Session 3 day 1

Thursday 23 February (day 1)

Session 3:  Aboriginal Territorians and Self-Government

Panel:  Curtis Roman, Marion Scrymgour, Yingiya Guyula, Selina Uibo, John Rawnsley, James Gaykamungu.

Curtis Roman:

  • We need more Aboriginal people involved in governance, especially Aboriginal governance, to improve it. We need qualified Aboriginal people being involved without picking and choosing where they work based on the level of dysfunction.
  • Aboriginal MLAs need to take a leading role rather than sitting at the back of the room when Aboriginal issues are being discussed.
  • Advisory councils on Aboriginal matters need Aboriginal people on them because they have skin in the game.
  • We need a better understanding of Aboriginal leadership. For example, you can’t have an interstate Aboriginal person in charge of something in the NT.  It’s unacceptable and will be unworkable.
  • Aboriginal university students, irrespective of their course of study, should be trained in Aboriginal governance.

Marion Scrymgour:

  • The Tiwis are looking at models of governance now. The biggest gap is youth.  We must train and nurture the young ones to walk in two worlds.  One doesn’t compromise the other.
  • Where do Aboriginal people fit in the Constitution? What about statehood?  It needs to happen, but there must be Aboriginal recognition in both.
  • Curtis is an excellent example of youth leadership.

Yingiya Guyula:

  • When I was lecturing at CDU I was closing the gap between balanda and Yolgnu culture. Can we listen to and accept one another?  Can we agree?  We are making a Yolgnu Council of senior elders to work with the Northern Territory government.  Treaty would be one way to achieve understanding and recognition.  I campaigned on the issue of treaty.
  • Treaty is not about removal of rights; it’s about recognition of Yolgnu law.
  • Being an MLA is difficult. There is a different culture at Parliament House.  I am trying to push to be able to speak my language in Parliament.  That’s closing the gap and understanding one another.

Selina Uibo:

  • Provided her background as a YMCA Youth Parliamentarian and teacher, ultimately leading to her election as the Member for Arnhem.
  • She has four Assistant Ministerial roles including being on the Indigenous Sub-Committee of Cabinet.
  • Critical in her electorate are health, housing, education, employment and roads.
  • There is good Aboriginal representation in the Legislative Assembly – almost representative of the Aboriginal population.
  • Knowledge is power and education is key, but housing is critical. How can someone have statehood at front of mind when they don’t have a house?
  • Homelands and identity are critical (ie looking after country).
  • Domestic and family violence rates and the impact of intergenerational trauma are massive issues at unacceptable levels. FIFOs are next to useless; there should be local people finding local solutions.

John Rawnsley:

  • There is (or should be?) an Aboriginal Justice Agreement, specialist and therapeutic courts focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration to reduce the number of young detainees. Mandatory sentencing should be abolished and there should be a comprehensive plan for the management of alcohol.
  • We need to have a discussion about what ‘law’ is. Aboriginal involvement in Parliament is good, but there needs to be 30% across the Executive and representation in the judiciary.
  • There are 10 Aboriginal lawyers in the 533 lawyers across the Territory. It should be 140-150.
  • There is lots of diversity within the Aboriginal population and there are many language groups. Cited the NZ Youth Justice system that includes Maori people who speak language.
  • The dual system is not adequately resourced under the current structure.
  • There should be a legal pathways program for Aboriginal people.

James Gaykamungu:

  • I am a leader of Yolgnu ceremony (law).
  • We have lobbied to retain Yolgnu law.
  • Neither balanda nor Yolgnu law accepts people causing trouble.
  • We need to work together on law to recognise each other. No one knows about Aboriginal law.
  • Aboriginal customary law is here to stay. Balanda elections are for four years so they make laws and run.
  • Balanda law is not better than customary law.
  • Collaboration between balanda and Aboriginal law can be done. It is not hard.  It will be for the benefit of the NT.
  • Let’s work and make policy together. Our children will be the next Police Commissioner and the next Chief Justice.

Panel Discussion:

  • Local authority and input is required for integration and needs to be properly resourced.
  • Recognition of each other’s law can be done by treaty. That is how the two will be reconciled.  Homeland is not a camp site; it’s where the law resides.  Closed ceremonies (both men’s and women’s) are our parliament.
  • Aboriginal language in Parliament? Curtis Roman – absolutely.  It’s not a major issue.  The law is the same with all Aboriginal groups, even if the language and dances are different.  Selina Uibo – historically, Aboriginal people have always been the ones who have to adjust.  It can work in reverse.  Cited an example of Corrections in NSW.  Also cited the interpreter activity whereby judges of the Supreme Court were put into the dock on their [mock] trial and the entire trial was conducted in language other than English so they had a perspective of what it was like for Aboriginal and other ESL accused.  James Gaykamungu – We’re not talking about two laws; we’re talking about one law with input from balanda and Aboriginal people.
  • Statehood – the NT and Commonwealth have to negotiate the terms and conditions of statehood and the Commonwealth has said the NT must take the lead. There has been no negotiation with Aboriginal people for 20 years.  Should Aboriginal people take the lead and tell the NT government what is acceptable?  Marion Scrymgour – yes.  Aboriginal people need to be front and centre but need to take the rest of the population with us.  Aboriginal customary law has a lot of discipline and is not all about promised marriage.  Selena Uibo – I was surprised to see how much work has been done on statehood.  It’s hard to pick the priorities, though.  Some Aboriginal people don’t have a house to live in so statehood isn’t front of mind.  We really need to work out the priorities of Aboriginal people.  Steve Hatton – there was extensive consultation with Aboriginal people about recognition of customary law in the draft Constitution that came out of the convention.  John Rawnsley – it’s a complex subject.  It is difficult to exercise customary law discipline if it isn’t resourced.  James Gaykamungu – promised marriage has gone.  Aboriginal people now choose their own partners.  The culture is dynamic and it changes.
  • Question from Terry Mills re issues in urban Palmerston where cultural authority is claimed to be from various places. Curtis Roman – it’s Larrakia country so they should take the lead.  Marion Scrymgour – there was something in Alice Springs years ago with input from the four corners of Central Australia.
  • Question from Grant Tambling. In the NT, the percentage of the Aboriginal population is declining while in the states it’s rising because of self-identification.  Funding is at stake.  Are we in danger?  James Gaykamungu – employment in remote communities is through Centrelink.  Not having a proper job in a remote community is discriminatory.  Pay award wages to raise more tax.  Selina Uibo – yes, it is competitive.  The problems are structural, though, with Ministerial veto over bodies such as the ABA.  Marion Scrymgour – there is no evidence that our numbers are going backwards.  Our funding is in decline, though.