Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Prof James Anaya puts spotlight on racist "intervention"

Professor James Anaya, who holds the mandate for investigating and reporting on the rights of Indigenous people under the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, will visit Australia in August.

A letter welcoming Prof. Anaya is being circulated (see below) and many individuals and organizations are signing in support of its call for the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) in the Northern Territory.

The RDA was suspended by the Howard government to give effect to measures such as its quarantining of income payments to NT Aborigines.

It was claimed at the time that the measures were required in order to deal with the effects of alcoholism and of child abuse and neglect.

Whilst some individual instances of improvement have been noted, the measures have caused widespread resentment in Aboriginal communities.

The Rudd government differs little from its predecessor in its heavy-handed and paternalistic treatment of NT Aboriginal communities.

Both governments refuse to listen to and empower the communities.

There is continuing conflict around the takeover of town camps; attempts to restrict services to and drive people from homelands (“outstations”); removal of people from the CDEP scheme which, for all its faults, at least provides income in return for work; having to shop at designated stores with a “basics” card; suppression of bilingual education; failure to reduce the gap in health services and life expectancy; failure to improve and expand housing. The list goes on and on.

There is turbulence in the administration of Aboriginal affairs by the NT government. Aboriginal MP Marion Scrymgour (left) resigned as deputy head of government and minister for Indigenous Affairs and then left the Labor Party. Her replacement, another Aboriginal MP, Alison Anderson (right) threatened to resign when told that no houses had yet been built in remote communities, and that less than a third of the money in the program would be spent on housing. After giving her government a deadline for action, she followed through two days ago and resigned.

Rudd and Macklin compound the turbulence and resentment, saying that they will reinstate the RDA but continue the discriminatory and paternalistic measures of the Intervention as “special measures” allowed under the RDA for positive discrimination.

Hopefully Professor Anaya will see though all of this to what is essentially a land grab on behalf of mining giants and other business interests, and use his office to support genuine consultation with Aboriginal communities.

To sign the letter to Prof. Anaya send your name, location and email address to .


Dear Professor Anaya,
Many Australians, Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal, are hopeful of your support in communicating the following views to the Australian government.

There is strong support for the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) in a manner which complies with human rights principles, and does not impose ‘special measures’
‘Special measures’ in their current and proposed form are discriminatory and opposed to by very many Aboriginal people

‘Special measures’ were imposed on Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory in 2007. These ‘special measures’ are racist and would have been illegal had the RDA not been suspended.
The current ‘consultations’ process based on the ‘Futures Directions - discussion paper’ is flawed and any findings must be disregarded. The document is complex, biased towards preferred government policy, written in the English language and presented without the regular use of interpreters. Consultations are not transparent and no records of meetings are available.

Government must re-commit to the recently articulated principle that ‘one size does NOT fit all’, and provide choice to individuals and communities, including the choice to accept or reject any or all of the special measures.

Re-engagement in genuine negotiation with Aboriginal elders and their representatives must be commenced as soon as possible. The process must be transparent and independent facilitators should be engaged for the purpose. In this regard attention should be paid to the statement from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission:

As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians, representing many different denominations and backgrounds, we are united against the NT Intervention in its current form” and ask government to, ‘Recognise the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to negotiate agreements with governments. We stress negotiation as distinct from consulting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples about the implementation of policy and programs which have already been already been developed and decided on”. (4 June 2009)

Professor Anaya, we welcome you to Australia and we call on you to encourage our government to respect and recognise the views of all Aboriginal people through genuine negotiation and respect for human rights. Consultations in their current form are manipulative and are aimed at maintaining racist legislation.

Yours sincerely,

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