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Thursday, 14 September 2006
Page: 162

Mr SNOWDON (12:42 PM) —Earlier in the week you will recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, that a question was asked by the member of Solomon of the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mr Brough. The response of the minister raised an issue about permits to visit communities on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

This morning, Mr Deputy Speaker, as you may be aware, there is a by-election happening in the Northern Territory for the seat of Stewart, which covers a large area of land from the Queensland border to the Western Australian border. This morning at Yuendumu, mobile polling commenced. At the polling place a CLP official walked up to the ALP candidate, Karl Hampton, and said to him words to this effect: ‘Don’t mix federal issues with local issues; prove that we wish to take away their permits.’ What Mr Hampton did was show this CLP worker the words of the member for Solomon. It is worth repeating what he said. He said, ‘I think it’—meaning the permit system—‘should be scrapped for all people.’

Then on radio news on 31 May, Jodeen Carney, who is the Leader of the Opposition in the Northern Territory, said this: ‘My view is that the permit system has not done Aboriginal people any favours and we should do away with it.’ So it is very clear that the agenda for the CLP and, indeed, the coalition here in Canberra is to remove the permit system which applies to visitors to Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

This is not a view which is supported by the Northern Territory government, Aboriginal communities or Aboriginal people anywhere in the Northern Territory. It is a view which has arisen as a result of an attempt by the minister earlier in the week to spin off the tragedy of a vicious assault on an Aboriginal child—an 11-year-old—at a community in the Top End of the Northern Territory. It was said that, because this matter was not reported previously, somehow or another the permit system prevented people reporting on these incidents.

We know that the issue of this assault was dealt with in a bail application in the Darwin Magistrates Court—it was not held at a court in the community of Maningrida, in any event. Permits were not required for people to report on the incident. And, in any event, it has been made very clear to the Chief Magistrate of the Northern Territory by both the Central Land Council and the Northern Land Council that they would be readily issuing permits to any journalists who wanted to visit court proceedings on Aboriginal land or in those communities that they have any responsibility for.

In addition to that, I have been involved in working with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory for almost 30 years. I am not aware of any incident, any occasion, where a reasonable request for a permit to access Aboriginal land has been refused. What we are seeing here is dog whistle politics by the Howard government, hitting at the unfortunate incidents which have happened in some Aboriginal communities, and then pillorying those communities for those incidents. The government is blaming those communities for those incidents and then saying to the Australian community that, because of those incidents happening, these communities and Aboriginal people should be demonised. The government says that in this instance it will, because it has the capacity to, consider removing the permit system which applies to Aboriginal communities, because it does not think these unfortunate incidents have been properly reported. The facts speak very differently. They can be reported. I repeat: where reasonable requests have been made there has not been one example that I am aware of where they have been refused.

We need to understand that it is not appropriate for this or any government to demonise a community in the way in which Mr Brough and this government are demonising the Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory, and the way it has been over recent times, whether it is the community of Muttulu, the community of Wadeye or, now, the community of Maningrida. What the government have to understand is that they need to work with those communities, who are as hurt by what happens as we are. What they need to do is not pillory and abuse those communities in the way they have but work with them.

I will conclude with the words of Frank Djirimbilpilwuy, who, in an interview on ABC radio, said:

What I’m trying to say is if I understood you clearly is the permit system is working and we love people to come onto our land, whether they’re Yolngu, Balanda, red or black or white, you know, the permit system, I’m not opposed to that. Government is opposing or knocking it down, but why, you know, do they have a problem with that.

I think that says it all.