Amnesty warns against government return to assimilation


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Amnesty International 9th August 2011

Starving Aboriginal communities of essential services will effectively force families to abandon their traditional land and move into larger towns and cities. Amnesty International accuses the federal and Northern Territory governments of policies that echo Australia's failed assimilation era by stripping traditional Indigenous communities - 'homelands' - of funds.

The criticisms are made in a new Amnesty International research report 'The land holds us': Aboriginal peoples' rights to traditional homelands released in Canberra today.

The report documents how Aboriginal peoples' rights to traditional lands, culture, informed consent and adequate housing are being undermined.

"In essence, government is abandoning one third of the Northern Territory's Aboriginal population, and leaving 500 communities to wither," said Claire Mallinson, National Director, Amnesty International Australia.

"Over twenty years of research confirm Aboriginal people living on homelands are healthier and live longer. With basic services like health, education, water and housing, people can lead more fulfilling lives on homelands, says Claire Mallinson.

"Aboriginal people have a right to live on their traditional lands."

The report outlines the ongoing struggle of those living on their Utopia homelands about 260km north-east of Alice Springs - a community left behind by a government push to resource just 21 'Growth Towns' in the Northern Territory. It focuses on the toll of underinvestment in housing on these homelands, predicting the situation is set to get worse.

"We must stop this, and we must remain on our country," said Rosalie Kunoth-Monks Alyawarr/Anmatyerr elder, Utopia homelands.

"It's not attachment to the land, it's survival of a cultural practice that is still alive in spite of what has been thrown at it," said Rosalie Kunoth-Monks.

In addition, the organisation calls for the full and equal participation in government policy of those directly affected – the Aboriginal people living on their homelands.

"These moves are part of a chain of policy and legal changes that have undermined Indigenous rights. The Aboriginal people's strong desire to sustain communities on their traditional lands must be supported by the federal and Northern Territory governments," said Claire Mallinson.

Report Conclusion
The Commonwealth Government has transferred responsibility for homelands to the Northern Territory Government, whose own policy clearly states no new homes on homelands in the Northern Territory. Instead the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments are focusing attention on 21 Territory Growth Towns.

In this report, Amnesty International has argued that Aboriginal Peoples have the right to live on their traditional homelands without being effectively denied access to services like public housing and related infrastructure. Both the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory governments need to address this problem with the full and equal participation of those directly affected – the Aboriginal Peoples occupying the homelands of the Northern Territory.

NT Aborigines driven out of homelands

AAP Herald Sun August 9th 2011

Northern Territory Aborigines are being driven off their traditional homelands and herded into "hub towns" where the federal and NT governments are splashing out cash for resources and services, Amnesty International claims.

The human rights organisation profiled the Alyawarr and Anmatyerr people of the Central Australian homeland communities of Utopia.

Far from what the name suggests, most Utopia communities are more like third world slums.

The Utopia region, 260 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs, has 1400 residents in 16 different communities.

In its report to be released today, Amnesty International slams the federal and NT Government's Closing the Gap policy that concentrates investment into 21 of the largest settlements.

The criticism comes after a Finance Department report prepared early last year revealed the Commonwealth is outlaying $3.5 billion each year on Aboriginal programs which yield dismally poor results.

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

The Amnesty report says restrictions on health, housing and education services have resulted in many homeland communities falling through the cracks.

"The medium-to-long-term implication of the policy is the declining viability of homelands," Amnesty said.

Amnesty International says federal and NT government policies ignore the connection Aboriginal people have to their land.

Internationally acclaimed indigenous artist, Anmatyerr elder Kathleen Ngal, 78, said if Utopia residents are forced to move to "hub towns" they will become "third-class, non-existent human beings."

"My paintings are maps of our country ... through my art I am educating the world about my country and my culture," she said.

"I cannot paint when I'm not on my land."

She wants her grandchildren to have the opportunity to live on their country and to know their stories.

"Country owns you or holds you, not you holding the country and becoming master of the land," she said.

Ms Ngal said the federal government's NT Intervention had been a "traumatising" land grab.

During the 2007 NT Intervention the federal government took over homelands under a five-year lease which is due to expire next year.

Amnesty International said the focus on "hub towns" also went against medical research that said there were health benefits to living on homelands.

There was limited access to alcohol in the Utopia region, the report said.

A Medical Journal of Australia study from 2008 said despite increasing levels of obesity and diabetes among indigenous people nationally, Utopian residents were healthier.

The NT government put a moratorium on money for homeland housing in 2006, creating a backlog of under-investment, Amnesty International said.

"Growth towns", with about 24 per cent of the NT Aboriginal population, are receiving $772 million for new housing and maintenance in 2010-11.

That's 100 times more than remote homeland communities, which have 35 per cent of the NT indigenous population but only receive $7.1 million for maintenance, the report says.

There is severe housing overcrowding in Utopia homelands with about 85-100 people living in makeshift shelters known as "humpies" without power, running water or sanitation, the report says.

As many as 15-18 people sleep in some two-bedroom homes each night.

Houses in Utopia communities have become dilapidated because of "decades of neglect" and low levels of maintenance funding, the report said.

Most have dodgy electrical wiring, no insulation, no fans or air coolers, limited kitchen facilities and malfunctioning toilets and sewerage systems.

"There are incidents of raw sewage leaking from inadequate systems," the report said.

Amnesty International recommended ending the Closing the Gap policy's discrimination of homeland people.

It says funding should be distributed equitably to include homelands and rectify the backlog of under-investment in housing.

Film star turned politician blasts intervention

Katharine Murphy The Age August 10, 2011

Former film star now local politician Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, says the Northern Territory intervention is a "huge violation of human rights" that has seen indigenous people driven off their traditional lands and onto reservations like American Indians.

Ms Kunoth-Monks starred in the Australian film Jedda (1955) as a 14-year-old, and these days is mayor of the Barkly Shire, residing in the Utopia homelands, 260 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs.

In Canberra yesterday for the release of an Amnesty International report advocating indigenous people's rights to remain on their homelands, Ms Kunoth-Monks said she had been fortunate enough to retain her language despite having a mainstream education in the 1950s.

She flatly rejected arguments that the intervention had been in any way helpful. She said it had displaced more indigenous people from their traditional lands, depriving them of opportunities to speak their native language and severing links with culture.

Investing in the homelands would be a better option, she said, than resourcing the larger regional centres.

Ms Kunoth-Monks declared the intervention had been a "huge violation of human rights", moving people away from the outstations and into centres where they had to "fight your way through the suffocation of racism".

Away from family and culture indigenous people often struggled. "Our beings are very fragile," she said. "We disagree with being herded by the army into the big centres," she said, comparing the practice to native Americans being pushed onto reservations.

The Amnesty report argues the current policy of selecting growth communities - which have seen priority investment in housing and health - is disadvantaging residents of the traditional lands where one-third of the indigenous population lives.

Last night, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the intervention had delivered tangible benefits, but the situation remained "critical" and much more remained to be done.

The next phase would require a "strong partnership" between the government and indigenous people. Addressing indigenous disadvantage would take "time, perseverance, and conviction", and "the expectation that we will create change".

The outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, also criticised the intervention during an address to the National Press Club yesterday.

Mr Innes said one of the times he felt least proud to be an Australian was at a UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination, when two Aboriginal elders addressed the hearing about living under the NT intervention. Mr Innes said community leaders told him they felt "loss, grief, brokenness, numbness, fear, the death of feeling and the death of Dreaming".

Mr Innes said it was very important that the recognition of indigenous people in the constitution passed referendum because if it failed it would be a tragedy.