Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Treaty, an apology, schools, housing and health

There can be no reconciliation between the indigenous peoples of Australia and the settler peoples until a Treaty exists acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait people’s prior ownership of this country. The Treaty must acknowledge that the essence of the relationship between indigenous and settler Australians was that the invasion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands was essentially accomplished by force and violence or the threat of force and violence. It must promise to protect indigenous culture in the form of real and lasting Land Rights.

There can be no reconciliation between the indigenous peoples of Australia and the Australian Government until there is a formal apology given to the Stolen Generation by an Australian Prime Minister.

These are the two essential obligations on the settler peoples and their Government towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

No lasting positive outcomes will be found to the problems described in the Little Children Are Sacred report until settler Australia formally declares its respect for indigenous peoples as the original owners of this country.

And those outcomes will not occur as a result of a reinvasion of indigenous lands by a task force of police and army personnel whose purpose is to expedite the process by which mining companies will remove resources from those lands.

It will come when more resources – extra teachers, health workers and better housing – are put into indigenous lands and are given the support and conditions that will make their presence a long-term proposition.


Housing needs to be such that the chronic overcrowding on the one hand, and homelessness on the other, endemic throughout indigenous communities, is alleviated.

How can children not be unaware of adult sexual behaviour when eight to ten people share mattresses in a room? When twenty people in a house is not uncommon? Why would kids struggling to sleep in blankets next to a campfire on a cold desert night bother to “rise and shine” and head off to school on time? Who’d swap a cold blackboard for a warm blanket and the chance to catch up on some shut-eye?

Indigenous Affairs Monster Mal Brough paid a flying visit to several Aboriginal communities yesterday (July 5). At the Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) community 85km southeast of Alice Springs (right), he was told that “housing is a big problem here”.

Santa Teresa senior Aboriginal community police officer Phillip Alice said that in his 16 years at Santa Teresa he had never seen child sexual abuse, but he had seen plenty of problems with alcohol and housing. “We need to ask the Federal Government for more housing because there is overcrowding here,” he said.

The same message was presented to Brough when he reached Imanpa community, formerly part of the giant Angus Downs cattle station halfway between the Alice and Uluru. Imanpa community housing manager Deidre Finter said only four of the 19 houses in the 160-member community were habitable. The others had leaking pipes and sewerage, bare concrete floors, no power and no space.

“Every report on the dire situation of indigenous people recommended fixing the overcrowded, grim housing situation first,” she said. “All the other issues flowed from poor housing…the most vulnerable are living in these terrible conditions.”

And Brough’s response?

“Building more houses is not the answer,” he said (Advertiser 6/7/07).


Education, according to the Little Children report, is “the key factor”: “As the Inquiry has been told, the powerless need to be empowered with information before anything else can be done” (p. 152).

Yet, as the report also notes, “staffing decisions are based on attendance and not enrolments. This means that even if all Aboriginal children turned up at their local school tomorrow, there would not be enough teachers, classrooms and resources for them” (p. 150)

The staffing formula is (teacher: student) is 1:26. The Wadeye school (left) southwest of Darwin is staffed for an enrolment of 300, when there are estimated to be between 760 and 900 students who are eligible to attend. Some other schools are closed more often than open, in part because of poor attendance and in part because the NT Education Department can’t get teachers and principals and other support staff to stay. Another school halfway between Katherine and Tenant Creek had ten changes of principal in the one year and a complete change of registered teaching staff from 2006 to 2007. The average teacher tenure in 50 remote NT schools is six months, with three changes in principal.

The Little Children report reinforces the position of the NT branch of the Australian Education Union, namely, that the NT Department of Education (DEET) must change its staffing formula and must “adequately cost out how much is needed to undertake the task of properly educating all Aboriginal children in the NT irrespective of where they live” (p. 152). It “urges DEET to reduce class sizes, especially in the lower grades” (p. 153) and calls for incentives packages to encourage teachers to stay in remote locations for up to three years (p. 154). These are just some of the ten main and 24 sub-sets of recommendations on school and community education in the report.

Yet when Opposition leader Kevin Rudd finally shed his parrot costume to say something different to John Howard – offering to fund an additional 200 teachers in remote Aboriginal schools, Howard and Brough rejected the idea, claiming that they funded enough student places in the NT already! (Australian 2/7/07)


Indigenous Australians die younger on average than settler Australians.

In remote communities, Aboriginal people have chronic health problems associated with poor nutrition, alcohol, drug and substance abuse, boredom, low self-esteem and a now near-sedentary or sit-down lifestyle. These are problems of acute physical and psychological deterioration. Health workers do what they can, but they are too few and too removed from the communities they try to serve. The Mutitjulu community at Uluru receives a paltry $400,000 from the Uluru admission fees which are $25 per person per day for somewhere around million visitors, yet there is no dialysis machine, power and water supply.

Mutitjulu community leaders Dorothea and Bob Randall said recently, “There is money set aside from the Jimmy Little foundation for a kidney dialysis machine at Mutitjulu, but National Parks won’t let us have it. That would create jobs and improve indigenous health but they just keep stonewalling us. If there is an emergency, why won’t Mal Brough fast-track our kidney dialysis machine?”

“We welcome any real support for indigenous health and welfare and even two police will assist, but the Howard Government declared an emergency at our community over two years ago -- when they appointed an administrator to our health clinic -- and since then we have been without a doctor, we have fewer health workers, our council has been sacked, and all our youth and health programmes have been cut.” “Some commentators have made much of the cluster of sexually transmitted diseases identified at our health clinic. People need to understand that the Mutitjulu health clinic (now effectively closed) is a regional clinic and patients come from as far away as WA and SA; so, to identify a cluster here is meaningless without seeing the confidential patient data,” they said.

The Australian Medical Association called for about $450 million to be spent in the latest Federal budget to address the indigenous health crisis, yet when the budget was announced it was a fraction of this cost.

The identification of child victims of sexual abuse and the prosecution of perpetrators is long overdue. The problems have been known about for ages. But the identification must be done sensitively, and invasive vaginal and anal examination is not the only, and not the preferred, method for many, including medical practitioners who have warned that compulsion in these matters may lay them open to charges of assault.

And whilst child abuse is a problem in the indigenous community, it is no less a problem in the settler community as well. An unidentified prison officer, with 8 years experience in NSW and the NT, wrote on an ABC chatline (July 2, 2007) that “I can assure you that I have locked up far more white paedophiles than black, same for alcohol and drug offences etc, etc.” William Elliott, a Wirraduri man, wrote in the same chatline “The issue I would like to address is about the Governments storm trooper tactics and hidden agenda around Child Protection. I work in the field of child protection as a PANOC counselor, and child sexual, physical, psychological abuse is not just a BLACK ISSUE. It exists ACROSS CULTURES, it is also White urban and rural, cities and country. CHILD ABUSE IS NOT A BLACK ISSUE, although it is very severe with Indigenous populations.”

Unfortunately, Howard and Brough have made child abuse a “black issue” as a smokescreen for their dismantling of Aboriginal Land Rights on behalf of the giant multinational mining corporations whom they serve.

Their “concern” for the indigenous communities is expressed through their vehement opposition to a Treaty and an apology, to their opposition to funding for education, housing and health in Aboriginal communities.

Howard and Brough stand condemned as men of evil.

1 comment:

Progressive Educator Network said...

Andrew Jakubowicz comes to a similar conclusion here: