HR Day Speech on 13.12.08 by George Newhouse
Today is supposed to be a celebration
It's 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
But we can't enjoy this momentous event when Australian Aboriginals are being subjected to Government sanctioned racism.
I'm not speaking about individual acts of racism but a co-ordinated legislative campaign directed at Aboriginal Australians.
No one could argue about the importance of protecting women and children, which was the ostensible reason for the so-called "Intervention", but in reality there is not even a tenuous connection between many of the measures and the disease they are alleged to cure.
For example - How does taking Aboriginal Land under 5-year leases protect little children?
It doesn't and that makes that law racist and a breach of Australia's International obligations.
If the Federal Government was serious about attacking child abuse, it would have implemented the Little Children are Sacred Report.
That report focused on Aboriginal disadvantage and need .... it presented many positive reforms including better policing, education, care, consultation and support for victims and witnesses.
What it did not do was to recommend
- scrapping Aboriginal employment programmes,
- the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land or
- suspending the Racial Discrimination Act.
But when it was released, the Howard government was in election mode and one doesn't have to be too cynical to see that the "little children" were used to implement a hidden agenda. The intervention was an ideologically driven campaign by a government that was opposed to communal ownership of aboriginal land and assets:
- It allowed the government to grant star chamber criminal investigative powers against aboriginal men that had only ever applied to terrorists and Mafiosi before;
- It allowed the government to quarantine the social security payments of indigenous Australians;
- It allowed a rollback of indigenous cultural institutions like teaching local languages and the integration of traditional law into our legal system
- It allowed the government to "decapitate" Indigenous leadership, having already destroyed its national leadership, the former Government then turned its attention to local and communal Indigenous leadership; and
- Finally, the government got to change perceptions and reframe the narrative of the Stolen Generations.
It was a brilliant strategy.
The message to "get tough on blacks" appealed to hardliners but it also quieted everyday Australians. We could hardly object to protecting women and children from abuse. It didn't matter that the thrust of the government's policies were not connected to child abuse at all.
Supporters of the intervention accuse anyone who demands non-discriminatory solutions to the crisis as being in league with paedophiles and violent men. This was and still is the language used to silence critics.
But the inflammatory message that many Aboriginal men were paedophiles gave the former Government a unique opportunity to shift perceptions about the causes of indigenous squalor and reframe the history of the Stolen Generations.
The imposition of income management provisions is widely regarded as an insult to Aboriginal people in the Territory. The feeling of being stigmatised and restricted on the basis of race is having a deeply negative psychological impact. The system is creating segregated service delivery, leading to deep feelings of shame and an increased experience of racism in daily life.
It is scandalous that 60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our government has created an apartheid system where Aboriginal Australians are forced to line up in separate queues in grocery stores throughout the Northern Territory.
Far from improving access to "essential items" for families, income management has created extensive layers of bureaucracy for Aboriginal people to negotiate before they are able to access their entitlements. This has made dealing with all the demands on families such as travel, health care, food and rent much harder.
The current Federal government instigated a review of the intervention which concluded that the intervention is letting Aboriginal Australians down and was highly critical of the racist intervention regime.
Since then, the Federal Government declared that it will introduce reforms to allow the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act to be lifted, in 12 months' time.
We all welcome the Federal Government's announcement that the Racial Discrimination Act will be reinstated. However, the time taken for the transition to a new approach is too long for Aboriginals to wait.
But with no constitutional protection, indigenous Australians find themselves with no other recourse than to complain about their government to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
CERD has the power to urgently respond to problems which require "immediate attention to prevent or limit the scale or number of serious violations of the convention" and Aboriginal Australians like Barbara Shaw of the Prescribed Area People's Alliance has every intention of placing the world's spotlight on the Australian government's policies in prescribed areas in the Northern Territory.
Let me make it clear that "The protection of the rights of women and children is vital, but it need not and must not be at the expense of the right to protection from discrimination," and that "it is time a new approach by Government that is based on meaningful consultation with affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities".
We must keep the pressure up on the current Government. You can all make a personal stand against discrimination by pressing Jenny Macklin and our Prime Minister to introduce a new and consultative approach quickly and by calling on the independent and Liberal Senators to support these urgent reforms.
Finally you can help support Barbara Shaw with her campaign in the United Nations by contributing financially to her cause through the Intervention Rollback Action Group at www.rollbacktheintervention.wordpress.com.