Indigenous People in the Northern Territory of Australia have struggled for the past 16 months to “roll back” the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) legislation, more commonly known as the “intervention,” which the government introduced in 2007.
None of the 73 communities it impacted were consulted before NTER was enacted, but more to the point, it was introduced under a false pretense that won’t be long forgotten.
When it first went public, the government told us NTER was a result of the Little Children Are Sacred report, which examined in great detail the needs and challenges facing indigenous and non-indigenous children in Australia. The report also suggested there was wide-spread abuse of indigenous children, and offered a set of 97 recommendations on how the health and well-being of all children in Australia could be improved.
However, the reality soon set in: that children—far from being viewed as sacred—were being used as scapegoats for a plan that should have been met with wide-spread revulsion from the government, instead of near-unanimous support.
Emma Murphy, a co-editor for Green Left Weekly, spoke about the reality at the “World at a Crossroads” conference last month in Sydney, Australia.
- Giving the federal government the power to seize land which was granted to Indigenous people in 1976, and convert freehold title into five-year leases.
- Removal of Indigenous peoples’ right to control who enters their land, a right that had been protected through a widely supported permit system.
- Withholding 50% of the welfare payments due to Indigenous people in proscribed areas. The money is granted as store vouchers.
- Widespread bans on consumption of alcohol and pornography.
The legislation further suspended the Racial Discrimination Act (because the intervention was racist); empowered a (non-aggressive) military invasion; barred Community meetings unless an official government appointee was available; shut down several community-based services; allowed for surprise raids; and made health checks mandatory for all indigenous children, to ensure they were not being abused.
Child abuse, remember, was the whole point of the intervention.
Incidentally, 5 months after the legislation was enacted, word came in that they weren’t coming across any signs of “rampant” abuse. In fact, they weren’t finding any signs whatsoever. About the only thing they did find, according to one article, was “gingivitis.”
As for the people themselves, Murphy recalls, “the themes of shame, humiliation and dis-empowerment were constants among the people we spoke to in the NT during our visit last year.”
Anger and frustration are also quite common, as numerous community members have shown at protests and gatherings, in various interviews, and videos published on websites like Youtube.
The government has regularly ignored each and every one of their concerns or has otherwise brushed them off as misinformed gibberish.
The Great White Champion Government
The Great White Champion Government of Australia knows what’s best.
For the record, this is just as true with Kevin Rudd, as when John Howard was Prime Minister. In fact, despite Kevin Rudd’s gentle-sounding voice and pleasant demeanor, there’s scarcely a difference between the two.
The proof is in the policy, which Murphy explored in her presentation:
In February 2008, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people travelled to Canberra from around Australia – particularly from proscribed areas in the NT – to protest the Intervention and demand it be repealed. But that protest was overshadowed by the historical apology to the Stolen Generations, delivered by Rudd on the opening day of Parliament of the new government, February 13, 2008. It was a beautifully crafted speech promising a new era in race relations in this country. It raised the hopes of quite a few people.
The Rudd government followed up with ratification this year of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Under Howard, Australia was one of four countries that refused to ratify the Declaration in 2007.
But these symbolic measures sound very hollow to the people who continue to live under the racist policies of the Intervention. While the rhetoric of the Rudd government is different from that of Howard – there are no explicit attacks on “self-determination” – the substance of Aboriginal policy has not changed.
If anything, Rudd has managed to take some of Howard’s attacks further than Howard himself had time to. For example, Labor is now pressuring NT communities to sign their land over to the government as 40- or 99-year leases in return for basic infrastructure funding such as public housing. Some communities have succumbed, but others are standing strong and refusing to sign their land over.
The government plans to extend this bullying tactic and land grab across Australia. In March of this year, it announced that no more public funds were to be released to Aboriginal communities unless they sign their land over to 40-year leases.
The federal government has also talked about extending welfare quarantining into other parts of Australia.
The Rudd government commissioned an inquiry into the Intervention. It heard many moving submissions from Indigenous people talking about how they felt they’d been taken back to the rations days and how the men had been branded pedophiles and child abusers. The inquiry’s report recommended that would have removed the most punitive sections of the Intervention, for example, it said welfare quarantining should be voluntary and only enforced in proven cases of child abuse.
The government has ignored the inquiry, saying that the Intervention has now “stabilized” and will continue until at least 2012.
Murphy goes on to discuss the government’s attack on bilingual education and their yearning to drag indigenous communities into the “real economy”—a plan for which, incidentally, was announced on May 20, 2009.
Resistance. Solidarity. Unity.
With the amount of propaganda that Australia’s corporate media produces, it has been difficult to get a full and accurate picture of what’s happening to our Brothers and Sisters in Australia, “the land of fire”.
Rest assured, since day one they have done everything in their power to rally together, support one another, and to resist the social, political, religious, cultural, and economic molestation that is the “intervention.”
As a result, several “Aboriginal Rights coalitions have emerged across the country,” says Murphy: “We are seeing a cohering of a national leadership the likes of which we’ve not seen for a few decades.”
And many communities on their own are “refusing to sign their land over to the government.” Aswell, “the Proscribed Area People’s Alliance has formally taken the government to the United Nations, charging that the Intervention breaks numerous conventions. Amnesty International is pursuing similar avenues.” There’s also a common “awareness among many Indigenous people that the campaign to end the Intervention must broaden out to win support from the trade unions”—and, of course, among every day Australian’s who, if they were informed and given the choice, would not want to support the current govenrment.
After all, they are systematically, undermining the lives of Men, Women, and of course, Children… All because the government is either unwilling or incapable of seeing their own reflection in the tears of the those who only ever just wanted to be left alone.
For more information or to learn how you can help, visit any of the following sites: www.stoptheintervention.org, www.rollbacktheintervention.wordpress.com, www.womenforwik.org/, www.federalintervention.info/.