Cathy Gill wrote the following for the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney. As the opening line says, the Collective will be holding a public forum to today, concerning the injustice of the government’s intervention First Nations communities in the Northern Territory. The purpose is to highlight highlighting the harms that this has caused and the need to address them. The Forum is taking place at the Redfern Community Centre, 29-53 Hugo Street and beginning at 5.30pm.
On Friday 8th December in Redfern, Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS) will host a public forum – Human Rights: Where are they? Ten years of failed Intervention – featuring two strong First Nations voices from the Northern Territory and other speakers from the eastern states.
Ten years ago, the Howard Government imposed the Northern Territory Intervention on thousands of Aboriginal people. In the absence of prior consultation, the Commonwealth imposed income management, seized control of Aboriginal lands and suspended the Racial Discrimination Act. On this week of International Human Rights Day it is timely for all Australians to reflect on our brothers and sisters in the Northern Territory.
Yolngu Nations Assembly Spokesperson, Yingiya Mark Guyula, Member for Nhulunbuy NT Legislative Assembly, tabled a statement by a large number of Eminent Australians in the NT Parliament during this year’s Anti Poverty Week.
The statement demands the repeal of the intervention policies, some of which became harsher with its extension of the Stronger Futures Legislation in 2012. It calls for an end to the 10 years of severe control measures, which it says, ‘are a stain on the Australian nation’. Controls, it states, have accelerated child removal, suicide, and Indigenous incarceration rates.
Travelling from the NT for this forum, Elaine Peckham remarked: “The Intervention has impacted heavily on our people since 2007, over 10 years ago. When the Intervention came I was living on my homelands. It was a shock. There was no consultation. Regardless of where we lived, we on prescribed areas were put on the BasicsCard. We have worked all our lives, paid our taxes and looked after our children.”
She continued, “We are working for a better life for our people. We’re really exhausted. We’ve been through enough now but we’re not going to give up, never ever. We’re survivors.”
Regarding land rights, Greg Marks said: “In outstations and homelands Aboriginal people live on and look after their traditional country. Since 2004 the Commonwealth Government has refused to fund these communities for new public housing. They have been left to fend for themselves for housing – how are they supposed to do that?
He added, “It is essential that the Commonwealth Government find room for outstations and homelands in its Indigenous housing funding – otherwise Closing the Gap is meaningless for hundreds of Aboriginal communities.”
“Australia won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on October 17. One of the five pillars of the Australian campaign for a position on the leading human rights body was a pledge to improve the rights of Indigenous peoples. This commitment applies at both the international and domestic level. But given Australia’s long list of failures regarding the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, many are less than optimistic that the nation’s promise will improve the situation locally” Sydney Criminal Lawyers recently stated.
Policies of the NT Intervention and Stronger Futures contravene some of the most fundamental human rights, as enshrined in the articles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which includes the right to self-determination.
Last week the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) reviewed Australia’s record on racial equality. The Australian NGO Coalition’s submission to CERD stated that Australia should abolish the Stronger Futures legislation and work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives in the Northern Territory to implement policies which uphold their rights including the right to self-determination
Laura Lyons, a speaker at the forum, said “It’s evident that the government think they have the solution. We have the solutions. The solutions need to come from us, from the grassroots people. In the Northern Territory they have taken their choices, their human rights, away. What they’ve started there they continue here (e.g. the Basics Card). This government has failed us for the last 229 years. These are not their issues, these are our issues.
Change needs to be forced. This is why FIRE has been pulled together, to fight for change, we need equality. The system has been created and set up by the colonisers. My interest is that it’s changed to come from the bottom, so that it can have a domino effect. These are our issues.”
The December 8th forum will give a rare opportunity to hear from speakers who have lived under this regime for the last 10 long years and other speakers who look at the issue of where are Human Rights for First Nations peoples of Australia and what can be done to address urgent injustices.