On Monday evening I attended a 'Conversation' with 7 aboriginal Elders from the Northern Territory at the Law School of Melbourne University, organised by 'concerned Australians'. To a packed auditorium (400 people) the Elders shared about the impacts on their communities of the Federal Government Intervention. Earlier in the afternoon Malcolm Fraser and Alastair Nicholson had released an 'eminent persons Statement' calling on the Government to fully reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act in order to prevent further pain in these communities. I, along with Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress leaders, was a signatory to this Statement. The Elders also released a Statement of their own.
Both statements can be found at: www.unitingjustice.org.au
The Conversation was deeply moving as various Elders, including Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra from Elcho Island (pictured), described some of the social, cultural and emotional impacts of the Intervention. Whatever the original intentions of the legislation, the communities in many cases have experienced it as a return to the old racist and paternalistic approaches of the past. The main issue seems to be the arbitrary 'template' approach by he Government to aboriginal communities. Some communities have been functioning extremely well while others are struggling. The policies do not distinguish - it's one size fits all.
The original catalyst for the legislation, we were told, was the 'Little Children are Sacred' Report. Very few of the recommendations of that Report have been taken up and the call by its authors to proceed with a cautious, measured and deeply consultative approach, has been ignored. No-one is denying that some aboriginal communities need assistance. What is being called for is a genuine partnership between government and community leaders in order to find the most effective approaches to health, welfare, employment, education etc in very diverse communities. This does not seem too much to ask!
Perhaps future advocacy in this matter should focus on urging the Government to get the 'Little Children' Report off the shelf, read it and actually follow its recommendations - starting with a commitment to genuine and consultative partnership with communities.