Homelands underfunding & town camp acquision: Policy!

From: The WAI quarterley newspaper (WAI recognises the sovereignty of the Indigenous Nations)
Posted: May 21, 2010

In recent months, the NT and Federal Governments have introduced new major policies alongside the ongoing, emergency response" legislation, a "second wave" of the colonial Northern Territory Intervention. Despite criticism and condemnation from various Indigenous groups, communities and organisations, as well as human rights groups and other supporters, the assimilationist agenda of the intervention and related policies continues to be rolled out and strengthened. This attack on Indigenous communities and denial of Indigenous self-determination is an aggressive, racist and disgusting continuation of the colonising activities that have been ongoing for the last 230 years.

A Second Invasion
On May 20, the NT Government announced their new outstations policy, failing into line with Federal government rhetoric about community viability, announcing that substantial services will only be provided to communities deemed "economically viable". Under the new policy, funding for essential services will be capped on outstations/ homelands at the current rate of $36.5 million a year. This means that no new houses will be built on homelands, and no new homelands will be created. It has also changed the definition of 'outstation' to qualify for funding, stating that outstations must be occupied for 8 months of the year- a requirement that residents say is hard to fulfil, given the need to travel to towns for work, education, health services, given the lack of services for homelands, and to visit family.

The policy is part of the new "Territory growth towns" model, which priorities only 20 communities in the NT for funding for essential services, starving funding from most of the 580 Indigenous communities and homelands in the Territory. This policy is like a re-missionisation of Indigenous peoples, aiming to force, coerce or blackmail people into relocating to these 20 "hub towns", to remain controlled by government administrators currently known as "government business managers".

In order to qualify for funding, these 20 communities are being made to lease their land back to the government for between 40 and 99 years. If communities do not relinquish control over their land, they will be denied any funding for housing or essential services.

The policy has faced extensive criticism from all sectors of the community, especially in the face of medical evidence of the health benefits for Indigenous people living on their homelands. A report released by the Menzies School of Health in Darwin found that people living on their homelands having lower obesity rates, diabetes and heart problems, are less likely to have drug and alcohol problems and in fact because of the semi-subsistent living get more exercise then those in the communities.

'It is important to quantify what costs may be incurred by not investing in homelands. For example, loss of potential income from arts and tourism industries; loss of health and well-being increased human services and infrastructure costs!'

Land councils and communities are also confused as to why certain communities have been chosen over others - why, for instance, no communities south or east of Alice Springs have been selected. As Yananymul Muncinggurr, from the Laynhaupy Homelands Association, said in a media release on the 21st May: 'We heard the Chief Minister Paul Henderson (on ABC Radio 105.7 Drive 20.5.09) say these 20 towns they've selected are the biggest in the NT. But that's not true. Their own information says so. According to the NTG Bush Telegraph website, Beswick (Wugularr) community has an estimated population of 450 compared to Papunya with an estimated 342 people." (Papunya is one of the 20 communities, but Beswick is not.) It seems that many of the communities selected as "hub" communitiesare those with potential funding sources outside the Government, predominatelyin the form of mining royalties.

This highlights the relationship between the Intervention's land grab and the colonial government's desire for increased access to Indigenous land for mineral and resource exploitation.

Communities are also angered at the lack of consultation the Government has done in deciding to defund these homelands/outstations. In October last year when the NT Government announced that there would be changes to the funding of outstations they announced two rounds of consultations. The first in December which was chaired by Patrick Dodson in 12 sessions and a second round of consultation to take place in the period of March-June 2009 that would look at the economics of funding/defunding homelands and weigh them up.

As Patrick Dodson wrote in his report: "it is important to quantify what costs may be incurred by not investing in homelands. For example, loss of potential income from arts and tourism industries; loss of health and well-being; increased human services and infrastructure costs."

And yet the NT Government decided against carrying out these further costing instead arrogantly announcing the policy without informing the communities that this second round of consultation would not be taking place. As a result of this Marion Scrymgour quit from the NT Government and became an Independent. Since Scrymgour resignation the NT government has announced it will visit a few communities but this feels more like saving face then genuine consultations.

It is not only remote communities and outstations that are being targeted as part of the government's paternalistic attack. On Sunday, May 24, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced the permanent acquisition of Alice Springs town camps, after Tangentyere Council, the Indigenous body responsible for administration and management of the camps, refused to sign a lease deal in exchange for housing and infrastructure.

Tangentyere is comprised of Representatives elected by the residents of each camp. The organisation was created during Indigenous resident's long struggle for "special purpose leases in perpetuity" over the land they were forced to squat on the fringes of Alice Springs. They have built 200 houses and 70 tin sheds for the 2000-3000 people who live on the camps. Tangentyere provides the camp's social services, including kids activities, rubbish collection, night patrol, and the delivery of water-drums to camps still refused access to running water. Despite bearing responsibility for services usually provided by government, the Council is hugely under funded. Recent funding cuts include the defunding of Community Development Employment Projects and an end to the "return to country" program that helped over 1900 people return home from Alice Springs.

Under the compulsory acquisition, Tangentyere is stripped of its management role, and NT Housing will control all housing stock.

William Tilmouth, director of Tangentyere, explained their refusal to cede control to CAAMA Radio in Alice Springs: "What will happen to people living in tin sheds- Those 70 tin sheds will be bulldozed and l don't think they'll be building 70 new houses. NT Housing management create a lot of homelessness through failed tenancies in urban housing and the people always come and live on town camps, that's their fallback position if you get evicted from a town camp the only fallback position is back into the scrub in from whence you came."

The acquisition is not a 40 or 99 year lease deal, but a permanent acquisition of control. The Council and town camp residents say they fear that the government intends to eventually phase out camps, integrating residents into expanded suburban areas of Alice Springs. Since the announcement, there have been suggested that Darwin town camps will be the next government target.

The second wave of the NT Intervention makes it even more clear that the underlying intentions of the colonial government are the assimilation of Indigenous people into colonial society and the acquisition of Indigenous land, despite the long, hard struggle of Indigenous peoples to win back some rights to land after the initial invasion 200 years ago.

NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson has said of the "hub communities" strategy that the future of communities will see them developed into "towns like any other" linking the creation of hub communities with initial intervention policies such as compulsory land acquisition, removal of the permit system, and appointment of government administrators, his vision for communities is economic development. Communities are to be opened up to outside business ventures, integrated into the "mainstream" capitalist system, and to undergo a process referred to as "normalising", aka assimilation.

"it's a return to the mission days where people were herded into towns so the government could assimilate them," says Barbara Shaw of Mt Nancy town camp.

The same colonial rhetoric of white supremacy is still being used to justify the ongoing and expanding colonisation of this country. In 1788, Indigenous people were "primitive", "savage" and "backwards", thus required colonisation to "help" them become part of the superior white civilisation. Now, social problems within communities are again being blamed not on 200 years of genocide and occupation, but on Indigenous community control, traditional culture, and isolation from colonial capitalist society. Racist government rhetoric now paints Indigenous communities as "backwards", "violent" and "savage" through hyped up reports regarding child abuse, and emphasis on violence and alcoholism.

The same Stolen Generations rhetoric that brands Indigenous peoples as unable to look after or manage themselves, needing white society to control and shape them, has emerged in the racist commentary suggesting Indigenous communities governance structures are incompetent and must be overtaken by State administrators, and the people must once again become virtual wards of the State administrators once again become virtual wards of the State, this time managed through Centrelink, NT Housing, and Government Business Managers.

This racist rhetoric merely diverts attention from the underlying agenda. The Government does not need control over Indigenous land to build houses, to provide funding for essential services, or to support Indigenous health through self-determination. For instance, the town camps that have the worst conditions and infra-structure, still without any housing oe adequate amenities, are the only camps that have never been granted a special purpose lease and remain on government controlled land. What these leases are necessary for is to bypass Indigenous consent and control over the development of communities and camps.

Once again. in hiding true motives underneath an avalanche of paternalistic racism regarding Indigenous communities and residents, superior white civilisation is put forward as the white knight to "save" Indigenous peoples. It seems that the answer to problems in Indigenous community to get rif of the "Aboriginal problem" which means to "get rid" of Aboriginal people through assimilation and the complete denial of Indigenous self-determination.

This article was digitally captured from the 'WAI' hard copy newspaper and some grammar and spelling errors may have occured during the translation process - apologies Sub-Editor