Yolngu people to take court action against intervention

Djungadjunga Yunupingu

Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM
Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra

Leaders signing Statement

Statement Signatures

Click images to enlarge

Ross Peake Canberra Times May 2, 2012

Leaders representing 8000 Aboriginal people will today launch a campaign against federal government intervention in the Northern Territory.

The statement to be issued by the Yolngu Nations Assembly representing Arnhem Land people will call on traditional leaders to refuse approval for exploration licences.

Spokesman Djungadjunga Yunupingu said his people initially thought intervention would help.

''But now our experience is that it has not been beneficial,'' he said.

''It has turned our young people against their elders because it has undermined our ability to determine things for ourselves.

''In schools our bilingual program is not being supported.''

Another spokesman Djiniyini Gondarra said the government could achieve its aims through partnership with the indigenous communities.

''They have no need to grant themselves the continued and new powers contained within these bills,'' he said.

''Land councils are increasingly being pressured by government to act outside their roles and become agencies of government.

''We want our land councils to advocate for our needs and not have their independence curtailed by government funding arrangements and political interference.

''We call on the federal and Northern Territory parliaments to end their interventionist policies and agendas and return to a mindset of partnership based on the principles of self-determination.''

Today's declaration is a result of the first Yolngu Nations Assembly, convened last October to bring together clan leaders from across Arnhem Land.

The intervention is driven by the 10-year Stronger Futures program to address key issues in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, including employment, school attendance, alcohol abuse and child protection.

This will extend alcohol and pornography restrictions, compulsory income management and limits on the consideration of cultural practices and customary law in bail and sentencing decisions.

Last month the Gillard government dedicated $583 million to education as part of the package.

The money will pay the wages of 200 teachers and for the construction of up to 100 teacher houses in remote communities.

The funding will also pay for the continuation of a school nutrition program that provides meals to about 5000 students in 67 schools.

Legislation to extend elements of the intervention for a further 10 years has passed the House of Representatives and is being considered by the Senate.

Djirrkaaymirr Rev Dr Djungadjunga Yunupingu
Spkesperson Yolnjuw Makarr Dhuni

NT elders fight Stronger Futures law plans

Lisa Martin (AAP) Sydney Moring Herald May 2, 2012

Aboriginal leaders from Arnhem Land communities have threatened a revolt against the federal government's Stronger Futures laws by refusing to participate in land lease negotiations or give the nod to mining exploration licences.

Labor's Stronger Futures draft laws are before the Senate and likely to pass with bipartisan support after federal parliament resumes in May.

The laws continue the former Howard government's Northern Territory intervention introduced in 2007 to address violence and alcohol abuse in Aboriginal communities.

The measures are widely opposed by NT Aboriginal communities, who say they were not properly consulted on the government's plans and that the laws are racist.

A group of traditional owners representing 8000 people in west, central and east Arnhem Land have written to the prime minister, indigenous affairs minister, opposition leader, senators and NT government calling for the Stronger Futures laws to be scrapped.

The letter, obtained by AAP, says until the laws are discarded traditional owners will refuse "participation in land lease negotiations with the federal government and approval for any exploration licences".

"Traditional owners of prescribed community lands have been placed under extreme pressure from the federal government to grant them head leases over these communities," Dr Djiniyini Gondarra wrote.

Dr Gondarra also criticised Aboriginal land councils, saying many were failing the people they were supposed to represent.

"Land councils are increasingly being pressured to act outside their roles and become agencies of government," he wrote.

Their independence was also being "curtailed by government funding arrangements and political interference".

Dr Gondarra called for the Commonwealth Auditor-General to review the relationship between the federal government and NT land councils.

The traditional owners want the federal and territory governments to end "interventionist agendas" and return to "the mindset of partnership based on self determination".

In the letter, the group also slams the NT government's rule for mandatory English lessons during the first four hours of school days, in the territory's schools.

"To be successful we need education with instruction in our Yolnu languages through all levels of schooling," Dr Gondarra said.

Indigenous elder Djungadjunga Yunupingu said in the letter the intervention has taken Aboriginal communities back to the 1920s era to the early mission days.

He said the NT intervention had pitted young people against their elders and undermined communities' abilities to make their own decisions.

"You can change names (to Stronger Futures) to convince (us that things are better) but you are still following the same (track)," Mr Yunupingu said in the letter.

"If we are citizens together in this country, lifting up the one flag, each calling Australia our home, then we must work with respect."

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has lent his support to the indigenous leaders' plea for Stronger Futures laws to be dumped.

"It is my hope that those in government will listen to the request of the Yolngu Nations people ... and end the interventionist policies," Mr Fraser said in a statement.

The man he made minister for Aboriginal affairs in the late 1970s, Ian Viner QC, also supports scrapping Stronger Futures.

"It is a strong statement which I am ready to support," he said.

The Catholic Church also opposes the draft laws.

"The Yolngu Nations are clearly stating they have had enough of being pressured to agree to things that are negatively impacting their communities," Sydney Archdiocese Aboriginal Catholic Ministry spokesman Graeme Mundine said.

Mr Mundine said Yolngu people have consistently asked for partnership and self-determination, not intervention and discrimination.

"The government seems to have its head in the sand over this Stronger Futures legislation."

The Uniting Church is calling on the Senate to block the Stronger Futures laws.

"How many more decades of policy failure do Aboriginal people in the Territory have to endure before Canberra learns the lesson that the only way forward is together?" spokesman Stuart McMillan asked.

"An extension of the Intervention only perpetuates their disempowerment."

He raised concerns about controversial elements of the laws such as plans to cut parents' welfare payments if children miss school, known as the SEAM program.