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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

PECKHAM, Mrs Elaine, Director, Central Australian Aboriginal Strong Women's Alliance


CHAIR: We now move into the area of people who have said they wanted to talk to us. I have four names in front of me. They are Elaine Peckham, Susie Low, Eva Briscoe and David Hewitt, in no particular order. I welcome first Elaine Peckham.

Mrs Peckham : Good afternoon. I am pleased to be here. In meetings like this, I also recognise our families that are not here today. They have brought us on this long journey in the struggles they have done for Alice Springs. My family is part of the reason I am speaking up about a lot of issues that we have gone through plus the intervention since 2008. I was one of them as well. I was quarantining my pension. I had no choice, but I took one step back and said: 'Look at this. This is our basic human right.'

I grew up in Alice Springs in the early 50s, had a bit of education. That was my choice, and my parents had always given us the choice to go down that road. We were part of two worlds: understanding our Aboriginal beliefs and our obligations to the land and also being in the mainstream, going out to get an education. Those were the two worlds I was brought up in.

I believe the intervention taking place in 2008 was very discriminatory. I still say it is today in the many forms and ways it has been presented. It has caused us much hurt and pain through those years. I am a grandmother of 13, and a great-grandmother of four. Today I am still going to speak up strongly about it and I always will until the last breath in my body. It has always been there and will stay there for as long as I am able to get up and speak. The reason I want to talk about a lot of these issues today is that the Stronger Futures law might make a difference to some people's lives. I respect what a lot of the people out in the community say about the intervention having helped them to move on in life. But when you go back to the days when I grew up in Alice Springs, we had little but nothing. I still remember those days, and that was a struggle. It is still a struggle for us today, and it is a journey that will never end for us until we have our basic human rights back.

We talk about our human rights but there are a few in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples that I want to talk about. One in particular that I really like to talk about is article 1. It states that Indigenous people as groups and as individuals have the right to enjoy all the human rights and freedoms as recognised in international law. Another is article 3, self-determination. It states that Indigenous people have the right to self-determination. This means that they can choose their political status and develop as they want to. Article 4, autonomy, states that as a form of self-determination Indigenous people have the right to autonomy of self-government in matters relating to their own affairs.

The last one that I would like to mention is article 18, decision-making. It states that Indigenous people have the right to participate in decisions that affect them. They can choose their own representatives and use their own decisions relating to procedures. Policies and procedures were put into place when the intervention came out. To us, as Aboriginal people, our policies and procedures work in another way and give respect to each other. But I see the intervention as something that has taken away our free pride and informed consent of how we want to put our policies and procedures in a way that we believe in.

As I said, with the intervention in 2008, it took me nearly three to four months to actually know it was really happening. I could not believe it. One day I walked into Centrelink and they told me that they were going to quarantine my pension. I had to walk through that, regardless, and come out again to say: 'This is not right. We are all Australians. We have the right of freedom of speech and talk about what the government is doing to us today.' I then decided to take one step back again. I thought: 'The government has not actually taken away our rights but it has taken away our dignity and pride in a form that no-one can describe.' I believe I am one of those persons. So I decided to go and do the leadership program in Canberra—the FaHCSIA women's leadership program. And that had women from all over the states. They were from New South Wales to as far as Tasmania. I had never met any of those women in my life but I got up and said who I was and where I had come from. They were setting up the women's alliance group in Canberra at the time and I said, 'I am proud of you women. At least you can go away and do what you want for your own people and for the young ones of the next generation that are coming up.' When I mentioned that we were living under the intervention, some of them had not even heard of it and did not know it was in place in the Northern Territory. Barb and I from day one had been travelling to Canberra and up to Darwin and going out and advocating on this, but still a lot of Aboriginal people did not know about it. That is the trauma and the pain that we were going through, without other Aboriginal people like ourselves realising it because we were in the Northern Territory and it had not happened anywhere else. So I decided to come back. I went to some of the consultations you had in the Northern Territory. I went to one of the bigger ones they had here in the Crowne Plaza. I decided to go and hear what they had to say. I just asked Canberra when I would be invited again to attend that. I was told I could.

I do not actually live in Alice Springs now. I live on a little homeland out on the West MacDonnell. I have been there for the last 20-odd years. We do not get the services that a lot of people in Alice Springs have. We had to get our own bus service for our children and grandchildren to go to school. We have always been accountable people and still are living out on the land by paying our water, rent and electricity and phone bills. But we do not have a proper health service. We did have a health service before through the congress but we do not have that any more unless we come to the main street. So I do that now. I have to come into town. A lot of us do not have transport. We have to rely on our family members to bring us into town. Yes, we do have a bus service and we are proud of that because we got up and spoke to get that back ourselves. We had to speak to the education department to get that for us.

As you can see, maybe I am still not so much angry but hurting because I see my grandchildren growing up now in a place where I grew up years ago that was so totally different to what it is today when we had our parents with us and showing us the way. And that is our survival.

So I set up the strong women's group here in Alice Springs. It comprises five Aboriginal women. I am the director. Four of them work. I am a pensioner but I do a lot of ground work and networking to help make it happen for us. At the moment, I am really finding it hard to get our young ones to come up and take that next step as well because, I suppose, they are finding it hard. But we have to say, 'It was hard for us too. We have not given up hope.' By setting up a strong women's group here in Alice Springs I was hoping there would be young women out there eager to take that step and walk beside us with the older ones who have been through the hard times. We had severe times as well. Maybe it is because they have jobs. They are all educated and they have small families to support and to look after and nourish through their lives. That is why I am finding it very hard. I feel like some of them maybe have not really been out of that world that we have been through—to know what it is really like, what the government has done and will continue to do to us if we do not stop speaking up. We could have so many consultations, so many talks, but to me it does not make a difference. So I would like to hand some of these out for you to have a look at, if you do not mind, just to see what we have tried to do. We have tried to work with the government, tried to take that next step forward and move on with our lives, but there is always another barrier.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.