It is obvious from Jennifer Mills’ recent article that she not only lacks an understanding of current issues in Alice Springs, but also of the broader issues in the political arena. One of the problems in Alice Springs is actually people like Ms Mills, who feel free to comment on contemporary Aboriginal society from the safety of their computer keyboards. Ms Mills has not been out on the streets of Alice Springs observing the nightlife, as Brendon Heenan from the Alice Springs Town Council, Nicolas Rothwell from The Australian, staff from the Centralian Advocate, me and many others have done over the past few weeks. Yes, recent media has all painted the same picture of life in Alice Springs — that is because there is only one view late in the evening around KFC Cross.
If Ms Mills had seen the things that I have, she would not be able to blithely state "…effective services already exist and are working hard to treat the problems." There is nothing effective about youth services in Alice Springs. The Youth Action Plan, the result of bipartisan commitment and consultation across the sector, and the Youth Hub have never materialised. Yes, petrol sniffing has been targeted through the introduction of Opal fuel. This program has been a boon for BP. Unfortunately, our youth have just moved on to other drugs, especially ganja. The underlying issues remain the same.
Aboriginal people don’t need to be saved by Ms Mills and the legions of others who have come to Alice Springs to speak for us, to hold our hands, to encourage us to pursue their romantic vision of a traditional Aboriginal lifestyle. We can speak for ourselves. The Aboriginal leaders in Central Australia know that we have a deep crisis on our hands. We want action. We back local businesses and the local community’s call for change. At the Tuesday meeting in Alice Springs, the business community was present in droves. So, too, were Lindsay Bookie, chair of the Central Land Council, and Sid Anderson, my brother, President of MacDonnell Shire. All people of standing in Central Australia want to see this crisis resolved by strong action.
Potential solutions include: real truancy programs; schools adequately funded for the full cohort of Territory children; implementation of the Youth Action Plan; business community input into the management and funding of the Gap Youth Centre; normalisation of the Town Camps; putting Night Patrol and Day Patrol services out to tender; significant welfare reform; land tenure reform.
Even more important will be establishing a new culture of accountability in the Territory. Our problems may be complex, but they are not insurmountable. Government must be accountable; bureaucrats administering program funding must be accountable; youth service providers must be accountable. I expect a hostile reaction to these observations and proposals because there are many people currently living on the gravy train of Aboriginal suffering.
But Aboriginal people are not lesser human beings and Aboriginal people are not animals, as Ms Mills’ comment about Nicolas Rothwell ‘going on safari’ suggests. We want an end to segregated ‘animal bars’ which allow members of our community the humiliation of lower standards of behaviour and dress. We do not want our children scared into obedience by dogs with gnashing teeth. We want to be treated with the same high expectations, rights and responsibilities as any other human being.
We cannot wait any longer for change. We are up to our necks, swimming in misery. I don’t write from a distant perspective of an observer. I write from deep within the misery myself. I am the one burying nieces and nephews on a regular basis and crying for a brother dead far too early from the abuse of drugs and alcohol. I’m the one who, after a long night on the streets of Alice Springs two weeks ago, was called down to the hospital because my niece was in ICU after attempting suicide. I am tired of the funerals. I am frustrated with those who refuse to act. The pain of living with the ongoing loss of our young people is almost unbearable. I am no longer shocked by life in Central Australia, but I am sad and extremely concerned about our future.
Jennifer Mills responds:
I thank Alison Anderson for her response.
It is surely time we all stopped jumping to conclusions about each other and expended our energy dealing with the problems facing our town.
It is part of the role of independent media to call the mainstream media on its behaviour, to provide a context where that context is missing. I hope that Anderson has not confused my work with my personal opinions. I am no champion of the NT Government.
The cycle of panic, policy scramble, and despair is familiar to all of us and she should not presume to think me safely out of it, nor presume that the failures of government welfare are unique to Alice. My article was designed to prompt action and reveal concrete plans, just as Rothwell’s was designed to provoke an emotional response. It is my job to look for the agenda behind the reporting. It is the job of our elected representatives to make that agenda clear and act upon it.
Perhaps now we are a little closer to that. I wish her luck.
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