Monday, November 12, 2007

NT Intervention Damages Sacred Site

Monday, 12 November 2007

The grassroots organisation Women for Wik (see link opposite), which has been monitoring the Federal intervention in the Northern Territory, expressed dismay at the revelation that a pit toilet has been built on a sacred site in the Aboriginal township of Numbulwar, one of the 73 communities directly affected by the intervention.

"This has occurred despite repeated assurances by Prime Minister Howard and his Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, that sacred sites would be protected", said Olga Havnen, CEO of the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the NT. "This is an example of how the whole approach to the intervention is fundamentally flawed. The desecration of sacred sites is not something that can be repaired."

In his 25 June Address to the Sydney Institute, the Prime Minister stated that 'The permit system for common areas, road corridors and airstrips for prescribed communities on Aboriginal land will be scrapped. Private residences and sacred sites will continue to be protected.

'"What a mob of idiots! Where is the consultation process?" said Eileen Cummings, former Policy Advisor to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. "You don't just go in and build something without talking to people. How can people know what is sacred and what isn't if they don't ask?"

"I am not surprised that this could happen, given that the Federal government is employing a deliberate policy of not consulting with Aboriginal communities. Even Telecom wouldn't put a line down without talking to the traditional owners."

"The Northern Territory has some of the most important archaeological sites in the world, and this government has put in place a process that is damaging sites, when it should be protecting them. This government is not fulfilling its duty to the Australian people, or to the international community" said Claire Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress.

"We are now in the bizarre situation whereby sites of global significance are under threat by the actions, and inattention, of an Australian government," said Associate Professor Smith.

"Independent contractors are engaged to conduct work without being given any proper cultural training or supervision. This is due a failure in oversight."

"This blatant disregard for Aboriginal women's culture shows the flaws in the heavy handed and insensitive approach taken by this intervention. Mal Brough said that sacred sites would be protected. He lied" said Larissa Behrendt, Professor of Law at the University of Technology, Sydney.

"This shows that we were justified in our concern that the abolition of the permit system would result in damage to sacred areas" said Ms Cummings. "Warren Snowdon expressed concern about this some time ago, but Mal Brough assured us that this would not happen. Well, Snowden was right, and Brough was wrong."

"This government is showing a complete lack of respect. They would not dare do this with any form of property owner in the country", said Ms Havnen. "Try telling someone else in suburban Australia that you are going to erect a shed in their backyard, or rip down their carport, or remove their clothesline. They would not tolerate it. And these are hardly sites of significance."

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