Yolngu nations reignite opposition to leases and Intervention

The Yolngu Nations Assembly meeting in Ramingining has taken an important stand against the “Stronger Futures” legislation currently before the Senate. “Stronger Futures” would extend most racist Intervention powers for a further ten years. In some areas it is worse—new provisions allow a six-month prison sentence for carrying a single can of beer on Aboriginal land.

The bills have been fiercely opposed by Aboriginal communities and human rights groups including Amnesty International. More than 36,000 people have signed the online petition “Stand for Freedom”. Just two weeks before he passed away, famous Aboriginal performer Jimmy Little released an appeal to the Australian music industry to join the campaign.

Now Yolngu clan leaders, representing more than 8000 people across Arnhem Land, are giving this opposition some teeth. Their statement, issued on April 24, “calls on the Senate to discard these bills in full”, and demands the reinstatement of Aboriginal controlled local government, bilingual education and an end to the policy of forcing migration into urban “hub towns”.

Crucially, the statement also, “call(s) on all traditional owners across the Northern Territory to refuse participation in land lease negotiations with the Australian Federal Government, and approval for any exploration licenses… until the Stronger Futures Bill (and those associated) are thrown out”.

Djuŋadjuŋa Yunupiŋu, a spokesperson for the Gumatj Nation, explained: “[The intervention] takes us back to the 1920s, 30s—to the early mission days, the Stolen Generations. Our memories have been taken back to the time when the Welfare people stepped into our land… Where is all that self-determination, where has all that yäku (name) gone”.

The Yolngu statement has won support from the Catholic Church and National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the new Indigenous representative body established by Labor. Representatives of the Yolngu Nations will travel to Tennant Creek in late May to address the full council of the Central Land Council (CLC) and urge them to support the statement. CLC support would be a serious boost.

In the weeks preceding the Yolngu Nations meeting, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin had been attempting to neutralise opposition to “Stronger Futures” through a series of new funding announcements.

This included $221 million over ten years to fund municipal and essential services on outstations—small and often very remote settlements on Aboriginal homelands.

Before this outstation funding after 2012 had been uncertain. But the new funding is still less than existed previously, and kept people living in third world conditions. And due to the end of the waged Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), costs for wages and workers transportation will be massively increased. Many outstations previously assisted by Aboriginal Community Government Councils are also now simply refused service by the mega-Shires that have taken over.

Djuŋadjuŋa Yunupiŋu told the media: “Homelands have bäyŋu (no) road fixing, bäyŋu (no) help for airstrips, all houses are built [outside them] in town.” But Minister Macklin is refusing to lift a moratorium on new housing or significant infrastructure investment outside of 16 larger “priority communities”.

No funding for a waged employment program to replace CDEP is on offer either. The government has announced a “$1.5 billion Remote Jobs and Communities Program”—but this will not create any new Aboriginal jobs. “Training” and job search programs operating across remote Australia will simply be streamlined into one provider for each region. These providers will then force people to work for their Centrelink payments—in many NT communities paid through the BasicsCard. This will accelerate both the exploitation of Centrelink recipients and the drift into towns.

Yolngu have rejected Stronger Futures

From the Bush to Bankstown

“Stronger Futures” also facilitates the national expansion of income management, an Intervention measure that quarantines 50 per cent of Centrelink entitlements onto a “BasicsCard”.

Bankstown in Sydney’s southwest is one of five income management trial sites come July 1. But a campaign of defiance is building. The Say No to Government Income Management Campaign Coalition, with strong roots in the community sector, migrant and Aboriginal communities, issued a joint media statement with Yolngu elders and the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney when “Stronger Futures” was last debated in parliament. The Coalition will host a seminar to discuss challenging the implementation of the policy on May 26.

This meeting has strong union backing. The Australian Services Union, representing community sector workers tasked with promoting income management and referring “problem clients” to Centrelink, has endorsed it.

The Public Sector Association, representing Child Protection workers who will have powers to put people on income management, also strongly opposes the policy and is promoting the event amongst Child Protection staff.

We need to build on the spirit of the Yolngu—from the Bush to Bankstown a campaign of defiance can meet the implementation of “Stronger Futures” head on.


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