Held at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the Canberra Convergence was set to coincide with the opening of Federal Parliament for 2009. The Convergence brought together Indigenous rights activists and union members from around the country.
A strong delegation from NT communities fighting the Intervention was joined by representatives from Aboriginal communities facing similar attacks in other states.
A series of successful workshops addressed the proposed national abolition of Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), the closure of remote communities deemed “unviable” by government, the ongoing struggle for Aboriginal Sovereignty and campaign strategy. The convergence united in a 500-strong protest that marched to Parliament House on Tuesday February 3.
A public forum on Monday February 2 was attended by more than 300 people. Speaking at the forum, Elaine Peckham from the Iwapatuka Land Trust in the NT said, “We have no hope because of what’s happening with the Intervention—it is an invasion. How many more of these are we going to put up with?”
The Rudd government’s approach to Indigenous Affairs was condemned by Academic Jon Altman: “We cannot close the gap, unless we close the racism gap in this country… Closing the gap is about mainstreaming and will see the abolition of indigenous specific programmes like CDEP, support for outstations, permit system, land rights, Aboriginal ways of doing things—these will all be destroyed by a mainstreaming approach”.
A highlight was a series of protest actions that attracted media attention and also demonstrated the growing confidence of the campaign. On February 2, convergence participants occupied the foyer of High Court, following a ruling against representatives of the Maningrida community, who were challenging the compulsory acquisition of their land through the Intervention.
On the opening day of parliament, activists were ejected from the viewing gallery chanting “stop the intervention, human rights for all”! Finally, a sit-in took place at Canberra Centrelink, demanding that the Income Managed funds of NT delegates were paid in cash, so they could travel home.
Resolutions on future national events were adopted by the convergence including national days of action on March 21—the UN day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and June 21, marking two year of the Intervention. A new demand was also taken up by the national campaign, “Not one job lost—no cuts to CDEP”, with a national meeting about CDEP planned with unions in May.
By Jasmine Ali