November 23, 2009

‘Inept’ consultations ignored Indigenous views

By Samantha Donovan for PM

PM |

Posted Mon Nov 23, 2009 9:12pm AEDT
Updated Mon Nov 23, 2009 9:30pm AEDT

Protesters during a march against the Northern Territory Intervention.

Protesters during a march against the Northern Territory Intervention. (ABC News: Penny McLintock, file photo)

A new report accuses the Federal Government of deliberately ignoring the views of Aboriginal people on the Northern Territory Intervention.

It concludes that the Government’s “consultation” sessions were a sham, which offered the communities no choice on the intervention’s future.

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser launched the report which is co-authored by former chief justice of the Family Court Professor Alastair Nicholson.

The “Will They Be Heard” report has been put together by a community group called Concerned Australians.

Professor Nicholson says he and his fellow researchers reached their conclusions after watching video footage of three government consultations in the Northern Territory that took place in the communities of Utopia, Bagot and Ampilatwatja.

“What you see is extremely articulate Aboriginal people who are expressing enormous concerns about the fact that they’re being singled out as alcoholics, pornographers and so on and they’re saying ‘look, what about the problems in the rest of the white community? Why are we being singled out in this way?’,” he said.

Professor Nicholson says the meetings cannot be called genuine consultations.

“I’m not thereby saying that the people trying to conduct them were not genuine, they were public servants and I think that in itself’s a problem,” he said.

“I think there should have been independent consultants brought in to do this rather than public servants who really are not independent of government.

“But the fact is that they were very inept consultations. There was very limited facilities for interpreters.

“[In] one I recall the interpreter was supposed to come and didn’t and some young person was asked to do it and here they are talking about quite complicated subjects like the Racial Discrimination Act and special measures.”

This week the Federal Government is introducing legislation to reinstate the Commonwealth’s Racial Discrimination Act in the relevant areas of the Northern Territory.

Professor Nicholson says this would normally lead to the abolition of the more controversial aspects of the intervention.

But the Government’s consultation process is an attempt to get support from the communities for the retention of some features of the intervention which would be designated “special measures”.

But he says given the flaws he and his colleagues have identified in the consultation process, the meetings cannot be considered evidence of consent to special measures under the Act.

“I think that if anything they prove the opposite,” Professor Nicholson said.

“It’s fair to say of course that we only saw three out of many consultations because they were the only ones that we were able to get film of, and as well as that we did see that the Government prepared summaries of all their consultations.

“They are interesting also because they really bring the point out that the strong opposition amongst the people to income management and in fact on compulsory income management the Government really didn’t give the people a choice at all.

“What it said was, well, you can either keep the present compulsory system, or we’ll introduce a system where individuals can apply to Centrelink to be excused from it.

“And of course that was met with a fair degree of derision by most of the people that I heard speaking about it because they said that the chances of them being able to persuade some official in Centrelink that they were responsible financial managers was negligible.

“It’s what’s omitted that’s also significant. For example, the intervention legislation changed the method of sentencing and granting bail so that you are not allowed to take into account Aboriginal law and culture. Now that wasn’t even mentioned in these consultations, yet that was a clear breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“So it’s very difficult to me to see how these consultations could be used for any useful purpose whatever.”

Professor Nicholson strongly supports the reintroduction of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory but says it will not fix all the problems outlined in the report.

“What the Government needs to do is in effect start again,” he said.

“To work on such positives that have emerged from spending on education, health and so on, but above all to really sit down and consult with the communities and involve them as well in the decision making process.

“And if they were to do that, I think they’d get a much better response from these people and I think overall the activity would be much more effective.”



October 13, 2009

Richard Downs interviewed on Late Night Live with Phillip Adams

Ampilatwatja Protest

listen | download (8.6MB)

A conversation about the protest by elders and others from the Ampilatwatja community in central Australia. Three months ago over a hundred people walked out of the small community and refused to go back until the federal government responded to their complaints about the lack of consultation and restrictions placed on them under the Northern Territory Emergency Response.


`This is 2009, not the 1700s’


13/10/2009 10:08:00 AM

TREGEAR was the sixth stop in Richard Downs’ national speaking tour on the Northern Territory intervention.

A big turnout packed Wundunarrkoo Hall on Sunday to hear one man’s views on the restrictions Aborigines face in remote Northern Territory communities.

The former Howard government declared an intervention in remote Aboriginal communities in 2007 in response to a Northern Territory report into sexual abuse.

It involves police and army patrols, alcohol bans, health checks for Aboriginal children and welfare payments quarantined in remote communities.

But it’s the removal of Aboriginal land rights that has angered communities the most.

Mr Downs is a spokesman for the Alyawarr people, who have walked off their community land at Ampilatwatja and set camp outside its designated boundaries.

He is touring the capital cities in his campaign against both sides of Federal Government.

He has been joined on the tour by Yuendumu community spokesman Harry Nelson.

“My aim is to unite people across Australia, give them the full picture and ask them not to listen to the Government, which is trying to pull the cotton wool over their eyes,” he said. “We’ve been shut down and have no voice.

“A lot of people are depressed and out of work. It [the intervention] has created segregation within communities.”

Mr Downs said he received a fantastic public response in Sydney, where he got backing from the NSW Maritime Union.

He was scathing of federal politicians, who, he said, had done nothing to stop the “racist and discriminatory” intervention.

“No one is standing up for our rights or listening to the Aboriginal people. Politicians need to change their ways of thinking and squash this intervention.

‘`Let’s start over again. This is 2009, not the 1700s.”

091010_harry -richard in tregear

Standing up, speaking out: Harry Nelson and Richard Downs (above) called on the federal Indigenous Minister Jenny Machin to resign over the handling of the Northern Territory intervention during their visit to Tregear on Sunday. Local Aboriginal woman Winsome Matthews (below) also made her voice heard.Pictures: Gene Ramirez



October 7, 2009

Northern Territory intervention undoes 50 years of progress, says Downs

By Chi Tranter | October 07, 2009

THE Northern Territory intervention is a racist policy that undoes fifty years of progress, Aboriginal elder Richard Downs says.

Mr Downs is on a speaking tour to rally support for a protest camp set up outside the Ampilatwatja community in the NT. Residents of the camp say they won’t move back into the community until the intervention measures are lifted.

“I want people around the country to know what it is like to live under the intervention,” Mr Downs said in Sydney.

“At check-outs in Woolworths and Coles … we have got one line for the black people who have these special basics green cards and you have got the other check-outs which are open to the general public.

“It is an embarrassment.

“We have just gone backwards 50 or 60 years, back to the welfare days.”

Mr Downs said the intervention had not brought any improvements and claims of positive change were just that – claims.

“We have had night patrols for years … we have had Centrelink income management … but it was a choice,” he said.

The intervention had taken away Aboriginal people’s human rights, Mr Downs said, adding that the policy must be scrapped. Politicians must return to the drawing board and work with Aboriginal people to find solutions, he said.

The former Howard Government suspended the Racial Discrimination Act to allow for the intervention’s more extreme measures, such as compulsory welfare quarantining.

But the Rudd Government announced plans to reinstate the Act when it gave public support to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

August 26, 2009

Aboriginal People seek refugee status

By Phoebe Stewart

Richard Downs


“We feel like an outcast in our community” … Alyawarra Nation spokesman Richard Downs. (Alice Brennan)

A group of Aboriginal people has asked the United Nations to register them as refugees, saying the Northern Territory intervention has made them outcasts in their own country

Richard Downs, a spokesperson for the Alyawarra Nation, which represents about 4000 people in central Australia, says the request was handed to the United Nations special rapporteur, who was visiting the Northern Territory last week.

The request urged the UN to register their people under the international refugee convention as internally displaced persons.

Mr Downs says people of the Alyawarra Nation have been left with no choice because the federal intervention in the Northern Territory has taken away their rights.

“We’ve got no say at all,” he said.

“We feel like an outcast in our community, refugees in our own country.”

He says the Federal Government should be concentrating on protecting human rights on at home rather than abroad.

“One one hand you’ve got the Australian Government pushing for human rights in China … look at your own back yard, listen to your own people.

“I mean Australia should be setting an example for the rest of the countries to follow.

“We’ve had the oppportunities over the last 200 years to come together to look at the future direction for both black and white and recognise we do have differences but we can do it together.”

The request comes a month after more than 100 people walked off the community of Ampilatwatja, about 300 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs.

The community was protesting about their living conditions, including broken septic tanks in their government-owned houses, and about intervention policies.

Mr Downs says the community will live in makeshift camps for another year if they have to.

Tue Aug 25, 2009
Australian Aborigines ask UN for refugee status

By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA, Aug 26 (Reuters) – A group of Australian Aborigines asked the United Nations on Wednesday for refugee status, claiming special emergency laws to curb alcohol and sexual abuse in the remote outback have turned them into outcasts at home.

Richard Downs, a spokesperson for the 4,000-strong Alyawarra people in central Australia, said the request was given to James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, during a fact-finding tour to Australia.

“We’ve got no say at all. We feel like an outcast in our community, refugees in our own country,” Downs told state radio.

A letter given to Anaya, in Australia at the invitation of the centre-left government to examine a so-called “intervention” by police and soldiers in the Northern Territory two years ago, asked the UN to list the Alyawarra as internally displaced.

The intervention, launched by the former conservative government in June 2007 to stamp out widespread child sex abuse, fuelled by chronic alcoholism from “rivers of grog” in indigenous communities, had taken away indigenous rights, Downs said.

Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the population. They suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence, and have a life expectancy 17 years shorter than other Australians.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made indigenous affairs a priority of his government, winning praise for apologising in parliament for historic injustices against Aborigines.


Rudd has said he would continue the controversial intervention but review the way it operates, including an invitation for Anaya to visit remote settlements in a first-ever UN fact-finding mission, long opposed by Rudd’s predecessor, John Howard.

Howard ordered the intervention in the final months of his 11-and-a-half years in office, declaring the widespread sexual abuse of Aboriginal children to be a national emergency.

Anaya has received hundreds of submissions and letters during his two-week visit to Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia, to be followed by a report back to the UN Human Rights Council.

An Australian-based spokeswoman for the United Nations said Anaya, a U.S. law professor and human rights advocate, would not comment on individual submissions.

Downs said the letter followed a protest last month in Ampilatwatja, 300 kms (186 miles) northeast of Alice Springs, when about 100 people walked off their land in protest against poor living conditions in government-owned houses.

Under the intervention, extra police, soldiers and medical teams were sent to Aboriginal communities, where alcohol and pornography were banned and welfare payments were quarantined to make sure the money is spent on food, clothing and health care.

An independent review last year found the intervention affected 45,500 Aboriginal men, women and children in more than 500 Northern Territory communities, and progress on health care and security were undermined by a lack of full community support. (Editing by Bill Tarrant)


Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Up to their ankles in sewage, a remote community’s patience runs out

by Chris Graham

Almost three weeks after the nation’s media reported up to 150 Aboriginal people had abandoned their sewage-soaked community in protest of the failing Northern Territory intervention, residents have still not received a visit from a single Territory or federal government bureaucrat or politician.And so the community of Ampilatwatja — in the Utopia region just three hours north east of Alice Springs — waits. Dozens of residents — many aged into their 80s, but some just little children — remain in the desert, camping in the dead of winter, which reaches below freezing at night.For some of them, shelter is a tent. For others, it’s simply a windbreak made of branches and leaves, or a blanket in the dirt. One elderly man is sleeping in the rusted-out shell of long-abandoned vehicle. He’s put corrugated iron up against the sides to try and keep out the wind.


The forced takeover of their community store in May by the government almost tipped the community over the edge. But as Ampilatwatja became overrun with raw sewage, courtesy of a hopelessly inadequate sewerage system and an overcrowded community — the residents finally cracked.

Sewage stream outside the community of Utopia

In mid July, they simply walked out of town, and established a protest camp three kilometres away, at the site of an old bore.

The only visit the community has had from government officials since is the arrival of some Barkley Shire Council plumbers, who fixed sewerage problems in a handful of houses.

A truck was also sent by the Shire to pump some of the sewage from the failing system, which was overflowing into the streets. Alice Brennan, the ABC journalist who broke the story of the walk-off three weeks ago, said the smell of the raw sewage made her and her cameraman dry-retch.

“Most Australians would expect to see that sort of thing in a third world country,” Ms Brennan said.

Not a single bureaucrat from the Henderson or Rudd governments have stopped by. And Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin has so far ignored a letter co-signed by dozens of residents pleading for an opportunity to meet with government officials on the future of their community.

Their protest — and their plight — appears to have fallen on deaf ears. But community leader Richard Downs says if the government thinks it can simply “wait out” the community, they’re mistaken.

“I don’t know whether [the government] is trying to hide or what. I think maybe they’re ignoring it and hoping it will go away,” Mr Downs said.

“But look, the old people have said they’re quite happy out here. They’re going to stay. The young people are drifting back and forwards from the community — we’ve told the young people they’ve got kids and they’ve got to get them to school. And there’s some sick people (back at the community) as well. But they drift back and forwards and just come out and support us.”

Mr Downs predicted the protest could last months. It might even take on more than a temporary status.

“It could turn into a permanent camp. I’ve had a couple of calls from Sydney, there’s a lot of support building up,” he said. “We might get a little bit of funding from the unions to get the ball rolling. We’re camping on one of those old stock route bores with a windmill, so we’re looking at putting in a tank, a tap, some showers and toilets.”

Barkly Shire President Rosalie Kunoth-Monks’ mother chooses to live in this lean-to in the Central Australian community of Utopia.

Federal Country Liberal Senator for the Northern Territory, Nigel Scullion also believes the government is mistaken if it thinks it can outlast the people of the Utopia region. Scullion and NT MLA Adam Giles (the Opposition spokesperson on Indigenous Policy) visited the community last week, and were “stunned and embarrassed” by the federal and NT government responses.

“It was national news,” Senator Scullion said. “They were up to their bloody ankles in sh-t, saying ‘We’re leaving our community.’ ‘Ho hum,’ said the Northern Territory government, ‘ho hum’ said the federal government. They’ve done bloody nothing.”

Mr Giles described the condition of housing in Ampilatwatja as the worst he’s ever seen anywhere in the nation.

Aboriginal people who have abandoned Ampilatwatja are sleeping in whatever they can find.

Senator Scullion said he spoke directly to Jenny Macklin about the issue on Monday morning.

“I rang Minister Macklin and explained the circumstances I found there, and that they’re still waiting to hear from her three weeks later,” Senator Scullion told NIT. “I told the Minister that I think it’s really, really important that she or one of her representatives go to Ampilatwatja and speak to them. She thanked me for the information and that was it. I just hope she took it on board.”

Senator Scullion agrees with Mr Downs that the government is mistaken if it thinks it can ‘wait out’ the local residents. “If they think this community will just get tired of this and go back home, then they haven’t met these people,” he said. “They are determined. This is as significant an event to them as the Gurindji Walk-Off. This is a major event for them. They’re not trying to make some political point, they’re just asking for someone to bloody come and talk to them.”

The minister acknowledged in an interview with the ABC she had received the letter, was looking through it but would not commit to visiting the community. When asked if she was intending to visit the community, the minister told the ABC FACHSIA representatives would be conducting consultations in the region around mid August.

One of the protest camps outside Ampilatwatja.

Mr Downs said the community remained strong in the face of the adversity.

“We’re a remote community. Our traditions and customs are still strong, our law’s still strong, Aboriginal way. We’re not going to let it go away — we’ve just had enough. This is the first time our mob is speaking up, because we never do — we’re generally very easy going and patient.”

“But our patience has run out.”

One response to “News

  1. Rebekah

    The face of the assault that the intervention has been, is an attack against traditional indigenous people on the basis of race; but under the surface, the real attack is against belief, and the intervention an endeavour to further assimilate indigenous Australians into the joke of a culture of the mainstream. What do they think indigenous people are? A banana pudding or something? Or maybe they simply can’t think for real within the fabric of that mainstream structure of belief. There is a government website I got a link to yesterday, ( ), with that Peter Garret fronting it up, with space to have a say about the government developing a new “cultural policy”. I figured it best to have a say now, in time to ensure they make it a cultural policy which includes understanding of real culture.

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