Tear Down The Barbed Wire Of Discrimination

Jeff McMullen | Sydney Morning Herald | February 15th, 2010


The Northern Territory intervention has been an abject failure that 'has created another tidal wave of sadness across this land': Journalist and humanitarian Jeff McMullen says.
Photo: Steven Siewert - smh

In all of Australia's modern history, the crime of silence accompanies the death, destruction and denial that obliterates the rights of indigenous people.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's national apology two years ago was a long overdue admission that when a nation lives with officially sanctioned racial discrimination we are all diminished as human beings.

It is hypocritical to apologise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and say that the "injustices of the past must never, never happen again" and then to persist for more than two years with the humiliation and the discrimination of the Northern Territory intervention. No matter how hard this rain falls here on the streets of Redfern, it will not wash away the great stain on our history.

The pain of the stolen generations and the Northern Territory intervention are, without doubt, the two most destructive policies inflicted on Aboriginal people in my lifetime. The removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, the breaking up of families, the rupturing of whole communities and the upheaval of people from their traditional lands, along with that insane brand of assimilation that attempted to breed out the blackness and culture of indigenous people arose in our parents' generation but persisted into ours.

The shock and awe of the intervention, the vicious big lies by the Howard government about paedophile rings, the shaming of every Aboriginal parent, has created another tidal wave of sadness across this land.

The suicides among children have become a tragic contagion, the numbers of broken men and women in the long grass of the larger towns has risen, the police cells and prisons have record incarceration rates, men are bashed, hang themselves or are left to die in sweltering prison wagons, mothers weep for infants that in many places have increased rates of anaemia and are not thriving, and while the government body count cruelly manipulates the statistics to tell us that things are getting better, that the life expectancy gap is not as bad as they thought, we know the truth.

In the communities I work with I am usually the oldest man in the street. There is an endless procession of funerals. We owe the dead the truth - this nation is again betraying the trust of indigenous people. We are not listening.

It is one thing for the Prime Minister to apologise, to pledge to "close the gaps". He describes this as "the beginning of change".

But there is no real change, only hypocrisy, if our nation continues the pattern of asking for Aboriginal trust and then dealing up treacherous legislation that tramples their fundamental human rights. Let us be honest, Prime Minister, you are asking us to live with official racial discrimination.

On this day of reckoning and remembering, let us go back to that election promise in 2007 that, if Australians threw out the blatant assimilationists of the Howard Coalition, a Labor government would reinstate the Race Discrimination Act shamefully excised from the NT intervention legislation. This could be done in a single bill, without catches, qualifications or duplicity - but this Parliament won't do that because it is a House - and a Senate - of hypocrites.

Our government has expected Aboriginal people to endure this discrimination for 2 years and the only remedy, the only response to the condemnation and criticism from the UN's finest international human rights lawyer, the only twisted answer to the pleas of the overwhelming majority of people in those 73 remote communities now under unlawful government control, is to fiddle with words. The deceit is stunning.

Aboriginal people in these remote communities have publicly expressed to the government their clear rejection of this assimilation policy and attempt to control their lives and their lands. The intervention remains unlawful and unjust and those who support it will be condemned by future generations.

Do not turn away Australia. Tear down the barbed wire of discrimination, rip up those shameful signs in front of Aboriginal communities, say you are sorry, Australia - and mean it.

Jeff McMullen is a journalist, author and film maker and works with Aboriginal communities on health and education as honorary chief executive of Ian Thorpe's Foundation for Youth and is director of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience. This is an edited version of his speech at The Block, Redfern, last Saturday, the national day of protest against the Northern Territory intervention.

Original article source: www.theage.com.au