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A Way Forward

A Way Forward

Jeff McMullen

Address to Stop the Intervention rally,

Belmore Park, Sydney - June 20th 2009

In the western parts of the Amazon this month dozens of Amazonian Indigenous people have been shot dead by police, some firing from helicopters. Police may have been killed with spears. The dispute is the same one that threatens most of the world's 380 million Indigenous people. It is a battle for control of Indigenous land and Indigenous lives.

From the Amazon to Arnhem Land there is a very important link. Australia's governments are breaking international laws in the way they are trying to control Aboriginal lands and Aboriginal lives.

While Australia's government has apologized to Aboriginal people, adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and promised to ‘Close the Gaps', the treatment of Indigenous people remains patronising, discriminatory, assimilationist and unlawful.

Federal, State and Territory Governments keep promising consultation. But they arrange Aboriginal community meetings AFTER they have announced the government policies. This is hypocritical and unlawful.

In the Northern Territory and beyond the policies of the Intervention have never afforded Aboriginal people their legal rights to the control of land, family, community and culture.

For two years Australia's government has persisted with selective, racial, welfare quarantining and other measures that it admits are discriminatory. This too is against those same international laws that we have committed to honour as a nation.

Just as we once recognized Aboriginal Land Rights but then proceeded to unpick the meaning of Native Title, we are now trying to fiddle with the words so that discrimination could somehow be disguised as ‘special measures' to benefit Aboriginal people.

The truth is international law requires that Indigenous people have the right to decide whether or not they accept any such special measures, and as most were never consulted before these policies were announced, once more many feel confused, or worse, betrayed.

For example, even if the Federal government were to allow some Aboriginal people to individually apply NOT to have their welfare money managed, this process would remain discriminatory so long as Aboriginal people had to sit across a desk and beg a white official not to touch their family money.

This mechanism could only be non-discriminatory if it returned to the pre-Intervention situation where some communities voluntarily organised to have some money set aside to save for a fridge or stove, or to handle food bills at the local store.

You don't need a punitive, humiliating and massively damaging Intervention, you don't need 5 year leases or 40 year leases, to work with Aboriginal people on any of their genuine needs.

There is a pattern of treachery in Australia's relationship with its Indigenous people because each time a promise or an offer is made it is soon betrayed or made hollow because we refuse to listen and work with Aboriginal people on their own priorities.

We need to remind ourselves that genuine consultation and control are their lawful rights and the law itself guides us on how to move forward to solve this troubling paradox in our relations.

The control mechanisms, the social engineering plans for 20 Northern Territory Growth Towns and the insistence that federal money for housing must be accompanied by a community's willingness to sign a 40-year lease with the Australian Government, are a recipe for another era of pain and dysfunction.

If we are genuine about improving Aboriginal housing, health and education we should drop the threat of compulsory acquisition and the insistence on 40 plus 40 leases surrendering control of communities to federal government management.

Coercion, the evidence shows, will not work. Denying Aboriginal people control only delays the development of viable partnerships in all kinds of Indigenous organizations.

The answer is clear - we must listen and work with Aboriginal people and Aboriginal organizations - and together we can move on with the hard work of building equality.

If Aboriginal people believe that we are on that road to equality together, not merely trying to march them somewhere a government wants them to be, there will be far more confidence that there is a brighter future for all of our children.

Then the gloom of depression will lift. The gut wrenching emptiness of the Intervention will be replaced by hope. Australians will know that we can overcome the denial of our past and understand that Aboriginal people and the longer timelines of our history show us what it means to be Australian.

Jeff McMullen
Address to Stop the Intervention rally,
Belmore Park. Sydney June 20th 2009.