Living Black

First, a news snippet:

The Age: Indigenous land takeover angers NT govt

NT Attorney-General [and Member for Nhulunbuy] Syd Stirling said Aboriginal communities territory-wide were angry, confused and talking of legal action. He said the territory government was seeking advice from the Justice Department about what shape the commonwealth’s proposed amendment to the Land Rights Act might take “and then what we as a government might do”.

The Central Land Council and Northern Land Council (NLC) were expected to support any legal action and “present a united front”, he said. “If your rights are taken away there is generally a legal recourse and a legal challenge. This is critical to indigenous people in these communities… that permit is a signal to everybody else that they own that land. If that is taken away, and the views are that this is the first step, then you are beginning to unwind Aboriginal land rights.


But on to the meat of this post – SBS’s Living Black last night was a special on the Federal government’s Northern Territory “emergency plan”. I made a few notes, in case you missed it (or are following along from overseas). The “quotes” are paraphrase – I hope I have represented people’s statements accurately. I have added bits ‘n’ pieces ‘n’ links from the Web. My own comments and extra snippets not from the show are in italics. Bits I found particularly head-explodey are in bold.


First, a snapshot of the self-governing Maningrida community in Arnhem Land, home to 2600 people and a “high profile” abuse case. Their system for alcohol rationing is said to be working well, with everyone rationed two cartons of beer per fortnight. People worry that by banning alcohol completely, more people will go to Darwin to drink, leaving their children behind. The community is working on alcohol-related problems, with community “strong women” having started their own night patrol, getting children off the streets.

A Maningrida resident is particularly worried about government intervention. She says it is seen by local women in threatening terms, as threat to women and children. Rumours are spreading that police and army are coming to take children away. She says that women are taking children off into bush, frightened of removal.

Concerns are also raised that the quarantining welfare payments will see residents default on loans. There is already a system in place to put welfare payments aside to pay back bank loans. A Maningrida woman states: “it could be good for some people, but not for others. Some people do well with their money, do the right thing. This is putting us all into the same bowl, the same dish“.

Lastly, the government is sending “mixed messages”. The community has established their own child protection program of sexual abuse education and victim support. This programme was highlighted in the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle (Little Children Are Sacred) report, which recommended it as a model for other communities. However, their application for extended funding for the plan was rejected only days after the government “emergency” plan was announced.

(From the ABC News on this funding issue:

[Brough:] “What we’re trying to do is to work with them but we aren’t just going to come in here and write cheques for every organisation when there needs to be a joint effort.”

Federal Labor MP Warren Snowdon, whose seat takes in all of the remote parts of the NT, says eight family violence programs being run in other Indigenous communities have been rejected for ongoing federal funding. “These are active family violence programs there to protect children and families. [Mr Brough’s] department is winding them up,” Mr Snowdon said.

Brough Interview

Asked – “Why quarantine welfare?”, Brough responded that the government needs to remove some of the additional income that has been adding to the problem – “fuelling the fire” for alcohol and drug use. The drug runners move out, Brough asserted, when the income level in a community drops. He reiterated that they’re not there for long time, this is an emergency measure only. [How does this jibe with widening the punitive welfare system to non-Aboriginal communities, hmmm?]

On land: Brough says that the permit system will continue in homelands and sacred sites, and that the purpose of the land grab is to protect communities from people who will do the wrong thing. “There are people who have hidden own nefarious activities behind the permit system” he says, “and often they’re quite vocal about retaining it.” (Nice – “Anyone who opposes me is obviously a pedophile!” Haven’t we seen this tactic used, over and over again, by dimwitted Usenet trolls?)

Asked “Won’t dismantling the permit system just open communities up to more grog running and people preying on their children?”, Brough sidesteps clumsily and says, “The proof’s in the pudding – 45 out of 45 communities have children being abused, with a permit system. What we need is genuine law and order, genuine policing.” (If he’s going to quote statistics, how about a control group? What percentage of whitefella suburbs have children being abused?)

The host next challenged about the lack of consultation and involvement of Aboriginal people, treating them as problems rather than partners. Brough this time goes for a complete weasel-faced lie. “No, it’s just the opposite. It can be perceived that way, and you’ll get people who will make those allegations. We need to reduce grog, and reduce cash (because of what results of that cash), get children into school, and get people out of living in squalor. Every day we delay is another day we can’t get kids out of danger, like the child bashed to death allegedly in a domestic dispute earlier this week.”

What about the accusations that the land grab is about mining? Well, Brough says that “People make these noises at the expense of children who will be hurt.” (Apparently these critics are pedophiles too, or at least child-beaters.) “we’re not taking the land, we’re offering to lease it back! We can’t consult with people and groups about the appropriate way to tackle these problems, there is too much red tape. We are not compulsorily acquiring the land to do anything with it except to improve the quality of life of aboriginal people.” (See? “No, it’s just the opposite” was just a panicked fib. He rebuts himself right in the next paragraph. Does this guy have no media training?)

“Are you in this for the long term?”
Brough resorts to calming platitudes: “We’re focusing on giving these children a future, giving them hope, that will always be my goal.”

Guest Panel

This was a round-robin style brief interview of three indigenous panellists.

1. Tom Calma: Indigenous Social Justice Commissioner for the HREOC, and Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan tribal group and the Iwaidja tribal group
2. Muriel Bamblett: Yorta Yorta woman and Chair of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Childcare
3. Elliot McAdam: NT Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Indigenous Policy

Tom Calma on welfare payments: Since the announcement we have seen a range of changes to the plan taking place. It is hard to make informed comment when there is no informed or consistent information coming out of government sources.

Elliot McAdam: It is not necessarily unreasonable to link welfare to school attendance, however we shouldn’t penalise people who are doing the right thing. We need to be more strategic, it’s very important not to apply it across the board.

Muriel Bamblett: I am concerned about the potential to further disadvantage and impoverish people. Who’s going to make sure we don’t have children further abused and neglected?

McAdam on the permit system: I can’t see the connection. We have had feedback from police and communities in respect to the retention of the permit system. By taking it away – we believe that scrapping it serves no purpose. Without extra policing we will have open slather for carpetbaggers, people who unscrupulously target people in communities. This will not reduce child abuse.

Calma on disempowerment: This is definitely a top-down strategy. There has been no engagement with indigenous people, we were not involved in developing the policy – it went straight from Cabinet to the public. Policy has already changed a fair bit, as we’ve seen with the proposed health checks.

McAdam: [on govt criticism for NT inaction on this issue in the past – asked “Does your govt take responsibility??] Absolutely – like other jurisdictions, the Northern Territory government has sat on its hands in relation to a whole range of Aboriginal issues. The Commonwealth govt has been aware of these issues for a very very long time also – let’s work together with addressing child abuse, alcohol abuse, education. We must ensure there is sustainability going forward. We’re been unable to secure any commitment in the long term.

The Kava Ban

Now the programme heads to the Yolngu homelands in northeastern Arnhem Land. The kava ban, in particular, will have devastating effects. Drinking kava is a welcome relief from alcohol-related violence and abuse problems in these homelands. The effects of kava are relaxation and euphoria; it is considered a less destructive substitute for alcohol.

Communities using kava are “dry” (alcohol-free), and have chosen kava as a relatively safe substitute. It is also a thriving centralised business, with profits benefiting the entire community. Kava profits have provided infrastructure and services, renovations to houses, offices and verandahs, helped fund a women’s centre, a ranger centre, a boat for ranger programme.

On the 22nd of June 2007, the wholesaler of kava in the Territory received a letter banning kava import. The Lanaphuy Homelands Association is not happy. This has shut down their community business, which was giving them some independence from government handouts. The Association has 2-3 weeks of stock left, can’t meet costs, and can’t complete projects they have commenced, such as a school basketball court. They are concerned that a black market will now flourish, much more expensive than their licensed kava, and without the rationing built in to the current system. Government representatives have made no visits to kava-using communities, and engaged in no consultation.

Back to the panel for final words

Tom Calma: We need to focus on successes, not just the problems of indigenous communities.
Muriel Bamblett: We need to be united, the thing that makes us strong is our culture. Children need to feel that culture is the biggest thing. We fight for not just their protection and safety but also their heritage.
Elliot McAdam: We are a vibrant, integral part of Australian society. We ask that that government be fair dinkum in addressing child abuse. Let’s make it sustainable. We need to treat indigenous people with the respect they deserve.

[End “Living Black”.]

White Australians around my age may remember that the Yolngu homelands are home to Yothu Yindi, who rocked on with “Treaty” all those years ago.

Yothu Yindi: “Treaty”. (Lyrics from Songwords.)

Well I heard it on the radio
And I saw it on the television
Back in 1988
All those talking politicians
Words are easy, words are cheap
Much cheaper than our priceless land
But promises can disappear
Just like writing in the sand

Treaty Yeh Treaty Now
Treaty Yeh Treaty Now

Nhima Djatpangarri nhima walangwalang –
Nhe Djatpayatpa nhima gaya nhe-
Matjini…. Yakarray – nhe Djat’pa nhe walang – Gumurrtijararrk Gutjuk –

This land was never given up
This land was never bought and sold
The planting of the Union Jack
Never changed our law at all

Now two rivers run their course
Separated for so long
I’m dreaming of a brighter day
When the waters will be one

Treaty Yeh Treaty Now Treaty Yeh Treaty Now
Treaty Yeh Treaty Now Treaty Yeh Traty Now

Nhima djatpa nhe walang
gumurrtjararrk yawirriny Nhe gaya nhe matjini
Gaya nhe matjini Gaya gaya nhe gaya nhe
Matjini walangwalang Nhema djatpa nhe walang – Nhe gumurrtjarrk nhe ya-

Promises – Disappear – Priceless land – Destiny –

Well I heard it on the Radio – And I saw it on the Television
But promises can be broken Just like writing in the sand

Treaty Yeh
Treaty Now ….

Categories: culture wars, indigenous, Politics, social justice, Sociology

Tags: , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Head exploding dissonance doesn’t even begin to cover it. And yet again, not a mention of preventing exploitation by non-indigenous abusers.
    I missed it at the time, but Crikey had a guest article from a bloke who’s worked in in child abuse prevention in the NT two weeks ago, where he quoted from the press conference immediately following the release of the Wild/Anderson report:

    LINDSAY MURDOCH – The Age: And who are the abusers? If there is no paedophile ring who are they?
    REX WILD QC: “¦The worst examples of abuse of Aboriginal children is (sic) from non-Aboriginal men. There are a number of recorded cases of those in the Northern Territory over the past 20-odd years. Not all of them have been successfully prosecuted “¦

    What Brough/Howard are advocating is beginning to appear worse that useless in actually combatting abuse of indigenous children: they’re negligently planning to create conditions which will make the problem measurably worse in a decade, not better at all.

  2. There is a lot here, but what is standing out to me right now is Brough openly saying that he aims to keep Aboriginal communities poor so that they don’t do the “wrong things” with their money. This isn’t a commitment to fostering development, autonomy, or even assimilation – it’s an unvarnished commitment to government-enforced ghettoisation.
    Another thing that I think deserves further attention and analysis is the dismissal and non-funding of programmes started and run by communities of women, in favour of sending in army and police men.

  3. When will this government learn that you can’t impose solutions? Many people – men and women, indigenous and non indigenous – are doing great things to help Aboriginal people in the NT and these govt programs and refusal of funding is going to set it all back. I went to Alice for two years in 2004 and all these problems existed then. I also met some of the people helping find solutions to the problems. I am extremely skeptical that suddenly it’s an issue this close to an election. And the government is still not listening.

  4. At least one aboriginal activist is threatening to take photos of the cars of non-indigenous men who buy sex from indigenous teenage girls for beer and cigarettes in the middle of Darwin, because it’s been happening for years and he’s sick of the media portraying only aboriginal men as the abusers. [link]

  5. Tigtog – excellent – sort of a Hollabackredcentre?


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