Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Aboriginal Leaders' Gulkula Letter to Kevin Rudd

Two letters were written on the weekend at a meeting at Gulkula in Arnhem Land of some of Australia's most respected indigenous leaders, including former Northern Land Council president Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Mandawuy Yunupingu from Yothu Yindi, the "father of reconciliation" Patrick Dodson, Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma and Jackie Huggins, co-chairwoman of Reconciliation Australia.

Some of the
top Aboriginal leaders in the country carried the letters to Canberra earlier this week, in an effort to stop the Howard's government's attacks on aboriginal communities from passing through Parliament. The delegation was led by former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Coordinator Pat Turner and former NT government minister John Ah Kit, and tried - in vain - to meet with Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd before parliament debated the legislation.

Labor voted for it anyway. This is the text of the letter to Rudd:

Mr Kevin Rudd MP
Leader of the Opposition
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Mr. Rudd

Aboriginal leaders meeting at Garma this weekend have called upon the Prime Minister not to introduce the proposed legislative measures to give affect to his declaration of a national emergency in our communities in the Northern Territory.

The safety and wellbeing of all our children is paramount. We understand the need for tackling violence and abuse in some of our communities. Aboriginal people have led the way in addressing these issues in the absence of government support.

If any measure is expected to achieve the desired outcomes, there must be collaboration with community leaders throughout the Northern Territory. However, the Prime Minister’s unilateral action, without consultation or negotiation with us puts in jeopardy our relationship with the Government. It jeopardises the possibility of achieving any sustainable outcomes. The leaders brought to the Garma meeting messages from communities across the Territory expressing our people’s continuing concerns and alarm at the way in which the Australian Government’s intervention is being used to do much more than the intended protection of our children.

We are at a loss to understand how the removal of the permit system and the introduction of compulsory acquisition of our lands have anything to do with redressing the many complex social issues afflicting our communities. It is more likely that the Governments proposals will open the floodgates to illegal alcohol, drug and pornography dealers and to those who intend to prey on Aboriginal women and children.

We are deeply concerned at the severity and widespread nature of the problems of child sexual abuse and breakdown in our communities. But these are complex matters that occurred due to the neglect of successive governments in Australia that require a long term commitment of resources and political resolve on all our parts if we are to achieve the sustainable, positive changes that are so long over due.

We will continue to work collaboratively with Governments and communities to ensure that children are protected, they are our future and we will not compromise that for them. Above all, the role of our families and the need to strengthen and maintain our families must lie at the heart of any proposed solution. The widespread
fear caused by the deployment of Defence Force personnel in our communities will be a long term obstacle to achieving stable, healthy families and communities.

The Governments present intervention is not sustainable and the personnel presently working in our communities will inevitably leave. The impact of this intervention will have serious negative consequences, and one which concerns us most, because of the widespread defamation of all Aboriginal people that has resulted, is that Aboriginal people will lose confidence in any intervention, such as regular visits to medical services.

The Government’s decision to terminate the CDEP and replace it with social security arrangements will affect a majority of those people living on Aboriginal land. The detrimental impact of this new policy will be to force people into townships and communities where Aboriginal housing and services are drastically inadequate and create further dysfunction in those populations. Their policy of making social security entitlements conditional on school attendance and other factors will also contribute to a large transmigration with disastrous potential.

Moreover because the homelands have served as safe havens for families escaping alcohol, drug abuse, criminal behaviour and related dysfunction there will no longer be the option of the protection of their homelands. Thereby, the scale of the problem that concerns us all will accelerate rapidly particularly exposing women and children to greater risk.

We believe that the following steps are a pathway forward in dealing cooperatively with these matters.

Sit down and talk

It is convention upon the declaration of a national emergency for the Prime Minister to visit the affected areas to offer support and to listen to the needs of the people directly affected. Normally, the Leader of the Opposition accompanies the Prime Minister on such visits.

This fundamental courtesy has not been extended to the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory. It is a matter of urgency that, before taking any further action, the Prime Minister come to the Northern Territory and meet with us. We believe that you should seek to accompany the Prime Minister in the event he has the courage to make the trip and meet with our people. Indeed, an earlier request to the Prime Minister on 26 June has gone without even any acknowledgement. Nor has there been any acknowledgement of the preliminary response of the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory sent to the Government on 10 July 2007. We have invited the Prime Minister to meet with us at the earliest opportunity to find a sustainable way forward.

Stop the legislation The Aboriginal leadership meeting at Garma believes that there is no need for the extraordinary legislation that is to be put to the national parliament in the coming week. The proposed legislation has been drafted without any consultation with the people most affected by it – we the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory.

Our people are concerned that the proposed legislative measures will be in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act, and as such, will bring further international condemnation to all Australians.

The permit system

The current permit system allows for all government officials to enter Aboriginal Land to carry out their duties at any time. These permits are issued by The Australian and Northern Territory Governments, not by any Aboriginal Land Council.

No more dispossession

The Government must negotiate with Aboriginal people with legitimate property rights before any compulsory acquisition of our property. The usurping of our property rights does nothing to engender confidence that we are part of the democratic polity of Australia.

This is our land. Australia recognised this in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and further reinforced it in the Mabo and Wik native title High Court decisions. Additionally, the Special Purpose Leases in perpetuity for Town Camps provides the necessary security of tenure for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

We know that Australians support the recognition and protection of the property rights of all Australians, including those held by Aboriginal people. The Government’s intention to remove these rights, however well meaning his proposals to protect our children, will be regarded as deceitful and a betrayal of our children.

We would welcome the Oppositions support in defeating this iniquitous legislation. In the event of the legislation passing in the Parliament we would seek a commitment from the Australian Labor Party to repeal it immediately should you win government. We request that you meet with us on our traditional lands in the very near future. If you are agreeable to such a meeting we nominate Ms Olga Havnen as our contact person.

She can be contacted on 0488107060.

Yours Sincerely

Galarrwuy Yunupiŋu
4th August 2007

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