The people of Mutitjulu are the custodians of our national icon Uluru.
Over the years, their lands and their children have been stolen and their traditional lifestyle has been irreparably destroyed. More recently, they have been targeted as a centre for paedophile rings and drug warlords. Following these allegations, the Commonwealth moved to dismiss the local council and appoint Brian McMaster the liquidator of Ansett Airlines to replace them. His appointment is being challenged in the Federal Court by a Mutitjulu councillor, Mario Guisseppe.
Violence, sexual assault and substance abuse are issues that confront many Aboriginal communities and those calling for change are mostly well-intentioned. But inflating the claims against Mutitjulu is misguided and has led to these serious issues being confused and diminished.
Despite the news reports, there is no evidence whatsoever of paedophile rings or drug warlords at Mutitjulu. The local community feels that they are being unfairly targeted by these extreme allegations. They agree with the findings of the Northern Territory police taskforce, which, after interviewing 300 people, reported that the claims being made about the Mutitjulu community had been exaggerated. It is not surprising that most of the critics have not visited the community recently.
There have been enormous improvements at Mutitjulu. There are no petrol sniffers in the community since the recent introduction of opal fuel and the one suspected paedophile was thrown out of the community last year after numerous complaints by members of the community to the police and his employer National Parks.
The local council has equal numbers of women and men on its governing committee. They have developed a constitution, they employ a corporate governance advisor and an independent accountant, and they are addressing the issues of violence and substance abuse through health, education and recreation programs. Unfortunately, the citizens of Mutitjulu have to struggle with their demons alone without jobs or meaningful government support.
Federal Government assistance is pitiful and, in June this year, the community’s funding was cut completely. Since 1 July, the services provided by Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council, Family and Children’s Services, Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS), Drug Alcohol and Substance Abuse Service (DASA), Juvenile diversion unit (JDU), Northern Territory Sport and Recreation and Centrelink, Job Futures and the Northern Territory Department of Education have not returned and the community have not received a single call or any correspondence to explain why.
A Mutitjulu ladies Welcome Dance
Everyone agrees that violence and sexual abuse are abhorrent, but why are Indigenous communities being held to a higher standard than others and why raise the issue in the context of the administration of a local council? Compare Mutitjulu with Randwick Council where a Liberal Councillor has been charged with sex offences against a minor. No one has seriously called for that Council to be sacked, nor should they.
How can the Commonwealth expect Aboriginal communities to follow the White man’s rules when the Commonwealth has not observed procedural fairness itself? Residents of Mutitjulu were astonished by the Government’s failure to allow them the right to know the unsubstantiated allegations being made against them before their local representatives were summarily sacked.
Mutitjulu is the laboratory for the Howard Government’s new Indigenous affairs policy. I can understand a ‘get tough’ strategy being rolled out against violence and sexual abuse, but these issues should not be used to strip Indigenous communities of their recently won self-governance and their land. The appointment of an administrator to Mutitjulu and the amendments to the iconic Land Rights Act being pushed through Federal Parliament at the moment mark a return to the colonial system of appropriation and White superintendents. (Read Graham Ring’s analysis of the Aboriginal Land Rights Amendment Bill here)
There are those who believe that allegations of rampant paedophilia throughout Aboriginal communities are being used to undermine Aboriginal self-government and to defend the denial of the Stolen Generations. Violence and abuse must not be swept under the carpet, but there is more to the story than meets the eye in the campaign against Mutitjulu.
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