LET ABORIGINAL VOICES OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY BE HEARD:
ABORIGINAL INVOLVEMENT PARAMOUNT
Monday night’s horrific exposure of state sanctioned abuse and torture of vulnerable Aboriginal children at Don Dale detention centre Northern Territory (NT) shocked and outraged the nation. Social media, Australian and International print media, many organisations, the Federal Government and then the NT Government strongly called for urgent action.
Within twelve hours, PM Turnbull called for a Royal Commission. The terms of reference were announced last night - they have been determined without any input from Aboriginal people! NT Aboriginal people had been demanding more.
Aboriginal Peak Organisations (APO) of the NT had called for the NT Government to be dissolved. Over one hundred organisations, Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal, called for the Royal Commission to be “independent...from the Northern Territory Government ...and...chaired by an appropriate expert ... [and that it]... must have Aboriginal representation from the NT.” There are calls for a second Royal Commissioner to be appointed, one from the NT and Aboriginal, and to be appointed by NT Aboriginal groups. There is a great lack of trust.
Previous distressing reports had been silenced and Territory and Federal sanctioned legislation has allowed this inhumanity and abuse to continue to fulminate. Earlier reports have also been ignored, like the 1997 Bringing them Home Report, the 1998 RCADIC and 2007 Little Children are Sacred report. Many question what good another inquiry or report will do.
In addition, the increasing punitive nature of our Territory and national policies which stripped basic human rights, removed Aboriginal control, penalised and or criminalised Aboriginal alcoholism and school truancy, and the paperless arrest laws, recent legislation approving restraints, use of spit hoods and the detention of young children has placed Australia on a slippery slope towards inhumanity and criminality of vulnerable citizens. The NT has the highest imprisonment rates in Australia particularly of Aboriginal people .The policies are failing and are inherently racist.
Discrimination and demonisation of NT Aboriginal communities and denial of their right to self-determination since the 2007 NT Intervention, which was extended for another ten years (and rebadged with additional punitive laws) as Stronger [Stolen?] Futures has had profound adverse impacts on Aboriginal communities.
The removal of Aboriginal children from communities and placement into out of home care or other institutions, the coercing of Aboriginal people off their homelands and into hub towns, and the pushing of Aboriginal children into boarding schools rather than provide choice through distance education models (as is available to non-Aboriginal children) raises other concerns; land is intricately connected to Aboriginal wellbeing and they have a responsibility to it. Racist laws need to be repealed and Human Rights principles implemented so that our communities and children may flourish.
Rosalie Kunoth Monks OAM, Arrente Alyawerr woman and NT person of the Year 2015 believes these horrific acts are part of the ongoing abuse and neglect on her people and children. She was part of the stolen generations and does not want a knee jerk response. She says,
"We saw kids removed, institutionalised and imprisoned through the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. We need healing centres not kids taken away again or abused. The tears, the re-traumatisation and the pain run deep. ... Our little children are sacred and have been removed from our communities at alarming rates since the 2007 NT Intervention. First under the pretext of paedophilia rings [which was disproved in 2009] and then neglect! We have the solutions but are denied these. We want our children brought home, our children and kin supported in culturally relevant solutions. Our children must be returned, Elders' structures and solutions be respected and we – NT First Nations' – be at the core of the solution."
On child removal, a VACCA report recently noted that there “is a direct correlation with children entering out of home care, and children entering juvenile justice. In the NT the rate of Aboriginal children in out of home care is DOUBLE the national average. They represent 96% of juvenile detainees system in the same territory.” In the NT children are flown out of communities away from kin, languages and culture.
Georgina Gartland of ‘concerned Australians’ says, “assimilation is in full swing and at the heart of this is the ongoing dehumanisation of Aboriginal people and children. There is a broader and legislated disregard of First Nations peoples and their human and Indigenous rights are denied them. Australia legislates racism. The Intervention (which required the suspension of the 1976 RDA) and Stronger Futures are inherently racist and were not consented to. Australia is in breach of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) & GR 32 on Special Measures, the ICSECR, and ignores totally the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights of Indigenous peoples which it committed to in just 2009. This recent brutality is in breach of the Rights of the Child."
This demands a broader response. First Nations peoples of the Northern Territory must be at the core of the processes and their solutions be implemented. There are calls for a second commissioner to be appointed - an Aboriginal person from the NT. We strongly support these calls.
Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC, former Chief Justice of the Family Court firmly believes the NT Government must have no part in this inquiry, he goes further,
"The NT Government is part of the problem and it is quite inappropriate for it to have anything to do with the setting up of the Commission or the terms of reference or the selection of a Commissioner. The process is very much open to question if it did so."
Natalie Cromb, Gamilaraay woman, questions power structures and governments that allow violence and racism and questions what will come of yet another report or Royal Commission. She, like many others, wants justice. She adds,
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders do not want more words written in reports that will be ignored. We want justice. We want change. We want the corrections officers to be held criminally culpable. We want the officers of the government held to account, the way that officers of a company would be if such conduct occurred under their watch. We want the systemic racism that targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to cease by first overturning the apartheidesque Intervention and we want all Australians to act. To command the government to act. To demand change.
Self-determination will be a key part of the change and Aboriginal involvement is essential. To date Aboriginal input has been denied. The NT Government must not be part of this Royal Commission process which needs to be completely independent, transparent and have strong Aboriginal involvement.
We support the calls for the appointment of a second Commissioner - an Aboriginal person of the NT