Indigenous Australia

NT and Commonwealth governments remain racist disgraces — apartheid

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Three-quarters of the Territory’s Aboriginal peoples live below the poverty line (Image via @australizer)

The Territory and Commonwealth governments have the choice to bring on equality or to remain reprehensible, writes Gerry Georgatos.

THE NORTHERN TERRITORY GOVERNMENT has, sort of, accepted the 227 recommendations produced by the Royal Commission into Youth Justice following the disgraces exposed to the nation by ABC Four Corners.

Recommendations and findings are a dime a dozen. The government is giving in-principle support to 91 of the recommendations. Whether it’s in-principle or substantive support to the recommendations, the majority of recommendations will not be implemented.

I write this article while in the Northern Territory — a region with a total population of less than a quarter million, of who nearly one-third are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. But with a heavy slap of apartheid, the divide between Black and White in the Territory tormentingly languishes.

The Territory has one of the world’s highest median wages. However the majority of the one-third of the population that is Aboriginal lives below the poverty line, with a significant proportion living in extreme poverty. Three-quarters of the Territory’s Aboriginal peoples live below the poverty line.

The national media fails to take to household Australians the disgrace of apartheid Australia — of the hundreds of shanty towns, dustbowls, corrals. This disgrace is rarely reported; the vistas of shanty dwellings I have seen in one community after another should abominate Australians. Many communities are denied piped clean water, denied basic infrastructure, denied the bastions of institutions – including quality schools – which the rest of Australia enjoy as elementary rights.

It is grinding poverty alongside relative affluence. One Territory government after another has disgraced itself in failing the region’s Aboriginal peoples. One Territory government after another is responsible for the degradation of the Territory’s Aboriginal communities. It is not the Territory’s Aboriginal peoples who are neglecting themselves, their families and their children. It is the Territory and the Commonwealth governments that neglect them. Governments are responsible for the racism, the institutional and structural racism, for the criminality that denies Aboriginal communities equivalent services and opportunities enjoyed by non-Aboriginal communities.

Every government department I have visited in the Territory, its personnel are a sea of White privilege. Every private sector enterprise I have visited is a sea of White privilege. There is no one-third of the workforce comprised of Aboriginal Territorians. This was the case two and three decades ago. It is obvious that the work of yesteryear in touting affirmative actions, the goal of workforce parity, was a lie.

Today, the Northern Territory remains to Australia what Mississipi, Alabama and North and South Carolina were to the United States decades ago.

Nearly one per cent of the Northern Territory’s population is incarcerated. The downtrodden are mercilessly flogged. Nearly 90 per cent of the incarcerated are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. Only Western Australia jails its Aboriginal peoples at a higher rate. Western Australia is another reprehensible story of ongoing racism. One in 13 of Western Australia’s Aboriginal adult males is in gaol. From a racialised lens, this is the world’s highest gaoling rate. It’s a cruel, sick Australia I am describing.

The Close the Gap education target is a national target, but if that target was disaggregated to the Northern Territory you’d find that the majority of Aboriginal children are not completing Year 12. In fact, the majority are not in school. The majority of the Territory’s regional towns and remote communities have only a sliver of the children attending school. A significant proportion of communities have not had a secondary school graduate in years. The majority of these communities are third-world-akin. If you imagine the apartheid can’t get worse, well then, visit the town camps, such as those orbiting Alice Springs, Katherine, Tennant Creek, and so on. They are the worst of Australia’s toxic apartheid. The town camps are a custodial experience, where all hope is denied, where people finish worse off by each day’s end. Apartheid is not a strong enough word. Racism is not a strong enough description.

The solution is to sort quickly the social determinants, bring on the equality, because the rest is crap — insufferable lies. What governments have been doing – the neglect of Aboriginal communities – is attrition — death by a thousand cuts. It is obvious they want many of these communities to die out and at least to this diabolical end governments can silently believe they are "winning" — achieving the goal. The painful tragedy includes children removed and children suiciding. Let us look at why all this is happening instead of dissing on people for turning to the booze and aberrant behaviour. Don’t blame the downtrodden for sinking in drink. Blame those who walk all over them.

If what is happening is not called out for what it is then we too will be damned by the future as racists and criminals, just as we damn those of past generations who locked in the apartheid, who segregated and who brought on the Stolen Generations — one abomination after another.

The Northern Territory is a horrible home to its 14,000 Aboriginal children. Nearly 1,000 of the 14,000 have been removed from their families by the Territory government’s child protection mob — that’s one in 14. More than eight and a half-thousand of the Territory’s 14,000 Aboriginal children have been subjected to child protection notifications. Instead of the Territory Government improving the lot – improving the life circumstances of long impoverished peoples – it harasses them to accept miserable existences.

The Territory’s privileged say to the impoverished, to the marginalised, to the downtrodden: “adjust your behaviour”, despite that we keep you downtrodden. They tell them to get “resilient”, but how far and for how long can someone adjust their behaviour when resilience is standalone, and there is no coupling opportunity and the hopes availed to every other Australian? I have quite clearly described here the oppressor and the oppressed.

It’s about bloody poverty and of the worst kind; all the rest is disgraceful chatter.

So the Territory and Commonwealth governments have the choice to bring on equality or to remain steadfastly morally and politically reprehensible, and remain racists and oppressors.

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention researcher and restorative justice and prison reform expert with the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @GerryGeorgatos

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