I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of this land, the Ngunnawal people and recognise their sovereignty here today. I thank their Elders, past, present and future, for their kind welcome to their country, and the safety, and courtesy that to those of us who are not from their peoples, who live, work and walk on their lands receive. I will honour your country, walk softly and leave no footprints. I also acknowledge the representatives of other Aboriginal nations represented here today and thank them for their support. Thank you to everyone else for showing your support for democracy in this country by being here to support this launch.
I also wish to thank Michele Harris, and Eleanor Gilbert for inviting me to launch this book, “This is what we said” in Canberra today. On Tuesday the 9th February, this book was launched in Melbourne by the former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Professor Alastair Nicholson and Irene Fisher, former CEO of the Katherine Sunrise Health Service, located in Katherine in the Northern Territory. I am privileged to follow in their footsteps.
I am Christine Fejo-King, an Aboriginal woman from the Northern Territory. My father was a Larakia man, and my mother is a Warrumungu woman. My skin name is Napaljarri. All my relations through blood and through the kinship system reside in the Northern Territory, our homelands. Only my small family, which include my partner and three children, are away for a season. I speak to you today as I launch this very commendable book with two hats on. One as the Chairperson of the National Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Workers Association and the second as an Aboriginal woman from the Northern Territory, whose family has been impacted upon by the Northern Territory Intervention and who will be even further impacted upon, if the extended powers of the income management special measures go ahead.
From the perspective of the Association we agree with Professor Nicholson that there are many objectionable features of the NTER”, but given the time I have here I concentrate on the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act within the Northern Territory. We are gravely concerned as social workers who believe in and work toward human rights and social justice, that the rights of our peoples have been and continues to be violated. Firstly, by the Howard government who repealed the Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory, to enable what has been described by Jim Ife (2007) a leading community development professor in Australia, as “a quasi military action” against a group of the most disadvantaged, ill serviced, poverty stricken and disempowered members of this nation.
By deploying the army and police against our peoples, using the cover of concern about the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children, we believe a political agenda was served, against which the human rights and social justice of our peoples came a sad second. How would you our fellow Australians feel if this action had been carried out against you and your communities, because the statistics, the imperial evidence that governments rely so heavy upon, shows that the sexual abuse of non-indigenous children is relative to that of Aboriginal children.
By no means imaginable do we as a group of social workers, or as human beings, support practices that harm our children, we know they are not cultural and we find them abhorrent, or we would not work in the areas that we do. But we will not be railroaded into the, “you are either with us or against us” mindset. We are for the safety of all children, be they black, white or brindle, but actions taken must fall within what has been found to work. Domination, and neo-colonialism (which is the only way the Northern Territory Intervention can be seen) and punitive measures is way beyond what is considered “good practice”.
The Rudd government, through their lack of action in reinstating the Racial Discrimination Act which was an election promise, seem bent on continuing Howard government policy which they supported at the time. This is despite their recent support for the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples. It is time for the Racial Discrimination Act to be reinstated with no strings attached and for governments to stop using our peoples as a political football. As Professor Nicholson points out, the present bill will in fact protect the Commonwealth from any claims for damages that might otherwise have arisen (I wish our peoples had enjoyed this kind of protection). It will also prolong Income management in the Northern Territory for a further twelve months “from the date that the Bill becomes law” and extend it to all other people in the Northern Territory and leaves open it’s extension anywhere the government and bureaucrats deem it should be taken.
For so long Aboriginal Australians lived under the policy of ‘protectors’, it almost seems that we have gone full circle and have arrived back at that point. A state of affairs spoken of by a number of people in this book! Will we in the future be taken back to the time when the approval of the ‘Protector of Aboriginals’ must be sought for our movements, our education, employment and our marriages as noted on my parents marriage certificate here, or the ‘Register of our Births’ as shown here on my grandmothers birth certificate which I have permission by the matriarch of our family to raise and to show. Will we have to seek exemption from a new ‘Protector of Aboriginals’ before we can again experience life outside the policies of the Northern Territory Intervention? We will not do it! We are proud of our law, our culture and the resilience of our peoples.
Free us from your paternalistic yoke, we are not children, stop privileging the voice of so called Aboriginal leaders (your tag, not ours) who aren’t even from the Northern Territory and have no right to speak above the voices of our elders and community leaders who are on the whole good and honourable men and women. Yes there is a difference of opinion about income management but why should that be surprising? Give people a choice and support them where necessary to manage their money, but do not disempower and shame us more than you already have and are currently doing.
This book is a collection of quotes from members of communities directly affected by the Northern Territory intervention, and other concerned Australians. As such it is very powerful, as it gives voice to those who have been marginalised and whose voices have been silenced and unheard. It is very important that all voices be heard on this issue, not just those privileged by the government. By hearing all sides of the story a balanced understanding might be had by the wider Australian population.
You may think that this issue only concerns Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory however, it is an issue that should concern all Australians. Today we are here to launch the book “This is What We Said”. Along with my friends in Melbourne who launched it in their fair city a couple of days ago, I too congratulate the efforts of concerned Australians to produce it. May the voices of the people who speak within it be heard loudly and clearly, may what they have said not fall on deaf ears. I join my voice with the voice of Irene Fisher in urging you all “to read the book so that you too can help take it from a whisper to a loud roar that will reverberate across this great country of ours and bring about equality for all Australians”.