Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Black, White and shades of Grey

The Australian Prime minister is making another
attempt to remove Aboriginal People from their lands.
These are very dangerous and frightening times, and
it's almost unbearable to read the local press
coverage of this issue.

Below is the text of an article by Jennifer
Martiniello which will be forwarded to major
newspapers in Australia. Please pass on to your

Jennifer Martiniello is a writer and academic of
Arrernte, Chinese and Anglo descent. She is a former
Deputy Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the
Arts, and a current member of the Advisory Board of
the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at the

Howard's New Tampa - Aboriginal Children Overboard

Howard's new Tampa children overboard are our
Aboriginal children.

The Little Children are Sacred report does not
advocate physically and psychologically invasive
examinations of Aboriginal children, which could only
be carried out anally and vaginally. It does not
recommend scrapping the permit system to enter
Aboriginal lands, nor does it recommend taking over
Aboriginal 'towns' by enforced leases.

These latter two points in the Howard scheme hide the
true reason for the Federal Government's use of the
latest report for blatant political opportunism.

It has been an openly stated agenda that Howard wants
to move Aboriginal people off their lands, and has
made recent attempts to buy off Aboriginal people by
offering them millions for agreeing to lease their
lands to the Federal Government, e.g. Tiwi Islands and
Tangentyere in Alice Springs. There was also the
statement by the Federal Government that it could not
continue (?!) to provide essential services to remote
communities, which raised an uproar of responses in
the press. The focus on the sexual abuse of children
is guaranteed to evoke the most emotive responses, and
therefore command attention, just like the
manipulation of the Tampa situation. But while the
attention of the media and the public is being
emotionally coerced, what is being sneaked in under the covers?

Two issues specifically - mining companies have
applied for more exploration permits in the Northern
Territory, the Jabiluka uranium mining operations at
Kakadu have already hit the media because of the
mining company's applications to the Government to
expand its operations, including establishing new
mines at Coronation Hill, and another critical issue -
nuclear waste. The Howard Government has already
mooted that nuclear waste should be dumped in the
Northern Territory, on Aboriginal lands. Aboriginal
traditional owners are absolutely opposed to this. We
have a long history of deaths and illness from
radiation, from the atomic tests at Woomera in the
1950s to the current high incidences of carcinomas in
the community at Kakadu near the Jabiluka site. The
main obstacle to the Federal Government's desired
expansion of mining operations in the Northern
Territory and nuclear waste dumping is, of course, the
Aboriginal people who have occupancy of, and rights
under the common law to, their traditional lands.

Following the stages of the Howard Government's usual
modus operandi (defund, blame, eliminate), defunding
of Aboriginal community projects began in July 2004,
with coerced changes to funding contracts, and monies
for critically needed youth and health programs in
remote areas being the first dollars to go.

Take Mutitjulu for example, which was notoriously
profiled by the ABC's Nightline program. I say
notorious because one of Senator Mal Brough's personal
staffers was the so-called ex-youth worker interviewed
on that program, and the content of that interview was
laden with myths and mistruths. The staffer in
question failed to appear when summoned before a
Senate inquiry to explain and the Senator's office is
yet to issue a statement. When the community lodged a
formal protest to Government, it was raided and their
computers seized. But the program did show the effects
of the Howard Government defunding of essential
programs on particular the youth centre and health
centre. The Mutitjulu also just happen to be the
traditional owners of this country's most lucrative
tourist attractions. The Howard Government would not
like us to ask who benefits by the people of Mutitjulu
being forced off their community. Under the amendments
to Native Title made by the Howard Government, once
Aboriginal people have left their traditional lands,
forcibly or otherwise, their rights under the common
law that every other Australian enjoys over their land
are significantly impaired.

Progressive defunding of Aboriginal art centres has
also begun, with a range of community art centres not
having their funding renewed by DCITA in July 2005 and
2006 in the Northern Territory, from communities in
Arnhemland to mid and southern Territory communities.
The art production facilitated by those Aboriginal art
centres are the only means through which members of
those communities can actually earn a living, as
opposed to being on welfare. But then, dependent
people are easier to control by means of that
dependency. The Howard Government's failed Shared
Responsibility (SRAs) have also been the catalyst for
further blame shifting and progressive defunding, take
Wadeye for example.

Our Aboriginal communities are being squeezed further
dysfunction and disenfranchisement by carefully
targeted political engineering, the systemic and
ruthless roll-out of a planned agenda. It is no
accident that Howard's scheme to address what he calls
the urgency of the Little Children are Sacred report's
97 recommendations was trotted out so very quickly,
and addresses so very few of those recommendations. It
is sheer political opportunism to advance an already
in motion agenda, and to score points in an election

After all, The Little Children are Sacred report is
not the first of such reports, nor are its findings
and recommendations new. The Federal Government has
had the 1989, 1991, 1993, 1997 and 2002 reports
gathering dust and deliberate inaction on its shelves.

Perhaps Mr Howard has been saving them up for a rainy
election year?

And of course Mr Howard's scheme targets only
Aboriginal communities, despite the fact that the
findings specifically state that non- Aboriginal men,
that is, white men, are a significant proportion of
the offenders, who are black-marketeering in petrol
and alcohol to gain access to Aboriginal children.
What measures is the Howard Government going to take
about non-Aboriginal sex offenders, pornographers,
substance traffickers and the like? Nothing according
to the measures announced, but then, they're not
Aboriginal and they don't live on the Aboriginal
communities where

So who are the real victims here, the silenced
victims of John Howard's scheme? Aboriginal children,
of course, who will be subject to physically and
psychologically invasive medical examinations,
irrespective of their home and family circumstances,
and who will deal with the mental and emotional
fall-out from that? Aboriginal men, too, who become
the silenced scapegoats, painted by default by John
Howard as all being drunken, child-raping monsters.
Perhaps the fact that almost every picture shown of
Aboriginal men in the media these days shows them
drunk, with a slab, cask or bottle under their arms
leads Mr Howard to expect that one to pass
unchallenged, irrespective of the fact that statistics
show that only 15% of Aboriginal people drink alcohol,
socially or otherwise, compared to around 87% of
non-Aboriginal Australians.

The greater majority of Aboriginal men are good,
decent people. Perhaps the media would like to rethink
its portrayals of Aboriginal men? How about some
photos of the other alcoholics, you know, the white
ones. There's more of them.

And what of our communities? The Howard Government
also hasn't mentioned that the majority of Aboriginal
communities in the Northern Territory are already dry
communities, decided and enforced by those
communities. But then that would spoil the picture Mr
Howard wants to paint of our Aboriginal communities.
Other large communities, such as Daly River, have
controlled the situation by only having alcohol
available from the community's club and enforce a
strict four can limit.

Also forgotten in the current politically
opportunistic furore is the fact that Aboriginal
communities around Tennant Creek and Katherine have
been lobbying Governments and town councils for
decades to restrict the sale of alcohol on Thursdays,
when Aboriginal community people come to town for
supplies. So far their pleas have been rejected.
Nothing in Mr Howard's plan to facilitate that,
either. Or about the control of alcohol when those
people, once forced off the communities into the
towns, bring their problems with them, child abuse or
alcoholism and all the rest. Of course that would make
access to Aboriginal children a lot easier for white
offenders, they won't have to go so far to find a

One last word on focus of attention. In the famous
Redfern Address, the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating
asked perhaps the most important question for all
Australians to consider. He said 'We failed to ask the
most basic of questions. We failed to ask - What if
this were done to us?' What if this were done to us -
Average Australian, to our schools, youth centres,
health centres, access to medical care, communities,
homes, children, grandchildren?

After all, current national health reports from a
wide range of health organisations name sexual abuse
of non-Indigenous Australian children as a crisis area
in need of urgent attention. And the numbers of
victims are higher. National reports into mainstream
domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse also
call for urgent action, again the issues are at crisis
level, and the numbers of victims and abusers are far
higher than in the Little Children are Sacred report.
None of the recommendations in all of those hundreds
of national health reports recommend compulsory sexual
health tests for every Australian child under sixteen.
Not one of them recommends that a viable solution is
closing down youth and health programs, in fact they
all advocate that more are needed. None recommend that
the victims' or the offenders' communities and homes
should be surrendered to the Federal Government and
put under compulsory lease agreements, and none
advocate processes which would lead to either the
victims or the abusers losing their rights under
common law to their property as measure to control or
remedy the occurrence of abuse. Would the Howard
Government even dare to contemplate such as that? I
think not. It would be un-Australian, and the
Government it would expect immediate legal
repercussions on the grounds of impairment of human
rights, extinguishment of rights under common law,
discrimination, and a raft of other constitutional

Besides, Mr and Mrs Average Australian don't, for the
most part, live on top of uranium and mineral deposits
or future nuclear waste dumps.

But seriously, the most critical question for all
Australians to ask themselves in the lead up to this
year's Federal Election is just that - What if it were
done to us? With full acknowledgment of what has
already been done to workers, trade unions, student
unions, public primary, secondary and tertiary
education, elderly care, palliative care, medicare,
crisis health care, nurses, teachers, multicultural
affairs, migrant groups, women, child care, small
businesses and artsworkers, among the many, through
the exercise of policies of social engineering and
fear, your answer at the polling booth may just
determine whether it will be done to you, or continue
to be done to you. As reported in the Sydney Morning
Herald 25th June, the Howard Government last week used
the military to seize control of 60 Aboriginal
communities in the Northern Territory, which are now
under military occupation. This is not Israel and

The Northern Territory is not Gaza or the West Bank.
This is Australia - but is it the Australia you
thought you lived in? Walk in our shoes, Aboriginal
Australia's, and ask yourselves, what would it be like
to have this done to us? And then, walk with us.

Jennifer Martiniello

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