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The Northern Territory Emergency Response laws:

"Acts of Infamy"

Irene Fisher

Sydney, 13 February 2010

I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this country the Gadigal people, and to thank the volunteers of STICS for inviting me to address this rally. I'd also like to thank them for the tireless efforts to fight for the rights of Indigenous people living on remote communities in the Northern Territory

I will keep this brief ... I feel that I have been talking on this issue pretty well non-stop since 21 June 2007. On that day, as many of you would know, a decision was made in the halls of power to remove the rights of around 40,000 Aboriginal Territorians.

That was - in my view - a day of infamy in this nation's history.

And that infamy continues to this day.

All of you here today enjoy the protection and rights afforded by the Racial Discrimination Act. That Act, in turn, is based on international law.

The laws that were then passed in the Federal parliament relating to the Northern Territory Emergency Response - with virtually no inquiry or debate amount to Acts of Infamy by our so-called leadership in Canberra.

And what has the Emergency Response - better known as the Intervention - achieved for these 40,000 Aboriginal people?

The answer is, very little.

While it is true that increased resources have gone into Comprehensive Primary Health Care, the reality is that the real growth has been in the bureaucracy and the public service. The administration of the racist income management processes - which only Aboriginal people must undergo - is costing some $80-90 million dollars a year.

After two and a half years, very few of the promised housing has eventuated.

After two and a half years, school attendance rates - the worst in the western world - have remained at historic lows, with only minor improvements in a handful of schools.

After two and a half years, unemployment remains the highest in the country.

After two and a half years, the rights of our countrymen and women in the Northern Territory remain circumscribed and limited with the removal of the protection of the Racial Discrimination Act.

A couple of days ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took questions from young Australians on ABC television. As has been his habit since he was elected as prime minister, he urged us to look at the evidence, and take an evidence-based approach to policy and its implementation.

Well then, let's look at the evidence.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the removal of civil and human rights improves people's health, education, housing or employment outcomes.

None whatsoever.

In fact, the evidence is exactly the opposite.

Mr Prime Minister: listen!

Evidence from around the world points explicitly to the fact that inequality breeds ill health. Those who are poor and powerless have far, far worse health outcomes than those - like our politicians in Canberra - who enjoy higher status.

The evidence is explicit. The removal of rights - the removal of legal protections - the removal of civil and human rights - makes you sick.

So, despite all the posturing and lies, the removal of the protection of the Racial Discrimination Act for those 40,000 Aboriginal people - who are already at the bottom of every social determinant you can measure - will have the effect of reducing health outcomes.

And the tragedy of this is that this tragedy is rolling out intergenerationally. Every child that has been born to a prescribed community since 21 June 2007 has been born under these Acts of Infamy. Every child - thousands of them by now - has been born without the rights of all other children born in Australia.

In fact, children born to refugees in Australia enjoy greater rights than Aboriginal kids. International law protects these children - international legal protection has been deliberately withheld from Aboriginal kids.

Those laws are currently being considered by the federal parliament - the same institution that removed our rights two and a half years ago.

The laws will be considered by parliamentarians whose lives are far, far removed from the lives of the 40,000 people living on the prescribed communities. They will be considered by politicians who enjoy all the rights and privileges that come with being an Australian - including the protection of international law.

They will be considering laws that have created a people who have been exiled in their own land - the Aboriginal men, woman and children who live under these Acts of Infamy.

The worst thing about this is that, because the proposed changes link the restoration of the Racial Discrimination Act with an extension of income quarantining to non-Aboriginal people, we are faced with an enormously difficult choice.

In passing the new Intervention laws, welfare measure that have never been demonstrated to work, will be rolled out across the country to catch people across the nation.

But - and this is where Aboriginal people in the Territory are in an impossible position - failure to pass these laws will mean that our countrymen and women will be forced to live without the protection of civil and human rights indefinitely.

As if two and a half years have not been enough - we are destined to see many thousands more of our children being born under these Acts of Infamy.

As Stephanie Bell pointed out the other day - failure to pass the Intervention laws means our rights are being ransomed into the future.

And - friends - this is happening without the famous evidence that Prime Minister Rudd insists we must pay attention to. It is happening when the evidence - in fact - points in the exact opposite direction.

Mind you, the leader of the Opposition leader Tony Abbott is arguably worse: he has this week point blank said that our 40,000 countrymen and women should be permanently removed from the rights that all other Australians - including the members of his coalition - continue to enjoy.

Friends, I fear that we are heading for a very long struggle for our countrymen and women in the Northern Territory. But it is a struggle that must be maintained as fellow citizens our brothers and sisters on the Territory's prescribed communities.

At the launch of "This is what we said" a book of quotes from people who have spoken up against the intervention, I quoted Pastor Martin Niemoller who said this about pre war Germany -

First they came for the communists and I did not speak out -

Because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionist and I did not speak out -

Because I was not a trade Unionist

Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me -

And there was no one left to speak out for me.

Friends in closing I say let us speak out for the rights of our fellow Australians, let us take our voice from a whisper to a roar that reverberates across this great country of ours, and bring about equality for all Australians.

Thank you


Reproduced with the kind permission of Irene Fisher.