Further update – Sunday 20 September – While browsing the net for background on a story I’m working on for tomorrow’s Crikey I came across the excerpt extracted below from the Alice Springs News of 3 September 2009.

Further to this post and the one following I have highlighted the relevant comments from Alison Anderson that seem at odds with comments made by Richard Downs.

I’ll ask Richard about Alison’s comments a bit later today:

“Death by consultation.” By KIERAN FINNANE.

For the Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG), led by Mount Nancy town camp resident Barbara Shaw, it must have seemed like a coup: here supposedly was a joint statement from MLA Alison Anderson, well known supporter of the Intervention, and Richard Downs and Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, well-known opponents. It was calling for Aboriginal nations “to stand up against the absolute racist oppression, forced assimilation and attempts to destroy Aboriginal people being caused by the intervention measures”.

Ms Anderson has rocked a few boats lately – was this another one? She was still on the road back from Ampilatwatja where she had met with Mr Downs and Mrs Kunoth-Monks when she told the Alice News: “Those are Richard’s and Rosie’s words. “I’m not going against the Intervention, but they are because they haven’t seen any good come out of it.”

She says the joint statement was put together by a white woman on the community and she had not checked it before leaving to return to Alice Springs.

“At no stage did I say that I didn’t support the Intervention, but we can’t have a continuous Intervention – we need human and social development.

“At Ampilatwatja they’ve seen nothing come out of the Intervention except for a police presence at Alpara. “They’ve sat there for two years thinking something will happen and nothing has. I’d rather live in the bulldust than in the houses out there.” What about Income Management, one of the strongest initiatives of the Intervention – does that not also apply at Ampilatwatja? Says Ms Anderson: “I still think Income Management is a good thing – when I’m travelling around I can see the faces of the kids shining because they’re getting enough to eat. “But some people at Ampilatwatja don’t like it, they want to be able to manage their own money.” She says the Eastern Plenty has been failed by government policy, including the Working Futures policy which she launched while still Minister for Indigenous Policy with the Territory Government.

Update – Monday 31st August – I have now been able to establish that the media release considered below is in fact genuine.

In a following post I’ll put up an interview that I held with one of the signatories, Richard North, earlier today that sorts out a few of the questions I posed below.

Well, a few of them anyway.

Earlier today I again tried to contact Alison Anderson through her electorate office in Alice Springs. The mobile of one of her electorate officers was switched off but at the office itself I was informed by one of her staff that “Alison Anderson has concerns about the Media Release” but that staffer refused to elaborate on those concerns other than to say that Ms Anderson would make no further comment.

Ms Anderson would be “out bush” for the rest of the week. I pointed out to Ms Anderson’s staffer that she must surely be within mobile range (thanks Telstra) sometime soon and that I would be happy to speak to  her at any time and merely sought some answers to a number of obvious questions that arose from her apparent dramatic change of heart concerning the NT Intervention.

It is also a reasonable expectation that a politician that puts their name and contact details on a media release that reveals a fundamental change of philosophical and political direction would make themselves available to respond to the many questions that arise from those revelations.

But the usual rules of political behaviour don’t necessarily apply in the NT and also, apparently, to the conduct of our newly independent member for Mcdonnell.

That’s all by way of an update here – wander over to the next post for a look at the interview I conducted earlier today with Richard Downs, a co-signatory of the Media Release with Alison Anderson and Rosalie Kunoth Monks.

If there was one issue on which Alison Anderson has maintained a consistent position over the past two years of her turbulent tenure as MLA for the remote NT seat of Macdonnell it was her voluble support for the NT Intervention.

Just a month ago she was quoted in the NT News, praising former federal indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough and criticising her own party’s equivocal support for the Intervention:

“The fact is that Mal Brough had the guts to trigger an intervention. I think the man had guts,” she is quoted as saying. “I think what federal Labor has now done is the opposite.
“It is killing off the intervention without killing off the intervention. “We are killing people by consultation.”

As former chair of the NT Intervention Task Force, Sue Gordon told The Australian three weeks ago, Anderson:

“…is a very passionate lady, and she does put Aboriginal people first,” retired West Australian magistrate Sue Gordon said. “She was the only member of the NT government who stood up and supported the emergency response.”

In the same article the architect of the NT Intervention, Howard’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough also supported Anderson’s resolute support for his Intervention:

“Alison Anderson, to her enormous credit, has been consistent on these issues now for a number of years,” he said. “She has stood up to the bullies in the Labor Party and has now finally made the ultimate sacrifice. That is true principle…”

But it seems that consistency those “true principles” have been ditched and Anderson has joined the ranks of the “urbanised saviours” that she has so vehemently criticised in the past who:

“…know nothing about living amongst the poverty and abuse in remote communities have condemned the intervention,” Ms Anderson said. “My people need real protection, not motherhood statements from urbanised saviours. I live my law and culture and I will represent my people regardless of what’s fashionable. My people need the help and want the help from this intervention.”

Yesterday – according to the Media Release attached below – Anderson joined the widely respected and outspoken Chairperson of the Barkly Shire Council, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks (who would be more familiar to many Australians as the female lead in the ’50’s film Jedda) and Richard Downs, a spokesperson for the hundred or so residents of Ampilatwatja that walked off from their township to a remote bush camp a months ago.

As recently as two weeks ago Richard Downs was scathing of Anderson’s performance as the local member representing his community.

As he told the ABC’s Alice Brennan, his community was:

“…disappointed they have not heard from the politician. “Nothing,” Richard Downs said. “It just shows to me what sort of a person she is. “She doesn’t have concerns enough to give us a call and say, ‘Look, I’m going to visit with you, I’m going to listen to you and see what we can do.’ “You know the rules, you should have stayed in there and looked after your constituents – that’s both black and white. “Look, do what you want to do but we certainly ain’t gonna support you no longer.”

Downs has been a savvy user of the internet and the media and has established the InterventionWalkOff blog and website to give voice to his community’s concerns.

In a recent post, entitled “We are refugees in our own country”, the residents of Ampilatwatja made clear their views about the NT Intervention:

“The NTER legislation constitutes serious, substantial and persistent racial discrimination against Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, multiple violations of the Race Convention and other international human rights covenants, to which Australia is signatory.
Aboriginal people had no other option but to walk off the Prescribed Area, thereby removing them from being subject to the NTER legislation, and which additionally accords them the status of being internally displaced refugees.”

So, to The Northern Myth at least, it is more than passing strange that Anderson would join with such strident critics of the Intervention which she has, perhaps with equal vigour, supported.

But in the weird world that passes for NT politics right now surprises are coming thick and fast. And just maybe Anderson took the trenchant criticisms from her constituents at Ampilatwatja to heart.

Yesterday Anderson, Kunoth-Monks and Downs co-signed what appears on its face to be an extraordinary press release (see text below), with the following as a joint statement:

“Richard, Rosalie, and Alison stated that “Aboriginal people are depressed and cannot see the light for the future, after experiencing decades of marginalisation, decades of being treated as second class citizens in their own country and the absolute racist oppression.”

Anderson is quoted as saying:

“…the failure over decades of health, education and basic infrastructure, has been an attempt to keep Aboriginal people unhealthy, uneducated and locked in poverty”, to weaken the people so they cannot fight.”

“this is the proudest moment of her life; to be here, with Alyawarra people, to hear and see them saying: “enough”.

The Northern Myth had some concerns that the joint Media Release may not be genuine, in part because of the extraordinary nature of what appears to be a world-class backflip-with-double-pike from Anderson to withdraw her consistent support for the Intervention and also because it was riddled with spelling, grammatical and syntactical errors.

Downs, Kunoth-Monks and Anderson give their contact phone numbers at the bottom of the press release as media contacts.

The Northern Myth called Downs several times but his phone was switched off.

Kunoth-Monks is “in town” and staff at the Barkly Shire don’t know her mobile number.

Anderson’s contact number on the media release is for her electorate office in Alice Springs.

The Northern Myth called late last night and eventually spoke to Anderson’s electorate officer, John Rawnsley, who is also a blogger, Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs, and was, at least as recently as last month, Anderson’s “anointed” successor for her seat of MacDonnell.

Rawnsley was unaware of Anderson’s comments in the media release, saying only that as far as he knew she was “out bush and beyond mobile range”.

The Northern Myth spoke to Anderson’s electorate office this morning and was again informed that she was “out bush and out of mobile range” but that would try to pass a message to her.

As at the time of posting Anderson has not responded to The Northern Myth.

All a bit strange for the co-signatories to a Media release trumpeting an event that Anderson described as “the proudest moment of her life”.

But Anderson has been promising a lot lately.

Just three weeks ago, after walking away from her position as the most powerful elected Aboriginal woman in the country, she told the ABC that events of the first day of sitting of the NT Parliament in the following week would be:

“…the biggest day in Territory history,” she said. “Let’s all wait until Tuesday. I think it’s going to be the greatest gift to Territorians. “It will be the greatest surprise to Territorians. I’ll leave the surprise as a whole package.”

There was no “big day”, no “great gift” and no “great surprise. It all ended in tears, with Alison’s grand plans in tatters thanks to the deal done between Gerry Wood and NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson.

And it remains to be seen how Anderson implements the call made in yesterday’s media release to:

“…stand up against the absolute racist oppression, forced assimilation and attempts to destroy Aboriginal people being caused by the Intervention measures.”

The Northern Myth still cannot confirm whether the Media Release is genuine…if you know otherwise, please pass on a comment to that effect.

For present purposes we are assuming it is genuine.

Here is the text of the Media Release – make of it what you will.

MEDIA RELEASE – The First Australians call for an end to oppression

Aboriginal people are standing up and calling on all the leaders from all the Aboriginal nations, to stand united against oppression and dictatorship

Statement from Richard Downs, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, and Alison Anderson,

27 August 2009.

This is a very significant day…on this day, Richard Downs, community elders and members from Ampilatwatja, and Rosalie Kunoth-Monks met with Alison Anderson, Independent member for Macdonnell.

A resolution was made to call together the Aboriginal nations, from across the Territory, to unite under one banner to stand up against the absolute racist oppression, forced assimilation and attempts to destroy Aboriginal people being caused by the intervention measures.

Richard, Rosalie, and Alison stated that “Aboriginal people are depressed and cannot see the light for the future, after experiencing decades of marginalisation, decades of being treated as second class citizens in their own country and the absolute racist oppression.”

Alison Anderson stated that “the failure over decades of health, education and basic infrastructure, has been an attempt to keep Aboriginal people unhealthy, uneducated and locked in poverty”, to weaken the people so they cannot fight.

Aboriginal people have been patient for too long; but no longer – enough is enough. It is time for the people to come together…with one voice.

Alison said “this is the proudest moment of her life; to be here, with Alyawarra people, to hear and see them saying: “enough”. Alison has now made a commitment to rally her peoples across the following nations and language groups: Pintupi, Walpiri, Pitjantjara, Yangantjara, Arrernte (Eastern and Western), Lowitja, to join with the people from Ampilawatja on Alyawarr land, in their struggle against oppression.

Rosalie will rally people from the Utopia region; Anmatjarra, Kateytye and Waramungu to come together over the next weeks.

Aboriginal people come from a noble lineage; Mother Earth holds us to this land – we belong to this land; the land underpins everything that we are. Our language, our laws, our culture, and our rituals are an expression of this belonging, which has been in place since time immemorial. The land and law is us – no one can separate that.

From that place of safety and strength, we call on all the Aboriginal nations to unite with us and call on all levels of government to stop dictating the terms to Aboriginal.

The “Aboriginal industry” is worth billions of dollars, which is squandered by never ending layers of bureaucracy. Aboriginal people call for control of their own affairs – through direct funding from the federal government for our plans and visions for the future, rather than being squandered by the Northern Territory government on things like wave pools and convention centres.

“Let us set the flames alight”, said Richard Downs – let us remove ourselves from the governments’ oppression and unite and strengthen each other, in our resolve to no longer be dictated to.

For more information: www.interventionwalkoff.wordpress.com

Media contacts:

Richard Downs – spokesperson Alyawarra nation

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks – spokesperson Utopia region

Alison Anderson – Independent member for Macdonnell

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