'He Was Supposed To Be The PM For Indigenous Affairs'

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The gains made from past Aboriginal protest movements are being extinguished by today’s leaders, leaving communities “betrayed” by broken promises, a summit of Aboriginal leaders will hear this week.

A Freedom Summit held in the Red Centre town of Alice Springs today and tomorrow is expected to attract nearly 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, to discuss the future of their communities.

It hopes to elect an assembly of legitimate leaders to act as spokespeople for the diverse range of First Nations across the country to engage with government, as opposed to “handpicked” government and media spokespeople.

In a statement the congress organisers say “The Aboriginal rights struggle where once we stood as thousands in the streets, where many voices rose to inform our strongest voices, all came to an end in the mid-1970s”.

“We invested faith that promises would be kept. But our expectations have been betrayed.”

This include promises for treaty and national land rights, broken by former Labor leader Bob Hawke and ignored by successive leaders.

The summit comes a few months after NT Chief Minister Adam Giles made calls to water down the NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act, the first land rights law in Australia, in the name of “economic development”.

Tauto Sansbury is one of the organisers of the summit, and has a long history in Aboriginal affairs, including working with commissioners for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

He told New Matilda the current political climate had forced Aboriginal Australia to act.

“The political climate for Aboriginal people across Australia is not good. The Abbott government has cut $543 million and is looking to cut more out of the federal budget…

“The Barnett government in WA is planning to move up to 12 000 Aboriginal people off their traditional lands and South Australia is talking about the same thing.

“We have high incarceration rates, high suicide rates, Aboriginal kids being taken off their parents and placed in out-of-home care.

“We have major issues and no one in government is listening. We don’t have people to speak on behalf of their own communities. We’ve got a problem of a very selective representation that has been picked by the federal government and that’s not acceptable to us. That’s not the outcome we’re seeking.

“Tony Abbott is supposed to be the Prime Minister for Indigenous affairs but he’s not listening to us.”

Tauto Sansbury.

He says since the demise of the national representative body ATSIC there has never been true representations for First Nations peoples.

“ATSIC was far better than the Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC),” Mr Sansbury said.

“It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t bad either. If you look at state and federal governments operating since day one of colonisation, they’ve never been perfect, they still go on their merry way and do what they want.

“We were never given an opportunity to build ATSIC up to what it could have been… John Howard and the Liberal party and also members of the Labor party didn’t want to see a stronger representative body like that.”

Aboriginal Australia does have the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, set up under Labor. It did not get renewed funding under the Abbott government but is still in operation.

The Abbott government relies on the hand-picked IAC for advice on Aboriginal affairs, headed by the chief Aboriginal advisor Warren Mundine.

Mr Sansbury says land rights, sovereignty and treaty are all agenda items for Aboriginal Australia.

But he says while constitutional reform will be discussed, whether it will deliver outcomes for blackfellas is the real question that needs to be asked.

“People want to see realistic outcomes, something tangible… and constitutional reform… is it something that will give us anything at the end of the day?

“We had the 1967 referendum, and that got through and what have we got from that? That should answer that question.”

Amy McQuire

A Darumbul woman from central Queensland, Amy McQuire is the former editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine.

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