International Day of Action Against the Northern Territory Intervention

[cross-posted from Feministe]

Via Laurelhel and BFP, today is the International Day of Action Against the Northern Territory Intervention. The Northern Territory is a territory in Australia that is sparsely populated and largely made up by Aboriginal people, whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of Australia and the victims of white colonization.

The Day of Action is based around a hugely racist and imperialistic “intervention” on behalf of the Australian government in Aboriginal communities, purportedly designed to combat child abuse, but instead resulting in gross human rights violations.

I wouldn’t expect most people who have not lived in Australia to be familiar with the history of Australian Aboriginals — many Australians themselves aren’t, and though I lived there three years I’m not nearly as knowledgeable as I should be. But I have put together a very brief, very simplified overview of the negative “highlights,” because the current actions cannot be divorced from historical oppression. I invite anyone who is more knowledgeable to fill in the blanks and, though I have taken care with accuracy, to correct me if and where I am wrong.

To provide a point of reference, the early history of Australian colonization is in many ways similar to that of American colonization. Essentially, it was a genocide by British invaders, and just like in America, the effects of that genocide are still felt to this day by the descendants of those indigenous people and still largely (if not almost completely) ignored by white society, resulting in resentment and racial tension.

Starting in the 1800s, the Australian government began forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their homes. This became official policy in 1909 and continued until 1969, amounting to what is now called the Stolen Generation. Any Aboriginal parent seen as “neglectful” — which generally meant being an Aboriginal person, particularly one who lived a more traditional Aboriginal lifestyle as opposed to the modern white lifestyle — had their children forcibly removed. These children were supposedly taken to live with white families as a “humanitarian” effort, though large numbers ended up in state run homes.

This part is not provided in the link, but what I remember very vividly from an Aboriginal studies course that I took at college. These children had their names taken from them and changed. Siblings were separated at very young ages. Their lineage was not provided to them, their parents did not know where their children were and vice versa. Not only did this result in a profoundly lost sense of identity, it occasionally resulted in other horrors, like brothers and sisters marrying each other and not finding out until their records were eventually released. The Stolen Generation effort, though, was really a part of the larger genocidal effort. Interestingly, unlike in America where interracial sexual reproduction was strongly frowned upon, in Australia it was officially sanctioned and supported as a way to “civilize” Aboriginal people and to “breed out” Aboriginal blood. There were, in fact, breeding books for Aboriginal people, much like farmers keep for their livestock. As a result, many modern Australians with Aboriginal lineage appear white and may even be unaware of this aspect of their heritage. Due to purposely shoddy record keeping, it is unknown how many children and parents were victims of this policy.

Aboriginal people were not given full citizenship rights and the right to vote until 1969, and were not counted in the census until 1971. And, much like the Native American population, modern day Australian Aboriginals have hugely disproportionate rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty, health risks and abuse, which is, of course, a direct result of genocidal efforts.

The high rate of child abuse is what the Australian government is claiming to take action against. Instead, the intervention is simply recreating the conditions that caused types of negative social consequences in the first place. From the call to action (which you should read in its entirety):

In June this year, the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, announced that there would be a ‘National Emergency Response’ to combat child abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. The measures announced included the quarantining of half of all welfare payments, the abolition of the Community Development Employment Program, the appointment of managers for 73 prescribed communities, compulsory sexual health examinations of children, and the abolition of the permit system, amongst other things.

These measures are a violation of human rights, and is obviously racist and authoritarian. The passage of the Emergency Response legislation is dependent on the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the Northern Territory Native Title Act. Federal police and the military have been sent into the NT to enforce these measures.

Aboriginal people that work through the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) manage their own wages and money. Abolishing CDEP will push people onto welfare and the welfare income management system that allows for quarantining and tight control of how people’s money is spent. Many people running businesses on CDEP in remote outstations are already being forced to move into larger regional towns. The extraordinary measures give the Federal Government power to seize lands and property without compensation. The owners of those lands and properties have no right of appeal. Lands will be leased for five years, but the government has plans to extend these measures for 99 years. It is entirely up to ministerial discretion whether rent is paid on those lands or not.

As you can hopefully see, there is nothing even remotely right, sensible or well-intentioned about these actions. They breach the Racial Discrimination Act, violate property laws, strip citizens of personal autonomy, push people onto welfare and then restrict their access to it. And the intervention does these things to only one racial group within the population.

Instead of working with Aboriginal people, the government is working specifically against them, including appointing non-Aboriginal managers of communities. This is not a dialogue, it is not help, it is not intervention, it is quite frankly invasion.

Aboriginal organizations in the Northern Territory have devised their own plan [pdf] to handle the child abuse problem, which has gone ignored by the government. And it is utterly unclear how the current intervention is going to fight child abuse, anyway. Aboriginal people are not ignoring the problem, they are asking for government accountability and to be treated like human beings.

You can read stories about the effects of the intervention here. Please spread the word, particularly if you are Australian or know people who are. There is a federal election taking place in Australia on November 24th. However, the opposition party is maintaining support for the intervention, which leaves Aboriginal people and allies the only option of voting for third parties who are unlikely to win.

0 thoughts on “International Day of Action Against the Northern Territory Intervention

  1. Michelle

    From Wikipedia ( ):

    “It is frequently stated that the 1967 referendum gave Aboriginal people Australian citizenship and that it gave them the right to vote in federal elections. Neither of these statements is correct. Aboriginal people became Australian citizens in 1948, when a separate Australian citizenship was created for the first time (before that time all Australians were “British subjects”). Aboriginal people from Queensland and Western Australia gained the vote in Commonwealth territories in 1962. However, the Commonwealth voting right of Aborigines from other states was confirmed by a Commonwealth Act in 1949 (the constitution already gave them that right but it was often interpreted differently prior to 1949). They got the vote in WA state elections in 1962 and Queensland state elections in 1965.”

  2. Cara

    That’s why I said “full citizenship rights.” if they gained the right to citizenship in 1949, and not voting rights until the 60s, that’s not full citizenship, now is it? The date that I referred to is when the federal government guaranteed that the Aboriginal right to vote could not be revoked. Until then, the states could have taken it away. If someone can pass legislation to take away your right to vote, you are not a full citizen, now are you?


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