Session 2 day 2(a)

Friday 24 February (day 2)

(scribe/author: Robyn Smith)

Session 2:  Reconciling the Towers of Power

Panel:  Rev Djiniyini Gondarra, Steve Hatton, Ken Parish, Danial Kelly

Rev Gondarra:

  • I want to talk about disempowerment and loss of control. In the 1970s, the NT Government, via the Legislative Assembly and Harry Giese convinced the churches to surrender land and hand governance to local authorities.  The churches asked to extend leases for 40 years and were refused.  Churches were no longer needed in community areas.  The Mission Inquiry Statement was self-determination involving Arnhem Land and other communities and government settlements.  The question was:  what do people want?  There was confusion about why the government was doing this.  We want self-determination and self-government as the first people of the land.
  • In the mid-1970s, community councils were established and town clerks appointed to take on and learn a new form of government. It was very complicated for the people – school, health, community represented a big responsibility and a new world order.  There was mystification but we were working to demystify.  We had educators and mentors from churches and government.  We were managing our own lives and those of our children.  Entry permits were required for everyone, except public servants (teachers, nurses, doctors, police, etc) who worked in our communities.
  • We managed ourselves until 2007.   It continued under the ALP federal government and was called Working for the Future.  A Basics Card was introduced and money was quarantined.  People suffered.  It took all our hard work, dignity, pride and self-respect.
  • The 1967 referendum incited us to be full citizens. The 2007 Intervention took it away.  The world was watching.  The Australian Government forgot that we have our own law first and Australian law second.  Both go to peace, order and good governance.
  • Now Mr Turnbull has introduced a Cashless Debit Card. 80% will be quarantined, leaving less cash than there was with the Basics Card.
  • When will governments stop talking down to us? When will they stop giving and then taking away?  Would Statehood make that better or worse?  It will stop when we all put our heads together for the good of the Northern Territory and all people in it.
  • We’re caught up in the word ‘democracy’. It’s an intellectual word derived from Ancient Greece, demos meaning the people and kratia meaning power.  Quoted Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:  ‘…government of the people, for the people and by the people.’

Steve Hatton:

  • This is a very important issue and the Reverend’s speech was insightful. The Reverend and others, including Richard Trudgen, have been my teachers.  Perceptions are shrouded in cultural baggage.  Don’t assume that Yolgnu understand balanda or vice cersa.
  • Yolgnu saw self-determination as running under their own law, not in a balanda Westminster construct. They only had experience of mission governance.  It was never explained properly.
  • This is a massive problem in the NT. We tried to include everyone in the Constitution at the Statehood Convention.  This is where the future of the NT lies.  It must take Aboriginal culture into account, and it can be done.

Ken Parish:

  • It is critical for the economic prosperity of the NT. 30% of the population owns 50% of the land.  We must work together.   There is Aboriginal law and it has always existed.
  • The ALP jumped on board to Howard’s Emergency Response (the Intervention) and adopted it as its own. Lots of Aboriginal people think it was a Henderson government initiative because they were delivering it on the ground.  It was top-down and did not involve any consultation.  Super shires were the same.  There was no consultation.  Problems are not solved by abolishing institutions.  These are examples of how not to practice good governance.
  • The matter of a treaty must be revisited and taken seriously. The government has said it is looking at the matter, but there is no timeframe.  It will require an amendment to the Self-Government Act.  Fishing will be affected and needs to be included.
  • Top-up MLAs could be Aboriginal people who sit on matters involving Aboriginal land, but it would need institutional protection so it cannot be removed by the stroke of a pen, as is the case with the Self-Government Act.
  • Stonehood failed to address Aboriginal issues.

Danial Kelly:

  • I have worked for 10 years on reconciling Aboriginal law with balanda law. Where it is possible and appropriate, it should be reconciled.  It is possible in many discrete areas of Aboriginal culture.
  • There are plenty of examples where it occurs now – land rights, native title are good examples. If 5% reconciliation of laws is not possible, then 95% reconciliation is possible.
  • Here is a model that would not require any legislative change: (1) establish a lower level of court/tribunal (henceforth called Justices Court) into the court system.  At present, the Local Court covers these areas on circuit, but it could be done via Aboriginal Justices of the Peace on the ground speaking in language because language is critical at the local level; (2) the jurisdiction of the Justices Court would be limited to offences at the lower end of the scale.  The Justices Court would not be allowed to imprison, but would be allowed to fine, as JPs can already do; (3) appropriate and applicable Aboriginal law can be applied; (4) if an error is made, an appeal can be lodged in the Local Court; (5) this would remove three-quarters of the Local Court list and put justice in the hands of communities, making it fully inclusive based on respect.

Panel Discussion:

  • Steve Hatton – Aboriginal law already has a court/tribunal structure, so it can work. Cited the case of a particularly violent rape in Tennant Creek where the authorities had the wrong accused; the right accused was dealt with traditionally without publicity.  Let Aboriginal people decide how to implement the system.  The only question is in the nature of the punishment because the crimes are effectively the same.
  • Rev Gondarra – I was in Brisbane last year and systems exist whereby community problems are resolved within the community – cited Koori and Maori culture. We do have the system of government to deal with this.  We have a system where people are being judged in foreign language courts but people don’t want to know about it.  Cited the case of a criminal matter in which the accused was being called a drug ‘mule’ – that was lost in translation when the accused’s father took exception to his son being referred to as a ‘donkey’.
  • Grant Tambling – the missing partners here are land councils and representatives of Aboriginal health, education and commerce. We’re dealing with crime and punishment.  He returned to the matter of trust funds held by land councils and the responsibility attached to budgets and expenditure.  We need the right players to be in the mix.  Ken Paris – the land councils were invited but there is a clash with referendum consultancies in Palmerston at the same time as this summit.
  • Rev Gondarra – there are elections across Australia today for Aboriginal representatives to attend a Constitutional talk fest at Uluru.
  • Marshall Perron – we have failed to define the right objective. We’ve worked on the false premise that Aboriginal people want to live like balanda people.  They don’t.  Why do we impose balanda values on them through the education system?  We have to stop judging progress but the unemployment statistics.  Governments will flounder unless they come to this realisation, as was evident in the recent Closing the Gap statement by the Prime Minister.  Rev Gondarra – go back to the 1920s and 1930s to see how Aboriginal people were taken away from their land by the churches and taken to someone else’s land.  Agrees with Marshall Perron.  There’s still a problem with funding being misused in some communities.  ALPA just took over three communities and now 500 people have new jobs.
  • Question from the floor – the worst thing on communities is the hopelessness. The majority of people aren’t represented by anyone at all.  The NLC is an odd organisation that upholds the fiction of traditional ownership.  The NLC is a minority of people from Wadeye and Maningrida.  Rev Gondarra, what do you think of the NLC?  Rev Gondarra in response:  people wish the NLC finished because they don’t represent anyone.  It is a statutory body that doesn’t represent the people but they hold the money.  The Yolgnu Council Assembly endorsed Yingiya Guyula to run in the last election.  That Council represents eight nations.
  • Comment from Nick Gruen – more work and focus needs to go into demystifying. There is a program of early intervention that involves no social workers; it involves recruiting mentors for at-risk families.  Families do the work and professionals add to that.  It re-centres the world of the lived experience.