Saturday, September 5, 2009

UN Rapporteur agrees Intervention is racist

Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs!
By Bea Bleile

The Socialist Alliance was one of many signatories to a letter presented to Professor James Anaya, UN Human Rights Rapporteur, upon his arrival in Australia. The letter stated that "special measures" taken under the Northern Territory Emergency Response or Intervention are racist and that "consultations in their current form are manipulative and are aimed at maintaining racist legislation."

Michael Anderson, an Aboriginal leader from the northwest of NSW, wrote in his submission to Anaya, "The recent 'Closing of the Gap' initiative is designed to win the hearts and minds of the Australian public whilst assimilation proceeds."

Anaya arrived in Australia on August 15 and, during his 11 day visit, met Government authorities, representatives of Indigenous communities and organisations in Canberra, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales.

He received numerous submissions and traveled to Indigenous communities in both remote and urban areas to listen to people. And, having concluded his fact finding tour, Anaya agrees: the Northern Territory Intervention is racist.

According to his preliminary statement released on August 27, the Northern Territory Intervention is of particular concern because measures like compulsory income management, imposition of compulsory leases and community-wide bans on alcohol consumption and pornography "overtly discriminate against Aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatize already stigmatized communities."

Anaya states explicitly that the Northern Territory Intervention is "incompatible with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia has affirmed its support," and urges the Government "to act swiftly to reinstate the protections of the Racial Discrimination Act in regard to the Indigenous peoples of the Northern Territory."

The Rapporteur reports finding numerous examples of successful Indigenous programs addressing for example alcoholism, domestic violence, health and education in ways which are culturally appropriate and adapted to local needs, and stresses the importance of continued funding for such programs.

But Anaya heard of many instances where government programs failed to take into consideration already existing local programs, thus duplicating or replacing these local programs and denying and undermining "local decision-making through Indigenous peoples' own institutions."

This contravenes international human rights norms which guarantee "the right of Indigenous peoples to participate fully at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights" and Anaya emphasises that "government programs must respect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples to maintain their distinct cultural identities, languages and connections with traditional lands and to be in control of their affairs."

The Socialist Alliance has been calling for self-determination and Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs all along.

In contrast, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin joined politicians from both sides of politics in rejecting Anaya's findings, although she lauded him as "one of the world's leading human rights advocates and legal scholars" and welcomed the "extraordinary opportunity for an honest and open exchange of views and experiences" when he arrived.

As Michael Anderson wrote in his submission to the Rapporteur "Australia is a colonial country that has mastered the art of deceiving the eye. The words and actions of government appear on the surface to be honorable but scratch the surface and you will see institutional racism personified."

Richard Downs, spokesperson for the Ampilatwatja community walk-off in protest at the Northern Territory Intervention, slammed Aboriginal leader and former ALP President Warren Mundine for rejecting Anaya's report and called on Mundine to "get out of his air-conditioned office" and "visit the people on the ground".

The Socialist Alliance calls on the Rudd government to accept Anaya's report, to immediately reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act, to put an end to the Northern Territory Intervention and any "land-for-housing deals", and to provide adequate funding and support services to all Aboriginal communities, in particular homelands and remote communities.

We will continue to stand in solidarity with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters and support their struggle for land, justice and liberation.

Bea Bleile is a National Co-convener of the Socialist Alliance and convenes its National Indigenous Rights Working Group