a protest without council permission. The laws go so far as to make it illegal for “a group or even [an] individual” to behave in a way “apparently intended to publicise that person’s view about anything” Goldflam notes.

It gets worse. Under the heading, “Other Activities”, Goldflam says the Council is seeking to empower itself to “declare that any activity whatsoever ‘within, on, under or over a public place’ requires a Council permit”.

Many of the by-laws also replicate existing laws, such as by-law 53, which proposes to make it illegal to urinate and defecate in public, as though it isn’t already.

But why would anyone defecate in public in Alice Springs? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that the two major shopping centres in town — the Alice Plaza and the Yeperenye Shopping Centre — have introduced pay toilets; a measure designed to stop poor blackfellas coming in to use them.

And just in case, both centres have also placed a ban on people entering without shoes. That was introduced to stop poor blackfellas coming in. Period.

What I’m wondering is why anyone is even surprised by all this.

It is, after all, the same part of the world that in March 2008 saw a group of Aboriginal people asked to leave an Alice Springs hostel because tourists had complained about their “scary appearance”. The blackfellas were young leaders, hand-picked by their community of Yuendumu to attend a Royal Life Saving Society course, prior to the opening of their local pool. It’s the same Territory where black males are jailed at a rate almost five times greater than that practised by South Africa during the Apartheid era.

It’s the same Territory where, earlier this year, a video emerged of a drunk Aboriginal man — Chappy — who was made to dance by a police officer and sing By the rivers of Babylon, before he was arrested for public drunkenness. Chappy is based in Katherine, somewhat north of Alice. The policemen captured it all on his videophone, and then posted it on YouTube. It complete is easily one of the most degrading videos I’ve ever seen.

I think, therefore, it’s official. Alice Springs — and the Northern Territory generally — has every right to be seen as a racist backwater.

And where is all this heading, you might ask? Well, over the weekend, a four-wheel drive containing a group of about four or five white males drove through two of the itinerant camps on the dry Todd River bed which the council is seeking to close down.

Later that morning, the body of a black male was discovered. He had reportedly been walking alone on a nearby street. Police are seeking any information on the occupants of the vehicle, but are remaining tight-lipped about the motive, fearing an escalation of violence.

That certainly won’t do anything to enhance the reputation of Alice Springs, and nor will the by-laws, as noted by Russell Goldflam. He described the proposed anti-begging laws as liable to “promote the reputation of Alice Springs as an uncaring and inhumane community”.

With the greatest of respect, I’d suggest the horse has already bolted on that front.


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33 thoughts on “Racism is a blanket in Alice Springs

  1. Jim Reiher

    What a depressing report. When will this kind of racism ever stop in this country? Why is it that nothing seems to ever be done? Rudd is proving to be useless when it comes to the NT and race relations. Macklin is floundering at every turn. Howard’s crap still reigns there. And now this.

    My memory of something good seems to be fading. What seems like a long time ago: Sorry day. It was a great day. We thought it was the start of good things ahead. Better times. Sadly it was just words.

  2. stephen martin

    Yes, I read this nonsense in this mornings NT News, my first impression was that the Council was probably exceeding their powers in much of the proposal. And as noted the some is a duplication of legislation already promulgated. And yes, I loved the proposal to fine people with no money – brilliant.
    We really have some star attractions in local councils up here. Darwin City Council for example .Aldermen accepted 70 free tickets each from the circus in lieu of rent payable for the circus site. Some might call this misappropriation of rate payers funds. Oh and the previous mayor of Darwin managed to go to jail for stealing from the council!

  3. Georgina Smith

    Chris thank you so much for writing this, and Crikey thanks for posting it.

    This is appalling! I knew the plight of Aboriginals in this country was pretty rough, but this is just pathetic. As a white Aussie I’m ashamed. I confess I’ve never paid much attention to the issue before, but this article has really made me sit up and pay attention.

    The attitude on display here seems to be “why won’t you all just p*ss off and die?”

    If the Alice Springs Council is reading this, take note – I and my tourist dollars will never come to your sh*tty town if this is the best you can pull off. I’m disgusted at such a reprehensible and snivelling set of actions, and I’ll be telling my friends what you’re up to.

  4. Georgina Smith

    If you don’t like what you read here, email the Council’s mayor, Damien Ryan, on dryan@astc.nt.gov.au. I have.

  5. Liz45

    Thanks again Chris for such an informative article. Like Georgina I’m ashamed! I had such hope when the Rudd Government was elected; and watched the Apology with black and white people in my local area – I like many others was moved to tears – it was a wonderful day, and the stories and discussions on the 7.30Report for the whole week were moving and challenging. And now? Sadness, regret and great shame. This is just too despicable for words!
    I’m going to investigate the possibility of sending an email to this revolting group of individuals at the Alice Springs Town Council! If not, I’ll send a letter!
    Georgina, Steven and Jim, you’ve said it all! I agree totally!

  6. Mark Duffett

    Much of what Chris Graham writes of here is indeed reprehensible, or at best ham-fisted. But I think tarring the shopping centres as racist is a bit harsh. Surely they’re not in the business of providing public toilets (weren’t some new ones built only a couple of blocks away on the banks of the Todd?)?. And am I right in thinking that Yeperenye is still majority-owned by Aboriginal-controlled Centrecorp?

  7. jungarrayi

    There has always been racism in Alice Springs ever since it got its new name, and it’s not been exclusively white people that have been racist. There have also been many people (black and white) that have treated each other with respect and dignity. It doesn’t make a headline: “Today many black and white people in the Northern Territory got on great!”
    What is not made obvious in the article is that a decade of conservative dog-whistling politics (the appropiation of Pauline Hanson’s agenda by the Howard government) followed by the King and Queen of spin (Kevin Rudd & Jenny Macklin) has resulted in a significant increase in overt racism.
    The playing of the “race card” in NT politics at every election is not much help either.
    It’s been over two years since Mal Brough declared that Aboriginal communities were dysfunctional depraved cesspits with paedophyle-rings, flooded by “rivers of grog” and reigned over by “pornography barons” (this one comes from Tony Abbott- a member of the now in opposition cheer squad).
    The result of the Intervention is that the racists have come out of the closet. The message from the authorities is that Aborigines are to be pitied or despised depending on your inclination. The urban drift has accelerated noticeably and is partly driven by what I call “Income Management refugees” as well as families hanging about Alice Springs to visit their husbands and fathers in gaol or watch their Football heroes (yes, they’ve stolen our former bush games from us!). As most “bush” Aborigines don’t stand much of a chance at getting the so called “real jobs” (promised by Mal Brough) there is nothing better to do than to get on the grog thereby re-inforcing the racist stereotype and further “justifying” racist attitudes which are often responded to in kind.
    Thank you Pauline Hanson. Thank you John Howard. Thank you Mal Brough. Thank you Tony Abbott. Thank you Kevin Rudd. Thank you Jenny Macklin. Walkanji-patu.

  8. Liz45

    If you put Alice Springs Town Council into your search engine, you can click on ‘contact’ and send a message objecting to this blatant act of racism. I’ve just done that!

  9. cdmeares

    Interesting to know that Alice Springs Cinema is refusing to show Samson & Delilah. Says a lot I think. Censorship is alive and well.

  10. Jason Bryce

    Chris Graham has a slightly disturbing habit of throwing the racism word around a lot.

    Alice Springs isn’t that bad a town and most people there are not racist at all.

    This is a town, like many in outback Australia, that is trying (pretty unsuccessfully) to deal with a myriad of social problems. But that doesn’t mean the council, the shopping centres ( one of them is owned by an Aboriginal corporation) and the people there are racist.

  11. Gary Stowe

    So Chris, what about this idea. Instead of stashing their blankets wherever, why don’t the people who use those blankets take them to Tangentyere Council in the mornings. They could store them there for the day and collect them in the evenings, as they currently do.

    I’m not suggesting it solves homelessness, cold nights or any problem other than forestalling the one you are headlining, the council and rangers you say are intent on depriving aborigines of blankets when they leave them lying around.

    However, I suspect that you are so locked into your own view of this, and all the other much greater problems, that it’s no longer possible for you to imagine any strategy beyond blaming the white guys. It’s not me who’s the racist Chris – it’s you.

  12. James Bennett

    The remnants of a noble race striving against the oppression of a racist government or a bunch of anti-social drunks living in a creek bed and shitting everywhere ?

    I know which story Georgina and Liz want to read.

    It’s unbelievable that the elected officials of the Alice council would try to maintain some standards in their community. Why shouldn’t those blackfellas in the Todd have the run of the town. It’s not their fault it’s the whitefellas grog. Bloody racists!

    Chris ,this yarn writes itself.

    Don’t ever expect the abo’s to improve their own behaviour Chris, it will just muddle the theme of your next 100 stories.

  13. Dave Richards

    Chris you certainly do throw a lot of stones. I assume you must be without sin. Regardless of what one thinks of the by-laws, much of the impetus to “clean up the river” has come from the traditional owners of the town, through their body Lhere Tepe .. who have become major land developers in the town since the granting of native title. I don’t recall you accusing the Arrente people of “racist behaviour” in publicly expressing their attitudes to the problems they say are caused by too many bush people staying too long in town and camping in the river where they destroy Arrente saced sites. Perhaps they will be the subject of your next polemic.
    The situation in Alice Springs is and always has been complex. Smug name-calling might give you and your fans a warm inner glow, but it does nothing to solve the problems.

  14. Chris Graham

    Gary, so the homeless can wake up in the morning, wander across town to Tangentyere Council, leave their blankets, then wander back across at night so they have something to cover themselves in freezing temperatures. I’m taking a wild punt here, but I reckon when you’re sleeping rough in below zero temperatures, with no money or food, worrying about how society reacts to you leaving a blanket hidden in the bushes probably ain’t on your priority list. Spend JUST ONE night in Alice Springs in the cold Gary, and then maybe people will take your mean-spirited ‘solutions’ a little more seriously. Either that or run for Council in Alice – you’re a real ideas man!

    Dave, At least on the ignorant racist front, I am without sin. And admittedly, I do cast a lot of stones – at least one of which, I suspect, has struck you square between the eyes. Sorry it hurt so much. You might also consider a tilt at Council, because the Mayor has been dishing up the same tripe as you. The Lhere Artepe don’t like the anti-social behaviour in town – no-one does. But they DO NOT support the by-laws introduced by the Council. There’s a vast difference between ‘I don’t like humbugging’ and ‘Let’s pinch the homeless man’s blankets’. That you can’t see that is, while unsurprising, also quite sad (for you). And that you would seek to defend these actions… well, that speaks volumes.

  15. Jason Bryce

    Chris –
    I used to subscribe to your newspaper and I still read it occasionally but you wear me out with with your constant racism talk. It really is not the cause of most of the problems you write about and it makes you sound like an outsider from the south who doesn’t appreciate how difficult, violent and depressing life is when you live in an isolated community with people who simply don’t have any respect for themselves or anyone else – elders included.

    It is very hard work for anyone to live in an outback community dominated by grog. The drunks thrive on racism talk, encouraged by people like you, and use it to excuse their own outrageous behaviour and give themselves reasons to stay drunk.

    Dave has made some valid points and you have simply turned your guns around to fire at him personally. You fire at anyone who disagrees with your opinion – and thats what this story is – just a biased opinionated editorial.

    Less bile and more journalism please.

  16. Dave Richards

    Chris. Thanks for your reply. It confirms what is already obvious about you. You don’t listen. Did I say I support the bylaws? Am I defending them? Can you point to where exactly in my post I defended the by-laws? Read without making assumptions. Coincidentally as I write, Dylan is singing about “lies that life is black and white.” Keep peddling those lies, Chris! It’s a good livelihood and you’ll get lots of pats on the back for your platitudes. Jason is spot on.

  17. Dave Richards

    PS Re:” “Whywould anyone defecate in public in Alice Springs? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that the two major shopping centres in town — the Alice Plaza and the Yeperenye Shopping Centre — have introduced pay toilets; a measure designed to stop poor blackfellas coming in to use them.”

    I agree.

    But I’m intersted in what you think about the fact that the Yeperenye Shopping Centre is owned by Centrecorp, an Aboriginal organisation ?

  18. Liz45

    JAMES BENNETT – “Don’t ever expect the abo’s to improve their own behaviour Chris, it will just muddle the theme of your next 100 stories.”

    I object to the use of this derogatory and insulting word. Anyone who uses the word “abo” is automatically classified as a racist by me, and a pretty grotty one at that. It says a lot!
    I must be losing the plot, but I’m not sure what books you think may appeal to Georgina & I. Perhaps you could explain. I’ve read several by Henry Reynolds, one by Peter Carey called, “A Rape of the sould so Profound”. These books about aboriginal history and the ingrained and cruel racism of the colonisers increased my awareness. The last book that I read was about the Massacre at Myall Creek. The book is called “Demons at Dusk” by Peter Stewart. Peter spent 20 yrs researching for this book, and I understand he’s investigating making it into a film. It’s about the horrific massacre of 28 mainly women and children by white pastoralists and others. At least 4 men were hanged for these murders – which was rare. In fact, as the excepts from the newspapers of the day showed, killing blacks was ‘understandable’ or ‘accepted’ or sadly, even promoted?

    What is happening or what’s going to worsen due to the proposals of the Alice Springs Town Council is racist, appalling, denigrating, unjust and reprehensible. I can’t understand how anyone can even try to condone these actions. How long will it take for the penny to drop? Use injustice as a ‘tool’ for problem solving and you just create more problems – anger, resentment and ‘anti-social’ behaviour. The original problem is only made worse, and frequently protests end in tragedy!
    The fact that the authorities won’t release any details about the young man who died speaks volumes? How did he die? If he was a white man, I’m sure the situation would be different. The media would be informed, and the outcry would have resounded around the country. God knows, there’s too many occasions in the recent past, when the death of aboriginal people has at best been caused by neglect, and too often at the hands of white thugs – police or otherwise! Young TJ from Redfern, Doomadje from Palm Island and Mr West from WA – just 3 that spring to mind.

    Strange how those who rubbish the stand Chris Graham is taking, thought the death of this young man was not worth a mention. Is it because you don’t give a damn; think he deserved it, or it’s so common that you didn’t even have any reaction to it? What does it say about you and your principles? Your collective responses are just more examples of ‘shoot the messenger’. I didn’t get the impression that you were outraged by the actions of the councilors – what if the majority of the citizens were white and were being thrown in jail for non-payment of fines because they were poor?
    Families in Hyde Park in Sydney; Kings Park in Brisbane?

  19. Gary Stowe

    Chris, for your further information I have slept on the ground, in the desert, in July. July and through August, to be exact, at several locations within NT and western Qld. I know exactly how cold it is.

    I’m going to try to contact you direct through NIT because it’s clear that within this forum, you can’t listen to people who want to see things improve for aboriginal people but who also happen to disagree with your attitudes and your approach.

  20. Chris Graham

    Sorry Gary, but are you actually comparing yourself to a homeless itinerant in Alice Springs now? You’ve slept on the cold ground? You went camping – so what’s your point? How about you let me at your bank balance, I’ll empty it for you so you’ve got no money. Let me know who your boss is, and I’ll get you sacked so you’ve got no job. Got any kids? I’ll take those. Own any land? I’ll have that too. Then somehow I’ll arrange for you to be vilified and hated by your countrymen… then we’ll talk about ‘how cold it is’. My God you have a nerve.

    As to claims like ‘racism isn’t the cause of these problems’, please enlighten us all Jason – we’re not racists, and racism is not the cause of the problem… we just jail our blacks at rates five times greater than the most racist administration on earth because… ummmm… what, they’re genetically pre-disposed to crime? I look forward to you explaining how decades of massive government neglect and underfunding of Aboriginal communities – irrefutably the major causes of the problems today – had nothing to do with racism.

    I understand Australians don’t like being called racist. But sorry lads, if the cap fits….

  21. Gary Stowe

    Okay. You want to do it this way? I’ve sent you an email explaining my thoughts through NIT but you prefer this? No I’m not comparing myself to a homeless itinerant. You challenged me to spend one night in the cold in Alice Springs and I told you I have, over an extended period of time. (At least in the desert in winter, if not Alice Springs). You immediately assume it was “camping” and abuse me as some sort of dilettante. As it happens – you’re wrong.

    Why do you automatically respond with derision? Because it suits your own prejudice! Now who is the one villifying and hating his own countrymen?

    Open your eyes! There’s a whole lot of people around you who care deeply about these issues who also happen to think you are wrong. Grow the hell up!

  22. Dave Richards

    And that query about Centrecorp and Yeperenye Shopping Centre? Interestingly, Daryl Pearce from Lhere Atepe raised the same issue when asked for a response to your article.

  23. David1

    Chris Graham I am getting the distinct impression you are enjoying the crap you spout, just what is your agenda? Enjoying being in the limelight are you, give you a buzz your nonsense is actually being read by others, for the first time in your obviously tortured existance/ or is it you hail from a superior white exhalted upbringing, very different existance to those you purport to defend, and blogs give you the chance to appear the saviour of those not given your silver spoon path in life? What have you given to these people, so far all you have done is blame and condemn. Swing and usually miss. You appear to be a closet wanabee. Bandwaggons have a habit of breaking down, tossing the driver into their own cr-p.

  24. Jim Reiher

    Wow… let’s all take a breath…. and think again about the issues.
    If homeless people are going to have their blankets destroyed under proposed new laws, this is morally wrong. It doesn’t matter if it is the council trying to make the city look prettier. It is wrong.
    Of course there are other complex issues that could be talked about as well (we could talk about class conflict here as well). But at the end of the day, we are witnessing racism as well. And it is deplorable.
    I think, one day, we will be honest enough to admit how badly we treat our indigenous people. So many of us want to think we are doing ok. Other reasons are more significant than … dare we breathe the word?… “racism”….
    Sorry fellow white Australians, we need to call a spade a spade. Our treatment of indigenous Australians is appauling. It always has been. And it still is.
    We really should stop deflecting the reality of our racism by switching the discussion to nasty personal attacks.

  25. Chris Graham

    Sanity prevails… Thank you, Jim. On the upside, you can’t fight racism if it ain’t out in the open, which ain’t a problem in this forum!

  26. Dave Richards

    Noble sentiments Jim. I for one do not want to see anyone have their blankets destroyed and it is to be hoped the Council will reconsider that particular bylaw, and others. The point that I and others have been making and which has been pointedly ignored by Chris Graham is that the problems of Alice Springs and other places aren’t just black versus white. Blaming everything on racism is a satisfying exercise for the blamer, that creates a warm inner glow but very little else.

    If you were to get a copy of today’s Centralian Advocate, you would find the CEO of the traditional owners group Lhere Artepe supporting the broad thrust of the bylaws, and in particular the bylaw against begging. This is despite Chris Graham’s earlier claim, complete with capital letters: “The Lhere Artepe don’t like the anti-social behaviour in town – no-one does. But they DO NOT support the by-laws introduced by the Council. ”

    This not only reveals sloppy research, but an apparent need to propogate simplistic solutions to complex problems, and create scapegoats to boost his own position. As does his refusal to respond to the argument that the Aboriginal organisation Centrecorp owns a shopping centre that charges 50 cents for people to use the toilet.

    If we are to look at this intelligently, using thought instead of slogans, we may have to consider other possibilities. For example that the bias involved in all these issues may not primarily be against Aboriginal people, but against poor, homeless and intoxicated people, regardless of their colour, a bias which is evident in many populations. That means something else may be involved here besides racism. That bias may be unacceptable or in some cases, it may be understandable. Or it may be something else as well.

    Indulging in notions of collective guilt is possibly even less constructive than calling everyone else a racist. . Shouldn’t Sudanese refugees or second generation migrants of any nationalility also have to “call a spade a spade”? When does responsibility for other people’s living conditions actually kick in? At birth? At arrival? At the age of 18? Or as you suggest does it arrive automatically with being born white? Sounds like a subtle variation of the White Australia policy to me.

  27. Chris Graham

    Nice try Dave… and if you were to get a copy of ABC online (COMPLETE WITH CAPITAL LETTERS OR OTHERWISE) you’d find Lhere Artepe opposed the by-laws. I just spoke to the TOs myself… they officially now support them. Which is of course their right. But that doesn’t make them right.

    And if you can point a single occasion where I “blamed all the problems in Alice Spring son racism” fire away…. Fan of the straw man technique are we Dave?

  28. Chris Graham

    PS. Centrecorp co-owns Alice Springs shopping centre (with Lhere-artepe). And the policies were put in place more than a decade ago (before they owned it). Doesn’t excuse them now, Dave, but what was that about sloppy research?

  29. RaymondChurch

    Go have a nice wine and a lie down Chris your mind is closed, you really are a waste of space. Everyone wrong and you right. Stop boring everyone, get a life,

  30. Jim Reiher

    Hi David, thanks for your extra thoughts. I agree that a number of different things are playing together… class, race, and more. But racism is one of the ingredients. I think we both accept the probability of that.

    Collective responsibility is tricky but not to be dodged. I have heard some say with great indignation: “I did not “steal” any indigenous babies, why do I have to say sorry?” or “I was not poisoning anyone water holes back in the early days of settlement. Why do I have to feel any concern for the descendants of those people?”

    Sadly this kind of throw away line fails to note that even though you and I did not personally poison any water holes, or steal any children…. nevertheless You and I are both beneficiaries of those actions. We are in our nice homes and better lifestyles, partly because the injustices of the past took place. (Perhaps an analogy would be the grandchildren of Nazi war criminals living well off the sale of art stolen from others by their grandparents while in power.)

    Do we accept that our high standard of living (compared to most of the world) is partly due to the injustices that were done to indigenous Australians all those years ago? Or do we pretend it does not matter?

    Or course more is at work in causing today’s indigenous to be generally poor and more often in jail than whites. Of couse poor white Aussies can be homeless too. I would not deny those other realities. But it still does not escape the fact that racism is alive and well in our country. We owe the indigenous of this land more than an apology. The apology was a start, but sadly the follow up has not happened.

  31. Dave Richards

    Chris: If it wasn’t sloppy research, it was omitting significant details in order to paint incredibly broad brush strokes using a liberal dose of tar and feathers for the sake of political grandstanding . As they say. never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And I never said Lhere Artpe’s approval made the bylaws right, so you don’t have to argue that point.

    Jim: I think we have to be very careful about what we “owe” anyone. How would you like it if you thought other people believed your success in life depended on how they treated you? Wouldn’t that make you feel rather powerless? I would strongly argue that over-emphasising racism has encouraged a sense of both powerlessness and entitlement among some Aboriginal people.

    And then we come to definitions of racism. Was Olive Pink racist? She is considered a champion of land rights who devoted her life to defending the rights of Aboriginal people, and all the while advocated removing part Aboriginal children from their families because she believed they endangered the purity of the race and the culture. Peter Severin from Curtin Springs Roadhouse was called a racist because he wouldn’t serve Aboriginal people alcohol after the the law changed. After he was forced to, he was called racist and callous because he did serve them. So in co-operation with the Pitjantjajra people he reached a solution, and was almost taken to court again recently for discriminating against Aboriginal people.

    I don’t claim that I am free of racism, but I endeavour to be. I have a simple definition of racism which I tried to teach my boys as they grew up in our small ex-government house (about as comfortable as the houses many Aboriginal people in the Territory have or at one stage had). To me racism means judging people on the basis on the color of their skin or racial origins. Nothing more, nothing less. It does not mean subscribing to the value of particular political solutions or ideologies or philosophies. If I believe for example that people should not be funded to live in remote outstations which they rarely occupy, or that all forms of social security should be delivered only on the basis of need, that does not make me a racist. I may be wrong or right in those views, and in most cases history will deliver the judgement.

    Beyond racism is the more important question of how we treat other human beings in general. You may not be a racist but if you treat everyone like shit, or habitually dismiss people who don’t agree with your opinions as a lower form of life, it hardly matters.

    As we can see, these are big issues, which require genuine thought, not political platitudes. I am not saying you are not thinking, Jim. But consider for a moment the possibility that enslaving Aboriginal people to welfare may be a very large reason for their bad health, low standard of living and poor educational outcomes.

  32. Chris Graham

    Nice long reply, Dave. Now have a look back over the policy you’ve spent about a thousand words defending.

  33. Jim Reiher

    I have appreciated the discussion. And even those I do not entirely agree with have offered some good food for thought in places. I appreciate it most when we can talk soberly and seriously. It takes us all further.

    So…When all is said and done, let’s hope and lobby for the homeless at Alice: so that they don’t have their blankets destroyed, and they don’t end up fined or even jailed for begging. (And I accept that we should be careful how we use the word racist). And let’s contribute to the much harder discussion of how to lift up the lives of the most desparately poor in our wealthy nation.

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