Triple J youth radio’s “Hack” panel on the NT indigenous plan: Davis, Wenitong and Doyle

Youth radio station Triple J’s “Hack” Indigenous Panel yesterday had a look at the Howard/Brough Northern Territory “emergency” plan. The full mp3 is available here.

Triple J’s Alice Brennan asked: “Who haven’t we heard from yet? The next generation of indigenous Australians – the ones who will be carrying this plan into the future.”

The panel participants were:

Megan Davis: director of Indigenous Law Centre UNSW. Davis is currently completing her Doctorate in Law, focusing on Aboriginal women in Australian democracy.

[image credit: UNSW]

Mark Wenitong: Australian Indigenous Doctors Association

[image credit: RHEF]

Floyd Doyle: Coordinator at the Remote Indigenous Radio, Alice Springs. You can listen to CAAMA Radio online here (it’s only working in Safari for me, but give it a go!).

A map of remote radio stations in central Australia.
[image credit: Australian Community Broadcasting Online. Modified slightly.]

My detailed show notes follow, arranged by panel participant. Most of this is paraphrase, with bits and pieces of my own commentary. (in italics)

Megan Davis raised major concerns with this plan, relating mostly to implementation and consultation, but also to motivation. This is an election year, with Howard trailing in the polls on social policy issues. Davis is annoyed at the insidious note in this debate that if you express concerns about this policy, you are accused of wanting children to be abused. She pointed out the ridiculousness of feeling forced into a “we love children” disclaimer. This is a liberal democracy, and the people have a right to critique policy.

Davis drew attention to one result of the framing of this issue as a “law and order” problem, which is the facile analysis that Aboriginal people are responsible for their own situation.

She went on to say that while funding for health and education is extremely important, the crucial issue to improve indigenous situation is attention to governance structures, and this has been shown over and over in the North American First Nations communities. The inherent rights of indigenous people to self-determination need to be recognised. Top-down approaches have never worked. When asked whether ATSIC the answer to self-determination, Davis replied that she did not know – that the governance structure needs to be decided in consultation with Aboriginal people. One issue with ATSIC was the dual administrative and representative roles leading ATSIC to being scapegoated by governments. Davis also said that she had been listening to Central Land Council, who are framing this plan as a land grab, and that is is appropriate to ask that question.

[Presenter: Could this situation be turned around by young indigenous people in Australia”?] “Possibly”, Davis replied, but only with a lot of money and a long term plan. One issue shining through in this debate is that extra-parliamentary representation and consultation with young Aboriginal people are absolutely crucial.

Dr Mark Wenitong’s opening remarks were that he was disappointed that his organisation, which has been involved in high-end health consulting in the past, was completely omitted. Again, the theme of no-consultation raises its ugly head. Wenitong hammered home the point that this is not a sudden or an unexpected “emergency”. There has been report after report on the appalling state of indigenous health in Australia, the AMA Report Cards say the same things year after year, and Australian indigenous health issues have attracted international concern. Wenitong wondered why concerns about infant mortality being three times the national average – a true national emergency – have been ignored.

Wenitong welcomes the idea of health checks, though he did not touch on the “compulsory” blustering (which the government has just backtracked on, having just asked, y’know, an actual healthcare practitioner about the plan.) He says that that is only the start, however; the government needs to analyse infrastructure needs, and above all fund healthcare, education and infrastructure on an ongoing basis. Wenitong thinks we have a chance to do this right, but is not convinced that we will; he said that we will do “something” out there and there may or may not be some short term benefits. But if long-term education and ongoing resourcing isn’t central to this – ultimately, it won’t change a thing.

Floyd Doyle said that it’s about time something was done. BUT that people in central Australia are very concerned about the way in which it will be implemented. People are frightened, having heard the words “army” and “police” as the plan is rolled out.

Doyle said that services are a major problem, that there is a dire need to train and retain people. He worries that people don’t stay around long enough to pass on skills to community members to create a sustainable level of services.
[Presenter: What would work to keep people in the bush?] Supplies, support, and recognition for workers. Again, Doyle says that training up local people instead of relying on imported workers is the only hope for the longer term.

Doyle is also uneasy about this plan as a land grab. There are “minerals underneath the ground”, he said, and the local people think this is what the plan is about. He also raises a point about tourism and the permit system/land rights (something I haven’t seen yet in this debate), saying that tourists say, “We want to see the true Aborigine, we want to see how they live”. He says it can be like being in a zoo, and that there are fears about tourists having free access to sacred sites.

[Presenter: Could this be a turning point for young aboriginal people?] Absolutely: but it will take a generation, and a lot of money and resources. Education, food, shelter, health: young people need these basic things to grow and prosper.


In other news, don’t miss: SBS’s “Living Black” documentary, Sunday 8th July at 6 pm. Grabbing this copy off the SBS website before the typo is fixed:

As well as paying tribute to the past 50 years of NAIDOC [National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee], Living Black will focus on discussing Prime Minister John Howard’s recent plans to address child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory. The Federal Government’s plans have been announced following the release of a report “Little Children Are Scared”, which investigated the abuse of Indigenous children in the NT.

Guests will include the HREOC’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, Northern Territory MP and Member for Arnhem, Barbara McCarthy and Chairperson of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, Muriel Bamblett.

Categories: culture wars, indigenous, Politics, social justice

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2 replies

  1. Mark Wenitong suffers from a condition which sometimes results in very serious bouts of vomiting. Fronting up to different emergency departments in the middle of the night, he has had the compassionate response from triage along the lines of “you need to ease up on the grog’.
    His mother , incidently, was the first ever aboriginal health worker on the cape.

  2. Wow; those stereotypes are strong, aren’t they? Nothing like a snap diagnosis based on racist assumptions to lead someone down the dangerously-bad-medicine path.
    That’s interesting about his mother! What a wonderful, pioneering role model.

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