12th Assembly 2009

Indigenous policies condemned

The national Assembly of the Uniting Church has heard an impassioned call for the immediate end to the federal Intervention in the Northern Territory.

The Intervention, announced by the Howard Government in the lead-up to the 2007 election, has entailed significant loss of Indigenous human rights.

Founded on the now-discredited claim that paedophile rings operated in Indigenous communities, the intervention has been continued by the Rudd Government.

The call to end the Intervention came from the Rev. Shayne Blackman, National Administrator of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC). He was speaking on the UAICC report to the national Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia in Sydney.

“The Intervention cannot and will not work for Indigenous people,” he said. “Policies to be effective must be driven by Aboriginal people. They must have the leadership and guidance of traditional leaders. Otherwise, there can be no practical and sustainable outcomes.”

Mr Blackman began his presentation to the Assembly with detailed data on the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians on many socio-economic indicators. They included education, health, housing, employment, imprisonment, suicide, attempted self harm and domestic violence.

"These statistics are evidence of the wearing down of our sprit, our culture and our society,” he said. “It is like a tree whose roots are constricted in a pot. Our spirit is slowly eroding.

“Governments must give Indigenous people room to develop their own policies for their future,” Mr Blackman said. “Australian governments — in the Northern territory and federally — have adopted policies that will only increase impoverishment.”

He instanced the Working Future program announced on May 20 by federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin.

“Macklin ordered the acquisition of 15 town camps around Alice Springs because Tangentyere Council refused to sign over 40 year leases,” Mr Blackman claimed. “This program will not help Aboriginal people. But it will pave the way for mining, tourism and development.”

Mr Blackman also called on the Federal Government to:

  • respectfully listen to Indigenous people,
    rectify the lack of negotiation over the intervention,
    recognise the rights of Indigenous people to negotiate, not just be consulted,
    ensure appropriate protocols, determined by Indigenous people, are followed in all negotiations and interactions,
    recognise the right to have negotiations in Aboriginal languages and facilitate a negotiation forum,
    accept that its representatives must learn local languages,
    acknowledge that compulsory income quarantining is discriminatory,
    explore more positive ways of managing income, such as education,
    reinstate all suspended provisions of the UN declaration on human rights.

Mr Blackman called on the churches to be a platform for engagement between Indigenous people and governments.

“Churches could appoint a person to monitor the intervention and work collaboratively with all parties,” he said.

“The churches can work with Aboriginal and Islander representative church structures to develop a united commitment to work towards national and state policy changes,” he added.

Mr Blackman referred to two positive examples of the church at work within Aboriginal communities.

At Napranum, in Far North Queensland, Chris Madua’s young life through contact with the church was transformed from drug and alcohol addiction. He is now training to be a ranger in the Napranum region.

At Aurukun, also in Queensland, the Rev. Saimoni Davui has assisted young local man Herbert Yunkaporta to recover from serious drug and alcohol abuse and violence. He now has a certificate of mental health and works for the flying doctor service.

The Assembly responded to Mr Blackman’s presentation with sustained applause.

Questions from the floor of the Assembly included that a proposal be formulated to give effect to the call to governments for changed approaches and legislated reforms.


View the Congress photo gallery here http://assembly2009.uca.org.au/resources/photo-galleries/94-congressreport