Indigenous political party plan resurrected

Louisa Rebgetz | | August 11, 2009
+ 60 Yolngu clans decide on self-government + NT in a 'political calamity

The Central Land Council's deputy chairman, Maurie Ryan, says the current state of Northern Territory politics has inspired him to again try to launch his own Indigenous political party.

Mr Ryan has been working to get an Indigenous party up and running for more than a decade.

He says his First Nations Indigenous party will aim at ensuring money allocated for Aboriginal services actually hits the ground.

He is holding a public meeting in Darwin this weekend to try to gain the 500 signatures needed to register the party.

"We have Aboriginal people in politics now but they follow the party lines. "This about Aboriginal people.

"There are a lot of people waiting for me to get this party registered. It's way overdue.

"I have support of other land councils, individuals in the street and people who are just want to sit down and talk.

Mr Ryan ran unsuccessfully as an independent against the Labor incumbent Warren Snowdon in the seat of Lingiari during the last federal election.

"Lingiari is named after my grandfather who went around Australia talking about modern day land rights.

"This is what created the Northern, Central ... [and] Tiwi Land Councils in the Northern Territory, named after this amazing great man."

East Arnhem Land clans decide on self-government

Vincent Morello | AAP | August 11, 2009

Sixty Yolngu clans of East Arnhem Land representing at least 12,000 indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory say they will form their own government to determine the future of their people.

The clan leaders met over three days of the Garma Festival of Traditional Culture at Gulkula, on the Gove Peninsula, and emerged on Tuesday with the news.

Under a thatched, open-air shelter, the elders formed the Dilak Provincial Authority: Federation of Clan Nations of North East Arnhem Land.

Ten clan elders spoke intently about what they call the end of inequality against Aborigines and the right to govern their own people into a sustainable future.

Aboriginal powerbroker Galarrwuy Yunupingu, one of the elders, reached back more than 2,900 years ago to justify the reasons for the federation.

"The government, from the day of raising the flag by (Captain James) Cook and the formation of the parliament of this country, and the writing of the constitution that applies and talks about indigenous Australia, has walked right past this group of people," Mr Yunupingu said.

"This is not today's creation. This is thousands of years old.

"We are revising it to revive it for the benefit and the good of the future of indigenous Australia."

Mr Yunupingu also focused on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's pledge of "closing the gap" between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

"Unemployment and social services are still the dominant authority," he said.

"There has to be a time when we change from the second-class citizen treatment to another direction.

"Mr Rudd is talking about closing up the gap and he's that slow, he's that slow that we would like to help him with closing up those gaps."

The broad discussion among the elders did touch on mineral rights, which Mr Yunupingu said also needed to change so the traditional owners of mining lands received more than "pocket money".

"It is now time we balance our rightful ownership to everything and anything that sits on the country that brings about resources to Aboriginal people," he said.

Clan elder Djuwalpi Marika said the Yolngu people have their own democracy and political structures, which clash with steps taken by the commonwealth and territory governments to control remote indigenous communities.

"People have a problem with the intervention, income management and other things," Mr Marika said.

"They have a culture and this (the federation) will give them a direction."

The western boundary of the federation extends south from Maningrida to Numbulwar and includes Groote Eylandt.

The federation will spend the next few months establishing its political structures and will formally approach the federal and territory governments by the end of the year.

Central Land Council deputy chairman Maurie Ryan said he would again try to start an indigenous political party.

Mr Ryan said the First Nations Indigenous Party would work to ensure that funds pledged to Aboriginal services do actually reach the community.

"We have Aboriginal people in politics now but they follow the party lines," he said.

"This about Aboriginal people.

"There are a lot of people waiting for me to get this party registered. It's way overdue.

"I have support of other land councils, individuals in the street and people who are just want to sit down and talk."

Mr Ryan will hold a public meeting in Darwin this weekend when he hopes to get the 500 signatures required to register the party.

More than 2,000 people have attended the five-day Garma Festival, which included a key forum that took place over three days of the festival.

Most of the Aboriginal presenters have condemned the intervention and the territory government's plans to move people from remote homelands to town centres.

NT in a 'political calamity'

Tony Barass | The Australian | August 12, 2009

The post-colonial mindset among Darwin public servants did not allow them to grasp the changing complexities of delivering services to remote Aboriginal communities, causing a breakdown in the basic workings of government.

Rolf Gerritsen, a former director of social and economic policy in the chief minister's office under former Northern Territory Labor leader Clare Martin, also said the political calamity now under way in the Top End manifested itself in a range of issues stretching back to the 1970s, from black-white relationships to poor policy and a reliance on the federal government to dig it out of any hole.

Adding to the hotbed of issues paralysing the Northern Territory, the "quasi-ideological" fight now occurring among Aboriginal leaders such as Noel Pearson and the Dodson brothers, sparked by the federal intervention in the Territory, had only muddied the waters and caused confusion and anxiety among those bureaucrats who knew what they were doing.

Professor Gerritsen, now a research leader in central Australia with Charles Darwin University, said the NT's public service reflected the white community in which it worked, dominated by expatriates who were not long-term residents.

In the three years he worked within the bureaucracy, Professor Gerritsen said, staff turnover was about 35 per cent. And the paralysis that had engulfed the NT had only slowed down the clunky wheels of government even more, with public servants hesitant to sign off any projects or make any decisions until the political crisis was over.

"The public service had always reflected the peculiar nature of the Territory," he said. "We have always suffered from a lack of capacity ... we just don't have the grunt to properly carry out what we are supposed to be doing. We are forever looking for the grant, looking for the federal government subsidy."

But it wasn't just overall ability, it was also a government that was often dealing with completely wrong priorities. He said a recent decision by the NT government to build a $3 million racehorse training area in Darwin after it claimed it could afford only $50,000 for its part in a swimming pool at a remote Aboriginal community revealed an underlying reluctance -- and perhaps admission -- that indigenous problems were just too big to tackle.

"That to me shows you they are more interested in spending their money in Darwin's northern suburbs, where the swinging seats are, than seriously tackling the issues at hand," he said.

"The nice new boat ramps may be in Darwin, the races are in Darwin ... but the ones we're supposed to be helping are not. But you try to get any of the public service out into the remote areas -- it is an impossibility."

Because of that, other agencies often got "top-up" money to deliver programs they weren't meant to, changing the process and effectiveness instantly.

Canberra's inability to grasp the human or geographical complexity of the NT only exacerbated the failure, and added to the costs of trying to deliver services.

"There are way too many programs, and the high administration costs in delivering them makes them almost certain to fail," Professor Gerritsen said.

"The NT government sometimes chews up to 40 per cent of the costs. Transaction costs on the ground are also unbelievably debilitating."

But there were more serious underlying issues at play, he said.

The entire process of delivering services to indigenous communities -- at last count 696, some with as few as 25 people in them -- went to the heart of black-white relationships, and more recently, indigenous relationships among themselves.