Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress leaders have continued to speak out against the Northern Territory Intervention, which passed its 10th anniversary this month with little attention from political leaders and the mainstream media.
In a pre-recorded video message to a forum on the Intervention anniversary held on Melbourne’s RMIT campus on Thursday Congress and Yolgnu Nations Assembly member Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra was forthright in his verdict.
“My judgment is I think it is getting worse. It’s disgusting,” Dr Gondarra said.
He said politicians were ignoring the failure of the Intervention measures, which the Howard government enacted in response to the alleged widespread child sexual abuse and family violence in remote Indigenous communities detailed in the Little Children are Sacred report.
“They can’t see the pain and it’s not going to make a difference,” he said.
At the forum, hosted by prominent TV journalist and documentarian Jeff McMullen, the Intervention which continued and even expanded under the Rudd/Gillard government’s Stronger Futures legislation, was painted by a number of speakers as a destructive failure in almost every respect.
The Intervention, otherwise known as the Northern Territory Emergency Response, saw uniformed Australian Defence Force personnel, backed by police, swiftly deployed into remote Indigenous communities in 2007.
The Commonwealth revoked the permit system Aboriginal communities had over their territory and compulsorily acquired five-year leases over privately owned land with alcohol and pornography banned in some areas. Medical teams were flown in to conduct checks.
Employment projects were axed and residents were put on income management. The police presence was bulked up in some communities and customary laws revoked.
Deakin University Professor Jon Altman said that on a range of welfare measures, such as income and health statistics, remote communities were actually faring worse than before the Intervention showing that “billions of dollars have been wasted”.
He said “a wholly unnecessary intervention in 2007” had led “to a sustained and ongoing disaster in 2017” with the Intervention proving to be part of the long failed colonialist project to assimilate Indigenous peoples by force.
“They need to be treated differently in a positive and productive sense, not in a punitive and discriminatory and destructive sense,” he said.
“In reality the Australian state is treating them as second-class citizens.”
He advocated a different approach to Indigenous people, one that was consultative and preserved their identity while meeting their needs and aspirations.
“We can mobilise non-Indigenous and Indigenous people who care in the face of this care-less assault, this brutal assault by the Australian state that is deploying a range of measures that are impoverishing, disempowering and demeaning remote living Aboriginal people,” Prof Altman said.
However, he said many Australians needed to be made more aware of what is going on and what they can do about it.
“We have government orchestrated national emergency interventions just a decade ago that have proved to be an absolute disaster; the Australian government and the mainstream media have said nothing about it,” Prof Altman said.
Dr Gondarra also issued a challenge to Australians to face up to the denial of rights to Indigenous people.
“We challenge you by saying you have to wake up, the Australian nation you have to wake up,” he said.
‘We need to work together to recognise our sovereignty.”
Dr Gondarra said that it was time to move past the recognition that Australia was taken off Indigenous people, without consultation or treaty, and to take action on recognising their sovereignty.
“We in our heart, we still say we are a sovereign nation,” he said
“Why are we a sovereign nation? Because our contact has not been taken away, our law has not been taken away, our Aboriginality, our language, everything is still there. So we have not lost our sovereignty.”
On this week’s Friday Forum: What is your response to 10 years of NT Intervention?