BY AMY MCQUIRE, JUNE 29, 2012
Originally published in Tracker Magazine.
Dhurili leader Reverend Djiniyini Gondarra is an outspoken opponent of the Gillard government’s controversial Stronger Futures policy. (AFP PHOTO/BEN STANSALL)
NATIONAL: A respected Yolngu leader has slammed both major parties for passing the Stronger Futures laws, stating they have both “stolen the authority and responsibility of Aboriginal people” and started a “war on democracy”.
The Stronger Futures laws, which extend and expand many aspects of the NT intervention, were passed in the Senate early this morning, following a marathon debate surrounding the asylum seeker crisis.
The laws have been subject to strong opposition campaign from civil, human rights and Aboriginal organisations.
The Greens were the only party to oppose the legislation.
The laws were amended to reduce the review period from seven to three years. But attempts to cut the sunset clause from 10 years to five were defeated.
Stronger Futures was passed despite calls for the government to refer it to a parliamentary committee on human rights to scrutinize whether it complied with Australia’s international rights obligations.
Yolngu leader Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra today slammed the government and opposition, stating both could not be trusted.
He has labeled it a “war on democracy”.
“In this country we have a very poor understanding of democracy. Government is supposed to belong to the people and be for the people. But Aboriginal people will always be seen as second class citizens in this country,” Rev Gondarra told Tracker.
“The government has stolen the authority and responsibility from us. They’ve taken it from us without properly sitting down with us.
“They’ve taken away the leadership and responsibility just in the same way as at the time of invasion, when they stole our sovereignty.”
Rev Gondarra says today is a day of mourning and that both parties have lost the trust of Aboriginal people.
“There will be a lot of angry people, and not just Aboriginal people, but those who have fought for justice,” Rev Gondarra said.
“Aboriginal people will always oppose anything that comes from these two parties. We will not listen to them. Aboriginal people will not take and enter into negotiations with these two parties… we will only work with the independents and the Greens.”
Rev Gondarra said the Greens should be congratulated for standing up for the rights of Aboriginal people.
He says the fight will continue.
“I want to say thank you to the many Australians, black and white, those from the different sectors in government and in the church as well as the individuals that have walked with us.
“In my heart I say thank you for being with us. I encourage them to continue to fight with us, not to give up.
“Because this is very important. Democracy in this country must be seen as an authority. It must be practiced for all people, regardless fo whetehr we are black or white.”
The laws have also been condemned by the Executive Director of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, Sydney Archdiocese Graeme Mundine.
“This is a sad day for all Aboriginal people in Australia and it is a sad day for democracy,” Mr Mundine said.
“The Stronger Futures legislation has now passed through both Houses of Parliament despite comprehensive opposition from Northern Territory Aboriginal Nations, community groups, Churches, welfare groups and others.
“More than 43,000 people have signed a petition and more than 450 submissions were made to the Senate inquiry. International Human Rights bodies have criticized the legislation and countless letters have been sent to Parliamentarians.
“Most importantly, Aboriginal people have made it clear that issues can be better addressed through respectful partnerships rather than through racist and discriminatory legislation.
“Civil society has played its part in our democratic process, but Government and Opposition Parliamentarians have failed in their responsibilities.
“They have ignored the voice of the people and pushed their own ill-informed and racist agenda.
Amnesty International says the laws show the Gillard government’s “blatant disregard” for its human rights obligations.
“Rather than genuinely listening to and working with the communities affected, the government has simply pushed through laws that extend some of the punitive aspects of the Intervention, such as linking school attendance with welfare payments,” Monica Morgan, Manager of Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Program said.
“It is difficult to imagine how these policies can work when there are such strong feelings of continued mistrust amongst the affected communities.
“Aboriginal Peoples in remote communities deserve the same respect, safety and protection as does any Australian – but this will not be achieved in a sustained manner under Stronger Futures.
“By not subjecting the Bills to scrutiny under the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, the government has missed its opportunity to respect the rights of Aboriginal Peoples in the NT, leaving the people who will bear the brunt of these policies under continued Government control for the next decade.”