THREE senior indigenous women have hailed the campaign called No More which uses sporting codes’ notions of fair play and respect as a successful way to curb the epidemic of family violence in Aboriginal communities.
The campaign started with football teams in the Northern Territory linking arms before a game – in a silent and sincere pledge to end violence in their homes.
Soon entire communities were involved, with football clubs and their supporters joining the pledge, forcing men to take responsibility for their attitudes and actions.
Perpetrators would be stood down, required to submit to counselling and rehabilitation and then to express remorse and determination to be a better person in front of the entire club before being considered for a return.
“In a community in Arnhem Land, this program reduced violence rates by seventy per cent,” University of Melbourne Professor Marcia Langton, who appeared with Alice Springs Councillor Jacinta Price and Josephine Cashman, from the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra on November 17, said.
The three indigenous women joined forces to demand a national task force to curb the downward spiral of violence, with the No More campaign as part of it.
They said shocking rates of domestic violence among indigenous Australians were being excused as “a matter of culture” and left unpunished to reduce the number of assailants being sent to jail.
The need for urgent action is clear – Aboriginal women are up to 35 times more likely than non-indigenous women to be hospitalised because of domestic violence.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have committed to linking arms before Parliament ends this year in a symbolic gesture of support.
There are calls for all politicians in Federal Parliament to do the same.
And yet, the three senior women said the Government had shown it was too slow to address the problems of indigenous domestic violence.
“In remote communities, traditional culture is shrouded in secrecy which allows perpetrators to control their victims,” Ms Price said.
“I call upon the Federal Government to do what has been done in light of Aboriginal youth in detention and hold a royal commission into the countless homicides, acts of violence and sexual abuse perpetrated against this country’s most marginalised.”
Ms Cashman said a fear of reprisals or becoming homeless stopped victims reporting offences, which then manifested as youth suicide, substance abuse and the continuation of a destructive cycle.
“Within this culture of silence, the police are the enemy. And anyone who reports or talks to them is called a dog and a snitch for collaborating with the white authority,” she said.
On the same day, the Productivity Commission released a damning report on indigenous wellbeing which concluded that indigenous Australians were becoming more disadvantaged, with alarming increases in imprisonment rates, mental health problems and self-harm.
The commission’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report said the plight of indigenous Australians had “stagnated or worsened” since the last report two years ago.
Among the findings, the national indigenous imprisonment rate had surged by 77 per cent over the past 15 years and the hospitalisation rate for self-harm was up by 56 per cent over the past decade.
The report points to a failure of policy and oversight, with the commission estimating only 34 of 1000 indigenous programs are being properly evaluated by authorities.
The report said there continued to be improvements in many areas of health, economic participation and aspects of education.
By Mark Bowling