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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A mandate for intervention in the Northern Territory?

Miss Eagle has often thought that one of the difficulties for Aboriginal people goes to the very heartbeat of democracy. A simple definition of democracy which, at least in my generation, was learned at school is: government with the consent of the governed. Miss Eagle has often thought as she has seen mainstream communities battle with issues of law and order relating to the Aboriginal community that the nub of the problem was old and pervasive: how often had the Aboriginal community given its consent - been included, consulted, informed and given the privilege of having its opinion listened to? And if not - as so often has been the case - how can we expect people in such circumstances to have respect for our laws?

Behind the Howard/Brough Military Intervention in the Northern Territory were all the sins of the non-inclusive past: neglect, lack of consultation, no information, and certainly no one listening.

But Aboriginal people vote too. Out there in the bush, the planes fly in with mobile booths. If no one bothers to take any notice at any other time, then this is the time when someone CAN take notice. But will anyone notice?

In relation to whether there is a mandate for the Howard/Brough concept of military intervention in the NT, there are a few election results to be taken notice of:
  • Howard's seat of Bennelong. He was defeated.

  • Brough's seat of Longman. He was defeated.

  • Snowdon's seat of Lingiari which contains virtually all communities affected by the intervention. Resounding vote for Snowdon and Labor.

I am indebted to Chris Graham of the National Indigenous Times writing in Crikey for the following information:

The vote for the ALP and against the Howard Government:

  • Wadeye: ALP 95%. 723 voted Labor and 26 voted for Howard

  • Angkarripa: ALP 99.01%. 503 voted Labor and 5 voted for Howard

  • Yirrikala: (Home to Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the prominent Aboriginal leader who outraged colleagues by reversing his opposition to the NT intervention on the eve of the official start to the election campaign.) Of the 266 votes up for grabs, the Howard Government secured just two of them - 0.75 percent of the primary vote.

Many whitefellas who don't know a lot about Aboriginal matters have fallen for the Noel Pearson line. The politest public view that can be expressed was once expressed by NSW Aboriginal MLA, Linday Burney, when she said that it has to be realised that one size does not fit all. Noel is a big fella - in more ways than one - up on the Cape where there are a lot of Pearson family interests. He famously vented his spleen against the "Left" at the recent Melbourne Writers Festival. So what did people reckon electorally in Hopevale - the former Lutheran mission, pride and joy of Bjelke-Peterson regime where Bob Katter Jr negotiated the Clayton's land rights known as DOGIT (Deed of Grant in Trust).

The vote for the ALP in the booth of Hopevale was 75%.

It is going to be interesting to see what happens with Yunupingu and Pearson in relation to the new Rudd Government. Certainly, Central Land Council has some good things to say about what should be happening in relation to the intervention, the funding, and the holding of Aboriginal land to ransom.

Now Miss Eagle has never expected Aboriginals to speak with one, monolithic voice. Whitefella society doesn't. Why should it? In fact, Miss Eagle has been amazed over the decades at the united front projected by Aboriginal leadership at national level even though she was aware of undercurrents unseen. But those who have valued personal self-interest above all else have broken away for all to see. Yunupingu and Pearson are canny beings to be sure - but whitefellas have to realise how much their personal self-interest affected their actions and their decisions. Again, nothing new about that. Whitefella politicians have been hoodwinking their respective publics in exactly the same way since Moses was a boy. But let's get real.

It is time to acknowleddge the Aboriginal people and organisations who are working sensibly and in terms of sound, measured public policy and time to take note of those who have an eye to the off-chance and prepared to negotiate their own way forward when they are unable to bring their own constituencies forward with their informed consent.

So it is back to government with the consent of the governed. The Big Man role can be played irrespective of ethnicity or who was here first. The role of the inclusive, listening person is a harder role to play. Takes more time. Often there is less personal kudos. But including, listening, and acting with the consent of the people involved will always take one further. There are no guarantees that the right answers will always be there. But Aboriginal people have a right to expect the same civic rights and fulfilment of civic obligations as any other Australian. They have a right to lobby their politicians and they have a right to have their politicians consult with them.

The overwhelming vote in Aboriginal communities has been for the Rudd government. Aboriginal communities expect that with the dramatic intervention some of the drama will be retained to good effect by pouring in funding, energy, direction and policy to supplant the years of neglect. But modifications there have to be.

There is not only a mandate to get rid of Work Choices.

There is a mandate for revising the Military Intervention.