AUSTRALIA’S “shameful treatment” of indigenous people in remote Northern Territory communities has been exposed during a six-day fact-finding mission by local and international visitors, a prominent Aboriginal Catholic leader has said.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC) executive director Graeme Mundine said he had joined the team of indigenous and non-indigenous Christians as “Living Letters” to the Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory.
Living Letters are small ecumenical teams visiting a country to listen, learn, share approaches and challenges in overcoming violence and in peacemaking, and to pray together for peace in the community and in the world.
The 11-strong group included observers from Bolivia, Egypt, the Philippines and Indonesia.
The visit followed an invitation from the National Council of Churches of Australia (NCCA) and NATSIEC to the World Coun-cil of Churches (WCC).
Northern Territory communities, including Darwin, Wadeye, Hermannsburg, Galiwink’u and Mount Nancy Town Camp, were visited from September 12 to 17.
Mr Mundine said the international observers had been shocked by Australia’s hypocrisy on the treatment of its indigenous people.
“These visitors noted Australia was very strong on criticising other parts of the world on breaches of human rights,” he said.
“However, the Living Letters team witnessed astronomical abuses – discrimination, oppression and racism – occurring in our own backyard.
“The visitors were dismayed by the lack of consultation and negotiations from governments of all levels as they make and implement policies and programs with significant impacts on Aboriginal peoples.”
Mr Mundine said since the last such visit of WCC international observers in 1981, the state of Northern Territory indigenous communities in many ways had not improved and in some senses had even gone backwards.
“Aboriginals in these communities are still being treated as children rather than intelligent adults,” he said.
“Nowhere is this more so than with the Northern Territory Emergency Response known as the ‘Intervention’ which was initiated by the Howard Government ostensibly to address child abuse.
“The Intervention has taken control of the lives of Aboriginal peoples through such measures as compulsory income management and compulsory acquisition of leases over Aboriginal land.
“The Labor Government has continued the Intervention which remains a blight on Australia’s reputation.”
Remote Aboriginal communities are going backwards in other ways, Mr Mundine said.
“We are hearing the people of these communities saying they no longer run their own councils,” he said.
Mr Mundine said visits such as the one from the “Living Letters” team were an important way to highlight substandard conditions under which indigenous people in Australia’s remote communities were living.
“It’s good to have people from indigenous communities outside Australia visiting because they can see the situation with different eyes,” he said.
“What we’re saying to the Government is that these people aren’t being heard – they need to be listened to.
“These communities want authorities to listen to their hopes, dreams and desires – not those of everyone else who comes to their communities to impose what they think is best.”
A report on the findings of the “Living Letters” team is planned to be published next month and will be presented at the meeting of the next NCCA national executive in early November.