December 2010


Today, former NATSIEC commissioner and Chair of NATSICC, Elsie Heiss was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Notre Dame in Sydney. Watched by her family and friends Dr. Elsie Heiss gave a moving speech which talked about her birth in Wiradjuri country, her connection to her country and culture and her decades of committment to the Catholic Church and in particular to the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry.

Our sincere congratulations to Dr Elsie Heiss.

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As we celebrate Human Rights day in 2010 we are reminded of the many individuals who suffer human rights abuses around the world. We also celebrate the many people who shine a light on these abuses and whose efforts to stand up for the rights of others are often unrecognised.

NATSIEC pays particular respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their continuing struggles against oppression and attacks on culture, lands and peoples.

In 2010, Australia is a country that has much to be proud of, but we can not shy away from examining our shadow, those areas where we are failing to protect our citizens from abuse. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are having their rights violated on a daily basis. Whether it is through racism or through discriminatory public policies the rights of many Indigenous Australians are often compromised.

Although Australia does not have a Bill of Rights we are signatories to a number of International Human Rights instruments which should guide us to protect the rights of those most vulnerable. In particular, Australia now supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration). We now need to ensure that the principles of the Declaration are brought into Australian law and policy. No legislation that affects the Indigenous peoples of this country should be enacted unless it has been subjected to scrutiny through the lens of the Declaration.

One policy area that urgently needs to be scrutinized using the Declaration framework is the Northern Territory (NT) Intervention.  

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has said the Intervention continues to discriminate on the basis of race. During a recent visit NATSIEC undertook to Aboriginal communities in the NT, we heard personal stories of discrimination and racism. Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM, from Galiwin’ku who had recently returned from Geneva where he talked to CERD said about the Intervention:

 It’s the most evil and most racist (policy) ever established. The Government report to CERD said ok – they are happy people. It’s a lie!

One of the most discriminatory aspects of the NT Intervention was the roll back of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), which ensured that many aspects of the Intervention were excluded from the protection of the RDA. On December 31st legislation which is supposed to reinstate the RDA in full will come into effect. Despite the Government’s repeated statements that this new legislation will ensure that the rights of NT Aboriginal people will be protected in full, we are not confident that this is true.  

There are still several areas which remain as “special measures” and there remains a distinct lack of consultation on all aspects of the Intervention. Despite Government rhetoric the benefits of the Intervention remain questionable. The means of attaining these supposed benefits are outrageous in a democratic country which prides itself on the concept of a “fair go”. We have the knowledge, we have the resources, but we do not seem have the will to implement policies which will celebrate and empower Aboriginal peoples.

The media, and through them the public, often accept at face value the Government statements which tell us that things are improving in the NT while conveniently ignoring the voices of the people affected; the stories of suffering and anguish caused by these measures. We must take notice of what people are experiencing; how much longer are we going to stand by and let these things happen?

We must question the need for these special measures; we must question why Aboriginal communities are being pressured to trade land title for housing, education and health. Do they not have the right to expect Government to provide these things – as does every other Australian citizen?  We should be suspicious of the rhetoric around the “problems” of Aboriginal communities and we should fight against any attempts to diminish the capacity of Aboriginal communities to make decisions for themselves and their futures. 

People often ask me “what can I do?” There is plenty each and every one of us can do; start right here and now. Today, on human rights day we are being asked to “Speak up: Stop discrimination”. To speak up it’s necessary to ask questions and look beyond the superficial, listen to the people and take action.

You could start by watching an excellent film called Our Generation. This is an important film which gives voice to those people affected by the Intervention. Go to http://www.ourgeneration.org.au/ to find out when a community screening is being held in your area. If there isn’t one, buy the DVD and organize one.

One of the key messages in the Make Indigenous Poverty History campaign was to Remember, Recognise and Rectify. We need to Remember the past, to know a true and honest picture of what has gone before. We need to Recognise what is still going on today; to understand that colonization and discrimination are alive and well around the country. Most importantly we need to Rectify. It’s not enough to know about something, we must take action. It may be as simple as challenging an ignorant statement at a dinner party or it may be taking to the street; writing to the Prime Minister; visiting your local MP. It doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be something. Nobody in Australia can say “we didn’t know” – we do know and each and every one of us is responsible to take an action to help end discrimination and racism. So on Human Rights Day 2010, I hope you will join us at NATSIEC in speaking up and saying no to discrimination and yes to human rights for all.

Graeme Mundine, Executive Secretary, NATSIEC

According to a report released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners comprised just over a quarter (26% or 7,584) of the total prisoner population. The age standardised imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners was 1,892 per 100,000 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. This was 14 times higher than non-Indigenous prisoners at 30 June 2010 and has increased by 3%. The average sentence length was less than non-Indigenous prisoners (3.7 years compared to 5.4 years). 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males comprised 91% (6,927) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoner population at 30 June 2010, similar to non-Indigenous males who accounted for 93% of the non-Indigenous prisoner population. The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male prisoners increased by 2% (144) while the number of non-Indigenous male prisoners increased by 1% (223) from 30 June 2009. The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female prisoners increased by 9% (52) from 30 June 2009, compared with a 3% (50) increase in the non-Indigenous female prisoner population.

http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/4517.0~2010~Chapter~Prisoner+characteristics,+Australia?OpenDocument

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/12/01/3081157.htm?section=justin

By Timothy McDonald

A new study has found some people in remote Indigenous communities are spending between 10 and 20 per cent of their income on ATM fees.

In some cases, the fees are much higher than they would be in the city, but there is no competition, so locals have no option but to pay.

The author of the study says the government should act to eliminate fees in the poorest communities.

Australian Financial Counselling and Credit Reform Association executive director Fiona Guthrie says ATM fees in one community are as high as $10.

“ATMs will always charge sometimes $2, sometimes $2.50, and there’s one community where it’s up to $10 and you can’t avoid the fee because you can’t go and use EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) because the stores also charge fees,” she said.

The manager of Money Management Services for Lutheran Community Care in Alice Springs, Judy Woolcock, says the realities of life in remote communities aggravate the problem.

“They don’t have fridges and they don’t have a lot of places to do cooking and storing of food. So they go and buy food on a daily basis and that then incurs a fee,” she said.

She says the sometimes irregular nature of government payments means many people cop fees just to see if they have any money at all.

“Often they’re waiting for Centrelink payments to come through so they keep checking the ATMs. So they might have used the ATM between five and 10 times that day just waiting for the money to come through,” she said.

Withdrawal limits

Aaron Davis is the CEO of the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network, based in North Queensland.

He recently visited one ATM on the Torres Strait Islands, which was is particularly expensive.

“Every time you took out money you’d be charged $5, but you were only able to take out $100 at a time,” he said.

He said many of his clients appear to be spending a large portion of their income simply to access their own money.

“On average they paid $2,300 annually in bank fees,” he said.

Some store operators say they are trying to do the right thing.

Rodney Matuschka is the acting manager of the Finke River Mission Store at Hermannsburg, west of Alice Springs.

His store does not charge for EFTPOS.

He says the stores have little say in ATM charges, although they do earn a small dividend if they reach a certain number of transactions.

“Pretty much every month, with the size of this community here and the number of transactions that go through the machine, we would pretty much invariably make a small dividend out of that machine,” Mr Matuschka said.

He says his own store allows withdrawals of up to $400 and there are some options for local residents to minimise fees.

“If they’re drawing money out and doing some shopping, the smart customer will say ‘well I’ll just use my EFTPOS card through the EFTPOS machine and I’ll save myself the cost of withdrawing from an ATM’,” he said.

Fiona Guthrie says it is unacceptable that some of Australia’s most disadvantaged people are being charged fees, and the Government needs to act.

“Competition is not going to do it,” she said.

“There has to be some sort of intervention, either through the Reserve Bank mandating that the fees are not to be charged, or by asking the banks themselves to come good on their obligations to provide banking services to all Australians and actually putting in ATMs into those communities so people can access them free of charge.”