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2008 International Human Rights Day Statement

This is a sign-on statement calling for the Rudd government to respect human rights, reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and scrap the NT Intervention. Please endorse and circulate widely. 

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 Aboriginal Australia Demands Justice Re-instate the Racial Discrimination Act; Repeal the Intervention laws


In March this year, Human Rights Commissioner, Tom Calma said, "The most revealing indicator that the NT intervention was not consistent with human rights principles was the provision at the centre of the legislative machinery used to support the intervention, namely suspending the operation of Racial Discrimination Act."

Yet the Rudd government says the Racial Discrimination Act will remain suspended and a blanket welfare quarantine from which there is no appeal will be maintained for at least the next year.

Under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), leases and government business managers have been imposed on prescribed communities. Overcrowding, lack of basic infrastructure, health and education services, which have for decades shamed successive Australian governments, are now being used by government bureaucrats to force communities to relinquish even more control of their land.

The only houses built in twelve months of the Intervention have been for the business managers many of which are unoccupied. 'Prescribed' communities have been offered millions in housing only if they lease their land to the government for 40, 60 or even 90 years.

Programs empowering local communities to deal with issues of alcohol abuse, domestic violence and education, have been discarded as the NTER has taken bureaucratic control. The recommendations of the "Little Children Are Sacred" report are being ignored.

The NT Intervention is based on Racial Discrimination:

An Intervention that relies on the suspension of the very Act designed to protect people from racism, makes a mockery of any claim that it is for the benefit of Aboriginal people.

That the Rudd Labor government says it will re-instate the RDA next year is an admission that it is currently violating the human rights of Aboriginal people.

Welfare rights are non-negotiable:

The Intervention represents a wholesale attack on Australia's commitment to universal social security rights. "Income management" means Aboriginal people in affected communities cannot access welfare payments in cash like non-Aboriginal Australians. Half of their payments are issued in gift-vouchers, or store cards which control where people shop and what they are able to buy. Some communities literally rely on the uncertain delivery of food parcels. In other places people can no longer budget, and have no money to attend funerals, ceremonies, or even buy Christmas presents.

Self-determination - Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs:

"For old people the intervention is bringing up bad memories of the past, the old days, the ration days, the dog tag days and the mission days" (Women's statement from the inaugural Prescribed Area People's Alliance, September 29 2008).

The NT Intervention has seen government take control of the prescribed communities. The Federal government now dictates which communities will get basic housing, and which will be left with appalling overcrowding, which stores will thrive, and which will be forced to fold. It has raised the prospect of communities declared to be "unviable" being denied funding and basic welfare rights.

It is clear that the 12 months the Rudd Government plans to continue current Intervention policies will be used to ensure government control of the communities in future decades.

But communities are standing strong against government control: "Our laws don't change.  White people are changing their law all the time. We have been practicing our culture for thousands and thousands of generations. We want to strongly maintain and practice our culture.  We want to stay in our communities and pass on traditional knowledge to the future generations (Women's statement from the inaugural Prescribed Area People's Alliance, September 29 2008).

Never Again

In February 2008, Prime Minister Rudd said "Sorry" on behalf of the Australian Parliament: "We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again".

But injustices are happening now in the name of the NT Intervention. The paternalism that created "the gap" between the lives of the rest of Australia and the appalling living conditions for Aboriginal people across the country, is alive and well.

The assimilation policies that resulted in the Stolen Generations are being imposed on new generations of Aboriginal children who are forced to leave their homelands to access basic education and any prospect of future employment.

The solution to the poverty and disadvantage of Aboriginal communities begins with self-determination - allowing effected communities to decide what programs are needed and how they will be implemented.

The Labor government's own NTER Review (14 October 2008) stated, "...addressing specific concerns of Aboriginal communities does not require the exclusion of fundamental human rights such as the Racial Discrimination Act."

A continuation of these Intervention policies is not acceptable to the prescribed Aboriginal communities who have had their rights suspended since June 2007, and it is not acceptable to an Australian community committed to human rights.

We therefore call on the Rudd Government to immediately re-instate the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and to end the NT Intervention policies which remove basic welfare and human rights for Aboriginal people.

-            Immediately reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act
-            Repeal the NT Intervention laws
-            All Intervention funds to be controlled by Aboriginal community organisations
-            Protect full welfare rights for all people
-            Immediately sign the International Declaration on Indigenous Peoples

Endorsed by:

Prescribed Area People's Alliance (PAPA) meeting, Alice Springs, November 7th 2008, STICS (Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney), Professor Larissa Behrendt, Director of Research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning UTS, Mark McMillan LLB GDLP LLM Senior researcher, Alison Vivian BSC Dip Ed LLB LLM, Women's Reconciliation Network NSW, 

To add your endorsement please email: [email protected] or call 0449 646 593

National Actions for International Human Rights Day 2008:

Alice Springs: Rally Saturday 13th December 4pm. Call Barb: 0401291166

Sydney: Rally Saturday 13th December 10am, the Block, Redfern Call Monique: 0415410558

Brisbane: Rally Saturday 13th December Queens Park 2pm. Call Rob: 0424265730

Melbourne: Call Anna 0429136935

Wollongong: TBA call Dootch: 0431184494