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Stronger Futures will kill us 4-3-12


4 March 2012


"Stronger Futures will kill us"

The federal government's special measures under the proposed Stronger Futures laws "will kill Aboriginal people", a forum in Maningrida, broadcast by National Indigenous Television (NITV), heard from an Elder. Elders and traditional owners from West, Central and East Arnhem Land came to the forum and vented many deep concerns about the legislation, already passed by the House of Representatives and soon to be decided by the Senate.

"They're using a different name, but the formula is the same [as the Intervention]. What this will do - it's going to kill Aboriginal people. There will be more health problems, there will be more problems to do with violence, there will be more crime in the communities."

Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, asking on a visit why things hadn't changed with the Intervention, was told, "people are starting to react, for five years they have reacted to what you have done, and your government, John Howard's government and now the Labor government.

"It's going to be worse and I'm warning Jenny Macklin and Julia Gillard and her government, if you go for 10 years [the plan for the legislation], there will be more violence, there will be more fights, people will start to react because their liberty has been challenged and taken away, their right has been taken away, they have been dehumanised.

"They will determine what they want. If this government is not careful, people will start to react. People are doing a lot of bad things because of what the government is doing. Give us back the homelands, put it back on the agenda. Our people are dying, there are funerals by funerals every month, every week in Arnhem Land. Leave us alone, we will fix our problems ourselves."

This hour of television is a crash course in Northern Territory Aboriginal issues. It covers a raft of them.

Maningrida, located 600 kilometres east of Darwin, with a population of more than 3,000, is the second largest Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. It contains more than 30 homelands, is rich country which inspires its world famous art.

It's one of four locations in the NT where a Senate committee held hearings. If passed, the legislation will greatly increase government control and shape the future of many Aboriginal people for probably a generation, because the measures won't suddenly stop after 10 years.

Everyone at the televised meeting put the lie to government claims that there had been thorough consultation with communities. I'm combining several people's voices in my quotations.

"We never asked for 10 years, there was no proper consultation with Aboriginal people in the communities. That consultation was rushed and not done properly. Trying to push for 10 years is ridiculous. The government's interpretation of consultation is a fallacy in a lot of respects. They've only received it the way they want to receive it and not what the community message has been.

"No consultation from the grassroots level up was ever considered. Everyone is frustrated by the consultation business, the decisions have already been mae in Canberra." A woman: "We are talking about the future of Aborigines right across the nation." It was not right for government "to govern our people," said another woman.

"Power has been taken off the people in all the communities and I don't think they have the right to do that. We have had our own laws since the beginning of the world. We have the capacity of taking care of us instead of being pushed to what is not known to us."

The man whose words open this report: "This is scary. It's going to take control of everything. It leaves Elders and the community hopeless. It's the opposite of what we've been saying. This is the last straw for the Aboriginal people in this community.

"We must say no to each of those measures that the minister is trying to put through. We must be very strong to say no, because if this power is delegated to the minister, we've got nothing. She could go to any community and demand what she wants - the land, the resources, mining. We just sit and do nothing.

"This is a breach of customary law that has always been maintained - law, spirituality, resources, minerals, in this country." There was no prior informed consent to any of this, said another man, "that's been a constant battle".

The meeting heard that carrying a bottle of beer through a prescribed area is punishable by half a year's jail. Several women spoke on that theme. Jailing would separate spouses and children from their parents. It would be better for offenders to serve their time in community outstations and be healed Aboriginal way.

"People going to prison are missing out on their children, on their wives, their families, their funerals."

Government was called on to subsidise food prices which are exorbitant up north. With half of family incomes quarantined on Basic Cards, it was very hard to look after children and there were many going hungry in all remote communities. "Subsidise the cost of food and you'll see the nutrition of children improve."

Stronger Futures would take away three months of welfare from a family if children have not attended school for five days in one term. All kids attend school in the wet season, several participants explained. The dry season was the time when children went bush with their parents to learn the culture. "We balance our lives into white culture - how come we can't practice our culture?"

The importance of bilingual education was stressed again and again. "There should be a bilingual education curriculum in every Aboriginal school where Aboriginal people speak their first language. English is a second or third language."

Non-Aboriginal people are not being punished like this - "why is this only for Aboriginal people?" "We live in culture, the government will never change that. We're going to lose our land, we're going to lose our culture, we're going to lose our language. Language and the land are so important to us."

Like I said, an enormously educative piece of video even for someone who follows Aboriginal affairs fairly closely. This comes right from the heart of the pain being inflicted in the NT. It should be obligatory fare for every classroom, every media person and every politician. No wonder the government was iffy about continuing to fund NITV.


Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

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