Territory Stories

Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 17 February 1999



Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 17 February 1999

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Parliamentary Record 14


Debates for 8th Assembly 1997 - 2001; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 8th Assembly 1997 - 2001




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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES - Wednesday 17 February 1999 to then defend them within the community concerned. We have seen several recent examples where this principle hasnt been applied, where it hasnt been put up as the centrepiece of whatever initiative is going to be taken. John Reeves got it wrong, despite the fact that he went around to a number of land claims that I was involved in, particularly the ones out at Chilla in the Warlpiri area. He got it wrong by trying to introduce a peak body controlling the key assets. You simply cant do that when youre deploying resources or trying to issue some authority over affairs in Aboriginal areas. No matter who you pick to go onto that central body, theyre not going to be mandated to talk against the local autonomy of these different groups. Which different groups are they? You dont know unless you go out there and basically map them. A lot of that has been done. There has been a huge effort, not just by anthropologists - thats the formal side of it - but also by the people themselves, who actually define which groups they want to work in. The Minister for Education has fallen into the same bear-pit in trying to gain a mandate for his decision on bilingual education. Again, he has used to date 2 - and I suspect 3 now with the principals he has met - peak bodies from which he claims a mandate for the decision he has made. There is no mandate. If you go to individual communities and say: Do you agree with this decision? Do you acknowledge this decision?, the answer is very clearly: No, we dont, unless that proposition has been taken directly to them and discussed thoroughly with the right people present to witness that decision, particularly if its in a fundamental area of community life. What were looking at is a very large number of very localised, autonomous management arrangements. They exist. Theyre out there already. If you dont build them into any sort of proposition you make - in this case for the delivery of council-style municipal services - youre going to end up simply promoting another era of continuous dysfunction. Theres no easy way to achieve a meshing between the contemporary approach that were talking about and these arrangements that Aboriginal people have had for a very long period of time. They have to be meshed place by place, group by group, to get to a cohesive structure. I will give an example of the really bad outcomes which can occur when these alignments are not achieved from the start. At Yuendumu in 1988-89, the council president combined with a couple of the council members to institute a whole series of changes which had the effect of trying to draw a lot of the community organisations at Yuendumu into the jurisdiction of the council. That included the art programs, the mining company and the womens centre. There was quite a concerted effort to bring everything in under the one jurisdiction. When it got down to the cut and thrust of it within community politics, the leaders of each of those organisations co-opted family members, particularly the heads of families, on their side of the agenda. So we ended up with warring factions trying either to preserve or to break down the barriers, the existing arrangements that were supporting those community organisations side-by-side. It became very ugly. In fact the whole community over a period of 18 months became totally dysfunctional. The only way out of the conundrum was to go back to the history of Yuendumu and realise that, in fact, it wasnt on Warlpiri country. The Warlpiri families had settled it as a feeding station, a Baptist mission, but its actually on Anmatjere country. The traditional owners of the Yuendumu area live mostly at Yuelamu - Mt Allan. The tribal council of Warlpiri traditional owners, whose country is to the north and west of the town, had been brought into the different warring factions, but because they didnt have absolute authority over the place that was being talked about, there was no way of settling it through those people. The stalemate was broken by bringing the traditional owners across from the neighbouring community and getting them to mediate the conflicts that had broken out between the families. They were given authority simply because its their country, and the Warlpiri recognised that they had the right in that situation to break the deadlock. I think that is a fairly extreme example, but members can see how, to different degrees, the same sort of dysfunctions will happen in any remote community in certain circumstances. The problem, although it shows in different ways from time to time, has its roots in the fact that no clear connections are made between the arrangements governing the community government councils and the arrangements that the traditional owners work under, often linked back to the land council or other responsibilities - for royalties, for approving mining exploration, for issuing permits for people coming in. You have these 2 systems side by side. We have said - and I have personally said through my work as a community adult educator around the time that the Community Government Act was being brought into force - that if the landmass over which the community government constitution was going to act was going to be extensive, as it was in most cases - at Yuendumu it took up half the Tanami area and all the original Yuendumu pastoral lease area - it immediately established 2 systems of management and control over the same piece of land 2778