Mal Brough Speaks

Mal Brough gave the 40th Alfred Deakin Lecture at Melbourne University on October 2, a fact that until today escaped the Google nets that I cast over contemporary Australian indigenous affairs. At the risk of looking like Andrew Bolt, I’m going to post his remarks here today, because I think they give a more comprehensive summation of his stand than I’ve seen anywhere else.

Not that I haven’t heard it all before, although the details of his negotiations with Galarrwuy Yunupingu haven’t been presented quite like this in anything else I’ve read, and there are new renditions of his personal pain at hearing stories of abuse and despair. From all that I have read, there seems little doubt that Brough is indeed genuinely moved by the sorry conditions in many remote communities, and that his outrage tales of abuse and violence is sincere.

But I, too, am outraged, and not just by the suffering of indigenous people in Papunya and elsewhere in the Northern Territory. If you read Brough’s remarks, you will find no mention of indigenous action in the face of this suffering. He talks about the “war zone” of nighttime in the Outback; he doesn’t talk about the night patrols that women in Maningrida and other communities organized until the funding that allowed them to operate effectively was stripped by the machinations of the Intervention. 

He doesn’t mention Titjikala and the indigenous-run tourism business that has closed down because CDEP is being dismantled. He doesn’t talk about the capital raised for community-based health care through the sale of art from Kintore and Kiwirrkura.

He doesn’t talk about mining. Nor about nuclear waste dumps.

He doesn’t talk about walytja, about the value of kinship. He talks about humbugging, but doesn’t want to understand why Aboriginal people find it hard to say no to relatives. He doesn’t understand the sources of indigenous shame in being seen to be “too hard,” too unfeeling in denying requests from family. He doesn’t betray the slightest comprehension that indigenous people can hold different values than white people.

He judges the behavior of indigenous people and the choices they make on the basis of his own values alone. Like many politicians who have gone before him, he believes in Aboriginal self-determination as long as it conforms to middle-class white Australian values like private home ownership and the satisfaction derived from holding down a forty-hour-a-week job, even if that job pays minimum wage or if you have to leave your family and home to find it.

But most of all, I am outraged that he continues to lambaste anyone who opposes him as heartless, socialist, or gutless. I am outraged that he employs the rhetoric of an emergency to justify a government intervention that disrupts the lives of impoverished people, infantilizes them, and portrays them solely in terms of deviance and pathology.

I’m outraged because I’ve has to live with that kind of manipulation from my own government here in America for the last seven years. Because as I follow the reports in the newspapers, I have this terrible and terrifying sense of deja vu. 

For several months now I have railed against the actions of the Howard government and have done so with more than a little unease in my heart. Not because I’m not horrified by the Intervention, by the loss of land rights, and the destruction of what little Aboriginal economy exists in remote Australia. But because I see Australia falling into the same pattern of deceit, lies, and demonization that America has pioneered in the last seven years. 

The Bush administration has never spoken about the invasion of Iraq as being motivated by its perceived need to control the oil supply in the Middle East. And the American press remains almost completely silent about the outrages of what a few dare to call “blood for oil.” Bush and Cheney have used the fear generated by the attacks on September 11, 2001 to justify a unilateral invasion, to trump up excuses for continuing to occupy Iraq, to antagonize Iran (which gives as good as it gets), and to strip the citizens of America of civil liberties. If you dare to voice a dissenting opinion you’re called unpatriotic, which oddly enough, still carries a tremendous sting in America.

Six years ago, there was a feeling of worldwide sympathy and solidarity with America. Today there is antipathy and disrespect. Our government’s blindness, self-interest, and jingoistic condemnation of opposition have shamed America throughout the world.

I’ve heard a joke that claims Howard’s nickname is “Bonsai,” or “little Bush.” It’s a clever joke, but not a funny one.

So I hope that Australians will not follow in America’s footsteps this time. I hope they will engage in critical examination of what their government claims to be doing, and why. When Brough announces, as his does in this lecture, “I have breached the Racial Discrimination Act in a positive sense,” I hope someone will point out that governments that put themselves above the law–as the Bush administration has done consistently in America since taking office–tread dangerously close to the borders of tyranny.



October 2, 2007

Well, good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you for the welcome; the one inside, the one outside. I actually enjoyed the one outside because that is what I have to deal with in confronting people that are ignorant of the facts, who are ignorant of the pain and the suffering and who really will not take up the challenge of looking some child in the face, as I had to do last week, who was six years of age who had been raped only a couple of weeks earlier, not by an adult but by another child, 11 to 15 year olds.

That is what we’re dealing with. Today we stand at the crossroads. We are at the crossroads of whether we are going to move forward as a nation and we are going to take our entire nation with us, our indigenous population, as part of that, or whether we’re going to ignore it. And that is the – I guess the point that I will put to you today is that the election that we’re about to face will be the crossroads as to the path in which we take as a nation.

I’d like to acknowledge David Kemp, my very good friend, who certainly assisted me greatly in my early years in the Parliament – still my early years in the Parliament I would hope – but David, great to see you and thank you for your patronage of this organisation.

To Peter and his assistance to my team up there – Russell and Suzanne – and also to my other parliamentary colleagues.

But thank you particularly for inviting me here to listen to what I think is the single most important problem, challenge, that faces Australia today is, recently I was in South Yarra with about 200 people for breakfast, and I gave them a warning before I spoke that I would be honest with them, I’d be frank with them and, as such, some of them may find that a little difficult to take their breakfast, because there is nothing palatable whatsoever about what you see and hear in indigenous communities. And unless the rest of Australia actually understands that, the depth of despair that people are in, and the lack of culture that is resulting as a re… as a direct result of that despair, then we are going to lose not only another generation, we are in fact going to lose the last remnants in many places of what was a very rich culture.

The focus has been on the Northern Territory, and there are those who like to think this is just a problem of remote Australia, but last week I was not in the Northern Territory, I was in Western Australia. And I’m here to tell you the circumstances in Western Australia, not just the East Kimberleys, not just the Pilbara, but also the Central Desert and also in the suburbs of Perth, are worse than many of the circumstances in the Northern Territory.

And those who have not read the report, Little Children are Sacred, its two authors visited 45 communities in the Northern Territory. They didn’t find sexual abuse in some of those communities, they didn’t find it in most of those communities, they found it in every single community; 45 out of 45. Think about that, the enormity of that for a moment. People coming forward with the most horrendous stories. We have children as young as three with gonorrhoea, we have twenty-four year old grandmothers, we have so many babies being born with alcohol foetal syndrome that their – a capacity to pass on the oral history of their people is gone before they’re even born. We have physical and sexual abuse of boys and girls and men and women. It knows no boundaries.

That is the reality in the Territory and it also in South Australia, it is also in Western Australia, it is in New South Wales and Queensland to differing degrees.

The reason that the Federal Government has acted in the Northern Territory is simply because we have the capacity and the power to do so. Let me answer right up front the allegation that is thrown at me and thrown at the Prime Minister as to why didn’t you do this for the lev… last 11 years? Well, this time last week I was in South Australia before 700 indigenous childcare workers. And the first question that was thrown at me was by a white woman who said you have stood before us today and said that most of these interventions have come from direct requests from indigenous people to you, and that’s true. And I’ll articulate some of those as we go through.

She said, but tell me who told you to breach the Racial Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Act, and the Land Rights Act? I said, well, funny thing that, no-one, because no-one talks about it in those sort of terms when the children haven’t been fed or they’ve been bashed the night before, or the situation they’re living in is just horrendous. They actually talk about surviving. They talk about not being stabbed. They talk about some form of normality around their circumstances. And the crowd actually all applauded her for asking that question, long and loud, because I have breached the Racial Discrimination Act in a positive sense.

So the last question that was put to me on that morning was first of all the lady said I’m from Darwin. She said the first thing I want to say is thank you for what you’ve done. Then she went on to say that why didn’t your government do this some time in the last 11 eleven years. And there was the same raucous applause, and I thought isn’t it interesting the same audience can have two totally different perspectives. One, why did you breach the Racial Discrimination Act, and point up that that’s wrong, and then 15 minutes later applaud when challenged for why I didn’t breach it 10 years ago.

Now, that is what we get every single day. People dress up, and I think the comments by Noel Pearson that were quoted at the outset say it all: they dress up self-determination, they dress up land rights, they dress up all sorts of nuances of arguments that really in their heart are saying that the right of a child to be born and to be safe and to have an education and to have an opportunity in this country is somehow asunder below that of these other niceties that don’t even reflect anything of what occurs in their life.

Do you know how many times that I’ve had raised with me the issues of the stolen generation? Once in the Northern Territory in Darwin by a woman who wanted to be connected to family. The other time was at ANU by people who are not part of the stolen generation. Treaties: never is it raised by me by Aboriginal people in the communities, it’s raised by white people in universities. They don’t seem to understand the disconnect between where people are today and where they want to be and the fog that they’re living in. Most of you probably don’t realise that there is a thing called kava. Kava is used in the South Pacific for ceremonies, and it is coma inducing. That’s what it does. People sip it. But no, in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory it’s been legal for years. Why? Because it stops people having violent outbursts. Instead, they’re just comatosed under trees, they don’t feed their children. Their children don’t go to school and white fellas thought that was a better outcome because there were less people going to hospital.

When I discussed that with Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who was one of the champions of land rights, who is one of the most powerful lawmen in the Northern Territory, and I said, well, I understand why they did it, is to protect people from the violence of alcohol, and he said that’s rubbish. I said, how do you mean? He said the reality is that the women are so comatose they get raped, but the difference is they don’t actually fight back. He said this is another insidious drug that white man has inflicted upon us that needs to go. Alcohol needs to go, marijuana or ganja, as it’s known, needs to go. Kava needs to go.

Let me take you to Kalumburu. Kalumburu is up in the East Kimberleys. It is a town of about 300. There are only 90 males in Kalumburu. It’s isolated by the wet for a good part of every year. The wet will set in some time this month.

Of those 90 men, in the last two months 15 have been charged with child sex offences. Fifteen out of 90 men. These are the charge sheets. Not one page, not two pages, not three pages, four pages.

They’re all an offence against a child, predominantly penetrating a girl or a boy under the age of 13. Who were these 15 men? They were the mayor, the deputy mayor, two other councillors, the police liaison officer, a truancy officer, two wardens.

What does that tell you? These are people of authority. These are the people that white fellas like me and bureaucrats turn up to, who go to consult with about answers to their communities, who we give money and more empowerment to and we walk away saying, haven’t we done a good thing.

I was one of them. I went there 18 months ago and I thought that this place had a smell of decay about it. It worried me.

But you talk to the leaders. One of those leaders, who was the police liaison officer, was a man who I had great faith in. He was a man that the local police sergeant had great faith in and thought he would be an indigenous sworn police officer soon.

He and his I… wife were doing good things. They asked for money from me to assist them to take young boys out of the community who had been truant or had come with brushes to the law to take them back onto the homelands to teach them cultural ways. We provided that money to him.

He has been procuring children as young as five and six. He sat before the police sergeant who he had worked with – and you need to hear this – and said to him, and by the way, there are no paedophile rings in these places they tell me. But you tell me what this is. He said, a friend of mine told me how to procure children. He said, what you do is you say to a six year old, a seven year old, a 12 year old, here, here’s some cigarettes, here is some ganja, come with me. And they came with me, he said, and it worked. I tried it and it worked, so I did it.

The depths of depravity, if you wish to look at them, are in these charge sheets. That’s bad enough.

This week, or last week, I went back. Last week I went back because Magistrate, Dr Sue Gordon, who’s heading up our work in the NT and is dealing with all the women’s groups, she is a children’s magistrate in Western Australia.

She said to me, the problem with Kalumburu is that so many adults have just left their children behind. The adults have gone and left their children behind, just blown through. She said we can’t actually find the parents to deal with these issues. This community needs some of your support. They need to know that you care, they need to know that even though we’ve got these criminals out of there, that we can do more.

So Professor Judy Atkinson, we organised for her to do some healing work up there over the next few years. I organised for the AFL, Australian Football League, to go up and to actually do work with the kids.

But on Monday of last week, the one child protection officer discovered that the six and seven year olds in the community were running amok in a really unreasonable fashion. And it came to light on Monday of last week that eight six and seven year olds had been sexually penetrated by 11 to 15 year olds. They’ve been charged this week.

What does that tell you about the society in that town, is that not only has it been passed from one generation to another, but it’s been seen to be so normal that it is happening between children. Not just when they’re becoming adults, but child to child.

This isn’t a culture. This is not part of indigenous culture. This is not part of any sane culture. This is a culture that is being destroyed. And the people that stood outside there today were not prepared to come in here and hear this, because they’re confronted by it. We should all be confronted by it.

I am appalled by the fact that this week, when we had eight six year old Australian children sexually molested by other children it did not make the front page of every newspaper, it did not make the six o’clock news night after night and demand change. What did was Catherine being left on the steps of a hospital here in Melbourne day after day, or the child that has disappeared in Spain making a half hour television program, yet these children don’t actually count enough.

Now, we have to confront ourselves and say, why is that. Why is it that in communities like Galiwinku in the Northern Territory, where there are over 3000 people, where they make their own DVDs in their own language on petrol sniffing and sexual and domestic violence, the Northern Territory Government said that’s a good community and it doesn’t need a policeman. The nearest policeman is half an hour flight away.

These are the things that we’re dealing with. And if we don’t confront this now, and if we don’t take and sweep away the issues, then we are going to be condemned. ATSIC didn’t do it. Reinventing another ATSIC is not the answer. That’s not self-determination.

I challenge us all in this room to ha… to undo – undertake the following. For the next 10 years, we’ll all be totally dependent on social welfare. None of you will be able to own your own home. If you have a job, it’ll be at the bequest of one or two strong people and they’ll determine what house you live in and under what condition you live in it.

You’ll have nothing to look forward to. The social norms will be destroyed. You’ll have no police here, and we’ll revisit you in 10 years time, let alone in two or three generations time and see what will have happened.

That is what we’ve done. Now, there is a turning point, and the turning point is now.

The Federal Government has legislated to enable those who want to in the Northern Territory to actually change direction. Not forcing anyone. The lunatics out the front says I’m forcing and taking people’s land away. Quite the opposite. What I’ve actually done is legislated to say to people, if you want to unlock the value in your land, if you want to again – have the chance to be able to aspire to something – home ownership, jobs, cultural awareness, bringing up a child in a healthy environment – then you can do so.

And in the Tiwi Islands, they’ve taken up that chance. And everyone from the politicians, to Michael Mansell in Tasmania, who’s probably never been to Bathurst Island told us what we was do… what we were doing was wrong.

Yet one of the elders up there was reported to me as saying that 12 months ago he was walking around nearly dead. Today, he walks around with his head held high and pride in his chest, because for the first time in 100 years, he, as a traditional owner of Nguiu on Bathurst Island, is going to have a real say over what happens on his land, and his people can actually have a chance of owning a piece of turf and doing something with it and building a future for their own children in building jobs, in giving a purpose for going to school.

It will make a turnaround from the 2000 children in the Northern Territory who have never been enrolled at school Two thousand children today of school age that have never been enrolled at school.

So they have actually stared down the nay-sayers. They have taken up the cudgels, and it is now a done deal. They are moving forward. They’re building their own motel. They’re starting – they’re actually entering the NF… the NT AFL competition and getting pride in who they are, and they’re now driving to have their own high school, which the Federal Government is funding.

The people of Groote Eylandt are doing the same, the people of Tennant Creek are doing the same, and yesterday in Queensland in Yarrabah, which is just south of Cairns, I signed with the largest single indigenous community in this country a full welfare reform, housing reform package which will take them out of the dependency on welfare that they’ve had in the past, put the norms in that if you damage your house you’re responsible for it, that alcohol can’t be abused and you can’t have running brawls and parties all night and neglect your children. They did that.

I offered them the tools and they did that. They have done it. Hope Vale’s done it with Noel Pearson. Tiwi Islands, Groote Eylandt, Tennant Creek. And the letters that I have here today are a joint open letter to the Prime Minister from Wednesday, 26 September from the people of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia. And some of the words in here from the women are just so powerful, so I’d just like to – bear with me while I … if you bear with me while I read one small paragraph.

Someone have said that children of this nature will not be able to capture nor store stories as told of their elders for its intended use of passing it down to the next generation. This is children with alcohol foetal syndrome.

Their mental capac… capabilities will be such that the culture of their forefathers will be lost forever, never to be regained. My plea is, please understand my story. Save at least one half of my generation from total physical and mental annihilation. There’s just story after story of – that was a two-day get together, pleading for governments to do something. To do what?

In Western Australia what they’re asking for is welfare reform, they’re asking for alcohol management and they’re asking for police. That community of Kalumburu. It’s not unique; there’s about 40 men that have now been charged in the Hall Creek – Halls Creek region. But there are communities all over this country that no young person can walk into and tell their story, because there is no person of authority. And can you imagine of walking in somewhere if you don’t speak English?

These are the things that we as Australians have to face up to. This is what we’ve allowed to occur over the last 30 years. When you listen to the old women, it’s the grandmothers who are now the ones who are holding it together. Interesting that the grandmothers and the grandfathers are often still healthy. They haven’t got diabetes, they’re not dying of renal failure, they have an education, they’ve worked, and they’re holding the next two generations together.

It has been our responsibility, as legislators over the last 30 years, starting with sit down money with Gough Whitlam and land rights under the Fraser Government. Those two single things did more to harm indigenous culture and destroy it than any two other – legislative instruments ever put into the Parliament. And people look at me and say, land rights. Let me explain. You see, you can be land rich but be absolutely poor in every other way.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu. I mentioned him earlier. For those who don’t know, the reason he is such a powerful man is as a champion and a pioneer of land rights, he was articulate and he went, and as a very young man, was the interpreter for the Northern Territory’s indigenous people. He learnt all the law at a very young age. Not only for his own area around Ski Beach and Nhulunbuy, but the whole of the Territory. That means he is a powerful man in every sense. He’s a law man across the Territory. And he was a champion of land rights in the way it was articulated by the Fraser Government.

He sat with me for six hours on his homeland, overlooking a beautiful piece of beach – at his homelands. And he and I and Noel Pearson spoke and we listened. And as he said, we connected as parents, as fathers. Because having opened his dialogue with me that day with a pretty trite commentary, and after I told him what we were trying to achieve, we sat and no one spoke for 10 minutes. Seemed like a lot longer; there wasn’t a word.
 And then he opened his mouth and said, kava is killing my people. He pointed across the waterway and said the people over there will not have fed their children today. Those children will not go to school. Alcohol, you haven’t restricted it enough. Your welfare payments, you need to go further; CDEP must go. And my eyes opened. I said, where have you been? A month ago you just ridiculed me for everything I did. He said, now I understand why you’re doing it. He said, now let’s talk about land reform because the next stage – this is about where we’re at – the next stage is unlocking the value in our land so the next generation actually has job opportunities.

And he said, what I want to do is not have this collective, where all of us here own the land, but no one individually. And because it cannot be turned into any value, inalienable freehold, I want to change that. I don’t want to lose my native title rights, I don’t want to lose the underlying – what my forefathers gave me, but I actually want to unleash its value. And we’re able to do that for him. He can walk in both worlds and in doing so embrace going forward. And he can do that because he knows the next generation hasn’t got a chance if he doesn’t do it.

That’s what Noel Pearson’s been advocating and for five years they’ve been fighting the Queensland Government, five years to just give them what they want, that is land rights change. They actually want what’s called DOGIT, deed of grant in trust land, to be able to be used so people can own a home where that is.

You see, we have actually built apartheid in this country. We have built an apartheid system where we have said if you live separately from us we’ll make people have a permit to go in there and we will hold you responsible for what occurs. We will pour the cash in, every now and then we’ll come in and give you something else and then we’ll tut tut when it all goes wrong.

That will happen in any society. This is not about indigenous Australia. This is about human beings put into a circumstance which is such a false set of parameters that it can’t work. They’re now recognising that. They know that in their hearts and the women are the answer. The women have said, enough.

One last point before I wrap up, is for those who say I don’t consult. Consulting is not talking to those people who purport to be indigenous leaders. Consulting is talking to people who don’t have a voice on the ground. That’s what I’ve done as a politician, as a member of parliament in my electorate, talking to people in their houses, talking to people who are not particularly articulate but have worries and concerns about their own areas.

When a 65-year-old woman, Theodora, looks me in the eye and says a lot has changed in our town from the 300 person riots that we used to have and the houses that were being burnt down 18 months ago, but you haven’t helped me enough. I said, what do you want, Theodora? She said, I want to feel safe when I walk up to the ATM in my community to pull money out to feed my grandchildren, she said, but when I do the young men come in here and they threaten – get this – they threaten to break my washing machine or my television if I don’t hand them the money over.

They take the money, they spend it on ganja, they get high, they come down, they’re hungry and then they take the last food off the table off my grandchildren. You must take that money off me because I get humbugged, I get threatened with that.

That is what welfare has done, welfare change, and today The Australian, the first bit of evidence, a two day seminar of the people of Titjikala, Imanpa and Mutitjulu, got together and said even though it’s only been in for a few weeks it’s making a big difference. Kids are going back to school, the amount of grog, the amount of alcohol, the amount of drugs, the amount of gambling is receding, the domestic violence goes down, people start to be able to see again.

Swamp your own mind with alcohol and you won’t remember very much, you won’t be able to make many judgements and if you’ve done that for two generations then you have no hope.

In the past I have been saying it must stop. That’s not the answer. We must have the guts to make it stop and the only way we do that is to take really tough decisions, tough decisions which some people don’t like, tough decisions which the Northern Territory Government manages to pay for full one page ads ridiculing the Howard Government about alcohol restrictions in the Northern Territory, Send Howard a Message. How about sending Howard a message about the alcohol foetal syndrome, about a three-month-old being killed in their father’s arms because the mother’s thrown a bottle? How about doing that?

When is the right of a child going to be more important than any other single thing we do?

People say I’m passionate about it. I am. I’m passionate about it because I’ve taken the time to go into the town camps at night and see what is nothing less than a war zone in Australia and say what chance have these people got if we ignore them? It’s going to cost billions of dollars but it’s also going to take the entire Australian community deciding, as one, that when it’s off the front pages it won’t be out of their consciousness, that they will bring these children to have the same opportunity that your children will have, to have the same opportunities for an education but, most importantly, just to be healthy.

We have started that process but it must continue and it must spread across the nation. The kids of South Australia and the APY lands, the kids of the East Kimberley and the kids of the Cape, deserve it as much as the Northern Territory.

If we turn back now, if we blink now, then we will have committed genocide on indigenous communities. That is what it is because their oral history will disappear with alcohol foetal syndrome, abuse gets passed down from generation to generation, as I’ve said in Kalumburu this week with six-year-olds being raped by 10 to 15-year-olds. It’s too much for most people’s senses to take but that is where we’re at and as long as I am the federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, nothing, no amount of cartoon characters out there, no amount of academics who don’t actually want to go and front the reality, or no indigenous activist will actually deter me from doing what these people have asked me to do and I just challenge every Australian to say what can they do. What can you do as an individual to make a difference? Because you in Melbourne, here in Melbourne, can make a difference and the people in this university can and you need to ask that question. If you can’t answer it, which is quite normal, is to go to people around you that want to make that change forever, and participate.

I thank you for the opportunity, I thank you for your interest in this subject. To me, it is the single most important human story that Australia is yet to tell. We are at the crossroads and let’s hope and pray that that crossroads leads to the appropriate way forward for kids so they do have a future.

Thank you.

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