Amnesty appalled by Government's Indigenous policy

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International

Lisa Martin (AAP) Sydney Morning Herald October 7, 2011

The head of Amnesty International has strongly criticised the federal government's efforts to improve living standards of Aboriginal Australians, saying it could learn from New Zealand's dealings with its Maori people.

The human rights agency's secretary-general, Salil Shetty, said the government's "top-down externally driven" efforts to close the gap on Aboriginal socio-economic disadvantage were instead having the opposite effect.

Mr Shetty, who is the middle of a tour of Australia after a visit to New Zealand, said Amnesty was appalled that current policies had effectively "forced evictions from their traditional homelands".

"They're stripping funds for essentials services from these communities, effectively driving people away," he told AAP in an interview.

Mr Shetty was to spend Saturday at the homeland communities of Utopia, 260 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, before heading to Canberra next week to meet with Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.

Far from what the name suggests, most Utopia communities are more like Third World slums.

An Amnesty report, released in August, profiled Utopia and claimed Aborigines were being driven off their homelands and herded into "hub towns" where the federal and Northern Territory governments were splashing out cash for resources and services.

Mr Shetty said there was strong evidence that indigenous people had "better health and a better state of mind" when they lived on their own lands.

The Amnesty chief praised New Zealand for its treatment of Maoris, saying the government there had done a "much better job than Australia".

"There's a lot to be learned from them, given the way they have given Maoris a voice in the political process and in decision-making," he said.

"Aboriginal people need to be empowered to make their own choices."

Mr Shetty said part of the problem was mainstream Australia's lack of understanding about the extent of the disadvantage gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

"There's a lack of political will," he said.

Mr Shetty said Australia was one of the richest countries and should be able to find solutions "unless deep down we're dealing with a lot of prejudice and discrimination".

He is also concerned that the benefits of Australia's mining boom are bypassing struggling indigenous communities.

"Where the benefits and revenue are going to is disproportionately in favour of large corporations, at the cost to Aboriginal communities," Mr Shetty said.

In Canberra next week, Mr Shetty will urge Ms Macklin to end discrimination of homeland indigenous people and call on the government to ensure money is distributed equitably to include the homelands and address an under-investment in housing.

Amnesty has been a staunch critic of the Howard government's Northern Territory Intervention plan, which has continued under Labor but is now under review.

Mr Shetty said the government should be looking at the recommendations of the Little Children are Sacred Report and its obligations under the United Nations declaration for indigenous people when planning its next move.

However, he applauded moves to recognise indigenous people in Australia's constitution.

"There's nothing wrong with symbolism as long as it doesn't end there," he said.

"What we need is accountability and justice, it's not just a question of words."

Aboriginal policies 'ethnic cleansing'

Lisa Martin (AAP) Sydney Morning Herald October 9th 2011

Utopia leader Rosalie Kunoth Monks
Photo: Angela Wylie (The Age)

Starving Aboriginal people off their traditional homelands is akin to "ethnic cleansing", the Amnesty International boss has been told during his Central Australia visit.

Amnesty International chief Salil Shetty visited communities in Utopia on the weekend describing the plight of locals as "devastating."

"I've been to many places in bad shape in Africa, Asia and Latin America but what makes it stark here is when you remind yourself you're actually in one of the richest countries in the world," Mr Shetty told AAP in Utopia.

At Mosquito Bore he toured overcrowded dilapidated homes, some little more than a tin shed, without basics such as running electricity, toilets or working washing machines.

The human rights group profiled the Utopian region, in an August report that claimed homeland communities were being starved of money for proper housing, maintenance and basic services like rubbish removal.

Amnesty says the policies are aimed at driving Aborigines off their homelands and herding them into 21 "hub towns" where the federal and NT governments were splashing out cash for resources and services.

Community leader Rosalie Kunoth Monks told Mr Shetty how desperately her people wanted to stay on their land.

"It's not that they're coming here with bulldozers or getting the army to move us it's that they're trying to starve us out of our home," she said.

"They won't support us becoming sustainable in our own right.

"If you're made to feel a second class humanity, if it's not ethnic cleansing please let me know what it is."

Mrs Kunoth Monks said the community was "ready, willing and able" to live up to the promise of its name if only was given a leg up and allowed to play catch up.

Utopia, which is world famous for it's aboriginal dot paintings, is trying to start its own cattle business and wants a cultural centre, she said.

"Insidious game playing" by governments is making people tired and destroying their faith in the system, she said.

The Utopia region, 260 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs, has about 1200 residents in 16 different communities.

More than one-third of the NT's Aboriginal population lives in 500 remote homeland communities.

Mr Shetty also visited a medical clinic in Utopia and was told by staff how people were more healthy living in small communities on traditional homelands because of the wider availability of alcohol in bigger towns.

"They have a big tough battle ahead but it's one worth fighting for," Mr Shetty said.

He said poor treatment of Aborigines was a "scar on an otherwise fair faced Australian human rights record."

He will meet with indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin on Wednesday in Canberra to demand the end of discrimination for homeland people and emergency action to improve housing conditions.

The community claims Ms Macklin has ignored repeated invitations to visit Utopia.

"All the decision makers should come and spend time, but not come here to lecture but to listen," he said.

He said Canberra was struggling to grasp that for homeland communities, land was more than just a physical place.

"All of them are very clear they don't want to leave homelands ... everything else flows from that the land is their culture, their spirit, their ancestors," he said.

"You can't take an economist's view that there are dispersed communities, no scale economy, it's not efficient to provide services so let's take them off their land to growth towns."


What is occurring in

What is occurring in Australia is one of the most disgraceful scenarios. The problem is that ignorant, deceitful parents are keeping truths from their children creating more suffering for the original inhabitants. People appear not to be thinking for themselves and when that happens, oppression becomes worse. When the leaders in power and those behind them (the hidden ones) have not loving kindness in mind and solely self interest and greed, then we have conclusions that harm individuals which ultimately leads to a violent and corrupt society. It is high time that we work together and begin to respect land and human rights. Let's take India as an example. Many different peoples live there. Many different cultures and religions live in India. It is a crazy mix of everything. Weird, wonderful, shocking, whatever. It exists because there is that freedom to live as each desires. Respect your children. Respect the Original inhabitants and if you ain't invited, get outta there.

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