Thursday, 30 September 2010

Save locusts & our wildlife : no enforced chemical spraying : give farmers choice


I have had an email from The Network's 
dearest and most faithful friend, 
Denis Wilson of The Nature of Robertson.  
Links in the letter are by Miss Eagle.

Please go to Denis's post on this matter.
He has numerous links which interested Networkers
will be sure to follow up.

Hi Miss Eagle
I first posted about Locust spraying madness after I came back from a bird-watching trip to West Wyalong - 450 Km each way, through wheat-growing country (mostly), and I realised I had hardly seen a small hawk all the way. That was several months ago.
 Locust map from here. Click to enlarge.
I vividly recall driving through wheat country as a child and as a young adult, and it was normal to see a Kestrel or a Brown hawk on every second or third telegraph pole. On that trip I saw just two such birds.
Where have they gone?
You would be familiar with Silent Spring, no doubt.
Your John Brumby has now come out and declared war on Locusts
Why?
They supposedly pose a  threat to the Melbourne Cup! "Locust plague threat to Melbourne Cup"
Anyway, there is a Victorian farmer who is being roundly vilified for his environmental campaign against COMPULSORY SPRAYING FOR LOCUSTS.
His brother wrote to my blog, sticking up for his brother Eris O'Brien (you've got the love the Irish!).
Anyway, his video is compelling.
Have a look at the list of chemicals registered for use on CEREAL CROPS - to make them poisonous enough to kill Locusts - but we eat the crops (and feed it to our mean animals) after the "withholding period".
How stupid are we?
I would appreciate some support on this, plus also for Eris O'Brien's website, [Save the Locust.com] and You Tube video.
Cheers


Related reading:
Silent Spring
Silent Spring



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Technorati : surveying blogging and social media : USA egocentricities


My blogging buddy, Steve Hayes in South Africa, is having a big whinge.  He is whinging about a survey authorised by Technorati.  Steve is asking bloggers to pass on the word about this and respond to the survey and he tells you why.  Do the survey yourselves, fellow-bloggers, (Steve has the link) and you will see for yourselves.  You get a chance to rate the survey at its conclusion and then you get room to comment on why you gave the rating you did.  Below are my comments on why I gave it a '3' - which I thought was being a bit on the generous side.

Now, where all this will come out in the statistical wash is anyone's guess.  As for me, I have long since given up on thinking that Technorati was of much benefit to me.  Some of my blogs would still be linked on Technorati - I think - but I don't think I bothered to link this one.  So, who knows, if enough bloggers respond in a manner that helps Technorati to lift its game, things might change for the better.  Was a time when Technorati was a big wheel in the blogging world.  I doubt if that is the case any more.  Blogging and other social media have taken on lives of their own and there are social media savvy people galore out there now.

We have newspaper emperors whinging to-day about bloggers.  Perhaps in about three years time, bloggers will be complaining.

When Twitter started out with its 140 characters including word spacing, did we really think it would become the powerful force it has become? And I think predominantly of that supreme Twitterer, Stephen Fry, when I say this.  He turned an oppressive and unfair legal judgment in the UK into an item of ridicule and is now using it to assist in earning money from public appearance and book sales.  Clever lad, young Stephen!

So who knows where it will all end...if it ever does?  And here below is Miss Eagle's whinge.  A book-end for Steve's.
Many limitations.  I've 4 blogs and this survey did not allow me to include them.  Blog categorization is limited. Most stunning category omission is 'Food'. Food blogs have massive readership.  Categorization of what is read on blogs - news items, celebrities - were USA focussed.  How egocentric!  Do you think the world only discusses what happens in the USA?  Or do you think the USA is the biggest blogging audience?  What about India and China and their diasporas across the world?  I've long since given up on Americans being interested in or knowing anything about my country, Australia.  However, to ignore huge IT-loving markets like India and China is incomprehensible by any standards.  Language used is very American. International testing of your questionnaire would be more professional and would contribute to the fairness of questions and inclusiveness of responses.  Your report card?  Need to do a whole lot better next time - and you might consider getting more professional assistance to do it.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Women in Victoria's Rail, Tram, Bus Union

Click to enlarge

Yesterday was spent with the women of Victoria's Rail, Tram, Bus Union at their conference at ACTU Headquarters.  My role was that of facilitator - and what a stimulating time I had.  There was a solid and interesting line-up of speakers.  Trevor Dobbyn, the State Secretary of the RTBU, kicked off proceedings.  Trevor's leadership of the RTBU has been outstanding.  He has brought the union through the trying times of the Kennett years when so much that working Victorians had worked to achieve was severely pruned or destroyed.  Under Trevor Dobbyn's leadership, the RTBU has recovered and is making great strides as a modern trade union.


Melbourne's trains are owned by the Victorian Government but run, under contract, by Metro - the second company, following Connex, to do so.  Prior to private contractors managing the rail network, Melbourne's rail network was a public sector corporation with all that means in terms of culture and management.  The industry has always been and remains male dominated.  Women comprise only about 18% of employees - and many of these are in part-time low grade positions.  A lot of work needs to be done to bring women into a position of real equality within the transport industry.  This was the purpose of yesterday's conference.  


While Trevor Dobbyn leads the charge to bring women into a more equitable position within rail and within the RTBU, the organising force on a day to day basis has been the RTBU's Women's Office, Luba Grigorovitch.  


Luba is a graduand of the Anna Stewart Memorial Project.  I know that the word 'dynamo' is a much overused word when applied to people but I can't think of a better description of Luba.  Luba has been a great discovery for the RTBU and its female members.  Currently, Luba works part-time for the RTBU but there is a feeling in the air that her position could become more substantial in the future.  When consideration is given to this, the union need look no further than the success of yesterday's Women's Conference.


Brian Boydsecretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, spoke cogently and in a down to earth way about economic events currently occurring in Europe and workers' demonstrations protesting about the loss of valued rights and entitlements. Brian Boyd warned that if such sentiments currently espoused by governments in Europe were to be taken up in Australia, workers could find themselves in situations similar to those currently being experienced in Europe.  Australian workers would be called upon to work to protect wages, conditions, and social policies which had been fought for hard and long.


Jennifer O'Donnell-Pirisi, the Women's Officer at the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VHTC) was a well-received speaker at the conference.  One of the major items she told us about was the Domestic Violence Workplace Rights and Entitlements Project being driven by the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC).  Jenny told us of the deal between Torquay-based Surf Coast Shire and the Australian Services Union which has been hailed as possibly the world's most progressive workplace agreement on family violence. Certainly, as Jenny pointed out, this agreement is world's best practice - right here in Australia.


Employees at Surf Coast Shire now have an entitlement to 20 days of paid leave for family violence.  Jenny explained how important this was - particularly if someone was re-constructing family life and family home because of violence.  People need the stability of their job and workplace to continue functioning normally.  


Networkers, my eyes just about popped when I heard all this.  As a frontline person for women in the union movement back in the '80s and '90s, I know that none of us women trying to get a fair deal then would ever have dreamed of something like this!  Anti-discrimination legislation, equal pay for work of equal value, getting some fair treatment in the workplace in terms of training and promotion - all these were part of working women's focus!  As far as family violence went, we supported women's shelters and were thankful.  Now this great stride has been taken, I am gob-smacked!


Following these speakers came the group discussion which I facilitated.  Here I might add, that Andrew Lezala, CEO of Metro, was a guest and speaker at the Women's Conference along with two of his senior executives (both women).  Andrew Lezala's presence was no inhibition to the discussion.  The women outlined their workplace problems frankly and in detail.  Luba will be going over their comments with a fine-tooth comb.  There is plenty to work on.  


Following the group discussion, Vic Moore spoke.  Vic is the Secretary, Rail Operations, within the RTBU.  Vic Moore speaks as only someone imbued with long-standing shop-floor practicality can.  Even more relevant is that he was conversant with the history of women within the RTBU and outlined some of of that history and the battles that had been fought.  Some big shoes to be filled by modern women!


Then followed Andrew Lezala of Metro.  Andrew said that few of the matters raised in the group discussion were news to him.  He knows well the blokey culture operating in rail which brings in its wake unprofessional management styles in many ways.  


Andrew spoke well and I feel sure he had the confidence of the women present.  Andrew pointed out that many people still believed that public railway transport was engineering based and therefore male oriented.  Andrew disagrees with this premise and says that modern public railway transport is best described as customer service focussed; engineering based; and safety critical.  If it is a customer service industry, why is there not a 50/50 representation of men and women within the industry, Andrew asked.  However, even if people were to rely on the engineering based notion for a distinctively male orientation, this ignored the fact of how many female engineers were operating to-day: including Andrew's own daughter who is an engineer working in England on trains for Bombardier!  Andrew wants to see a 50/50 representation and a system which will allow people to work through the ranks more equitably with promotion to and training for satisfying jobs.


After yesterday, I am convinced of two things.  There is a growing empowerment of women within the RTBU.  A women's committee will be formally established within the union; women are asking for proportional representation on all union bodies; and, as well as the position of Women's Officer, there will be two additional positions of Women' Convenor and Deputy Women's Convenor to enhance communication and visible workplace representation by women.  There are already a number of female union delegates.  As well as all this movement at the RTBU end of things, it is clear that we will be looking for signs of Andrew Lezala's direction at Metro to achieve more equitable female representation, promotion, participation, and training within the career structures at Metro.  


Clearly, it is not only trains that are on the move.  
Women in rail are on the move too.

Click to enlarge:
Clock wise from above left:
Trevor Dobbyn - RTBU; Andrew Lezala - Metro;
Jennifer O'Donnell-Pirisi - VTHC; Vic Moore - RTBU;
Brian Boyd - VTHC

PS: I  came home with goodies:
a thank-you bouquet of flowers;
a lucky door prize of a wonderful
Body Shop gift pack; and a "show-bag"
which contained pens, cap, lipstick,
literature and chocolate.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Lilydale chicken & racism claims: racism and chicken do not go together


Miss Eagle is vegetarian - but occasionally cooks for her carnivore family.  At these times, Lilydale Free Range Chicken is often on the menu.  However.......


The National Union of Workers is standing behind a Lilydale chicken worker who it suspects was sacked after he raised concerns to management about racist behaviour in the workplace. This is a community group dedicated to spread the word that this type of intolerance is unacceptable. The NUW strongly suspects that this reflects a pattern of workers' rights abuse.

Just a word: blogulosity


I love to find fabulous new words and to-day I have discovered one, courtesy of that linguistic maestro Stephen Fry. I have tried to find a definition for blogulosity by way of a Google search, but to no avail.  Here is the context in which the illustrious Mister Fry uses it:

So here is the first of a series of blogulosities in which I try and share a personal delight.

I have discovered though that this word might not have originated with Stephen Fry.  There appear to be a few blog entries ahead of his usage including this one.

But I love the word.  Say it out loud.  Let it roll off your tongue. First the explosive consonant "b", the two palatal consonants "l", the sibilant "s", finished with a satisfying tip palatal "t".  It is music.  
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Parks Victoria - Bill Jackson's interesting new appointment

Parks Victoria is about to get a new boss, the distinguished environmentalist Dr Bill Jackson -

Dr William Jackson is the Deputy Director General of IUCN. Prior to this appointment he was the Director, Global Programme, and Head of IUCN’s Forest Conservation Programme in HQ, and has worked in IUCN in Eastern and Southern Africa. He has extensive field experience in ecosystem conservation and management around the world. He has a keen interest in promoting the role of civil society in linking forest conservation practice with policy, community forestry, forest fires and forest restoration.


What more can be said except that it is with expectation that I wait to see the results, the outcomes of this appointment.

On the way to a bran nue day #1: the Carbon Price Committee


Networkers, it is too early to tell if Australia is on the way to a bran nue dae in its governance.  However, the Carbon Price Committee or Climate Committee or Climate Change Committee (the press to-day are giving it a variety of names - but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet) may well be the first sign of changes which are still to come.

We have a hung parliament followed, within a matter of weeks, by a hung AFL Grand Final.  Could the Universe be trying to tell us something?  That now is the time for co-operation - not do or die competition.  Is competition so yesterday, so last century, so Gordon Gecko 1980s?  Is competition in politics to become the sole province of the Liberal/National Parties whose aggression and pugnacity will become more and more odious?

I am not asking for sweetness, light and fairy tales at bedtime in Australia's public life.  But.....
  • Wouldn't it be great to see a co-operative spirit where people could come together and formulate policies that emerge from broad discussion which turn out to be greater than the sum of the contributions brought to the table? 
  • Wouldn't it be great to do away with prescriptive self/party interested public policy which is fought down to the death with politics and numbers and invective?
  • Wouldn't it be great if we avoided the "do it my way for the next three years attitude", and instead set about finding the best way and the right way of doing things that benefit this nation - its people, its, environment, its future?  .....
.....Wouldn't it?


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THE DEADLYS 2010

Time: September 27, 2010 from 8pm to 11pm
Location: Sydney Opera House
Organized By: Deadly Awards



Last night The Deadlys were held.  Unfortunately, I couldn't see the simulcast because I was at a meeting of GreenFaith Australia.  The awards ceremony will be broadcast on SBS One on Sunday night and again next Wednesday, 6 October, on SBS Two.  I am sure everyone had a wonderful time.  Congratulations to all the winners.  So pleased at the success of Bran Nue Dae.  With a whole new way of doing things taking place in our national government, perhaps On the Way to a Bran Nue Dae can become the national song of the moment.



Saturday, 25 September 2010

Energy Basics at CERES 2-3pm Sunday 3 October



ENERGY BASICS, 
2 - 4pm Sunday 3rd October, 
CERES Learning Centre, 
8 Lee Street, Brunswick East 

RSVP Friday 1 October to merrynredenbach@gmail.com

Join us for a concise, practical and easy to understand introduction into how our we produce and use energy in Australia.

How we produce our energy has enormous consequences for everyone, but often we don't feel confident in our opinions because energy production seems so specialised and complex.

So, to give you the nuts and bolts on Victoria's energy system, Climate Action Moreland is partnering with Beyond Zero Emissions to present Energy Basics, from 2 pm to 4pm at Ceres Learning Centre next Sunday 3rd October.

It will give you a concise introduction to understanding how our energy is produced and used, without having to spend endless hours on the Internet, or ploughing through textbooks. It will help you feel more confident in discussing these issues with family, friends, colleagues and even your local elected representative;  all very
important in the lead up to this crucial state election!



How much energy does it take to power Victoria? 
What is a megawatt?


How does a coal plant or a gas plant work?  
How does a solar thermal plant work? 
A wind turbine?  
What is Baseload energy?

This is an excellent, concise 20 minute presentation of energy basics from BZE Director of Communications, Mark Ogge, and a chance to ask all the questions you've ever had about energy.  Fact sheets for future reference provided.



Join us from 2 pm to 4pm at Ceres Learning Centre 
next Sunday 3rd October.   
There'll be signs to show you the way!



RSVP by Friday 1st October to merrynredenbach@gmail.com

Our Generation - the movie




Hello everyone!


After 3 and a half years in the making and with the amazing support from YOU, the public, OUR GENERATION is finally ready to watch on DVD.

Alongside this, we have launched our new trailer, which we encourage you to share with your friends, family and workmates, and embed on your websites, facebook and myspaces pages.

We are also hitting the road for screenings on the West and East Coast of Australia which will be followed by heartfelt discussions led by Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra and Jeff McMullen.

Some of these dates will also have special live music with guests such as 
Shane Howard, Archie Roach, Shellie Morris and John Butler

We will be launching the community screenings, led by YOU, simultaneously on the 29th of October as part of the INTERNATIONAL DAY OF ACTION, on which there will be various events happening across the country to demand the end of the Northern Territory Intervention.


For those of you who wish to host a community screening, we ask that your event is held on this date forward.



Thank you all for being on the journey with us.
The time has come.
Join the movement.
Spread the word.

In solidarity, 
Sinem and Damien

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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Lake Mungo Indigenous Immersion 2011

Lake Mungo is a unique and precious Australian heritage site. 
Lake Mungo Indigenous Immersion 2011
 is an opportunity to connect with 
Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal sense of country
under the leadership of distinguished Aboriginal woman,
Vicki Walker Clark.

Melbourne Free University: latest offerings: Philosophy - Asia-Pacific

Click to enlarge

Above are the latest - and I assume the last for 2010 - offerings
from the

Vegetable Vagabond: a kindred spirit


Networkers, isn't it a lovely feeling when we meet a kindred spirit - someone whom you want to ask home to play, have a cuppa, pull up a chair for a chat.  Thanks to my dear friend Belinda, of Belinda's Place, I have discovered Kate living at Cygnet, in Tasmania.  Her most recent post is called A Brief History of the World - and it is brilliant.

Of course, Miss Eagle is a sucker for anyone who loves and lives community and works at it - as clearly Kate does as her blog links attest.  So please pop over and say hello and say that Miss Eagle sent you.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Postcolonial Theology Network

Have just received an invitation via Helen Mary Hill - former political staffer, now academic, writer, East Timor advocate and activist - to join the Postcolonial Theology Network on Facebook.  In case this sounds like heady stuff, Networkers, in simple terms it is about reaction to colonialism and colonisation.

People might be tempted to think in terms of Africa and Asia and so on where former Empires invaded parts of the world and subjugated the local population.  Oops!  Wait a minute, isn't that what happened in Australia?  Oh yes, but the British went away.  Did they?  In Australia, we tend to think that colonialism disappeared magically on the 1 January 1901 with Federation.  We don't look at ourselves critically to see that we have not left behind colonial attitudes, Great White Father patronage and arrogance either within our own nation or in relationship with others - and I think particularly of our attitude toward the Pacific Island nations in this regard.

So I have signed up and accepted Helen Mary's invitation.  Hopefully, I will learn a lot.  Hopefully, I can make some contribution.  Hope to meet you there, Networkers.

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Report from the Front: Mildura, Brumby, Solar energy, Passenger rail, Pipelines, Protesters

Maria Reidl at the Brumby protest in Mildura yesterday
To watch the Channel 9 news item on the protest, please go here.

Yesterday, the Labor Premier of Victoria, John Brumby, visited Mildura.  An election is in the air, you see.  November 24 2010, to be precise.  The seat of Mildura is not a traditional Labor seat.  In eighty years, the ALP has held the seat for seven although an Independent did hold the seat from 1996-2006 and did support Labor under Steve Bracks when there was a hung parliament.

After the events surrounding the 2010 Federal election and The Greens' Adam Bandt defeating Labor in the seat of Melbourne to win the first Greens House of Representatives seat, there clearly will be some slight interest (that's sarcasm, Networkers) in highlighting environmental credentials by the major political parties.  So it was that, after much controversy about a solar energy plant for Victoria and particularly Mildura, Mr Brumby came to town to announce the good news that a major solar energy plant will be built near Mildura.

As a background to the topic of solar energy, Networkers, attention must be drawn to Australia's tardiness - in spite of its plenitude, across the continent, of sunshine - in implementing the renewable energy of solar power.  To rub salt into the wounds, one of the world's richest men is Shi Zhengrong of Suntech Power, and he gained his extensive education in solar energy at the University of New South Wales.  Admittedly, China is a larger marketplace than the Land of Oz  - but let's admit it.  Australians - well, let's be more precise, their political and business leadership - are slack and not leaders of the pack.  Innovation has no trouble finding itself in this country but  struggles to get off the ground because of the faithlessness of governments and business.

But back to the good folk of Mildura.  There were not many of them turned up to greet John Brumby.  Apparently, his visit was not well publicised to the locals.  I can  understand that.  The Brumby Government is not into community engagement.  But it is into media events.  Nevertheless, there were a few locals there to annoy Brumby with their pleas on local issues: restoration of the rail service to Mildura (download report embedded below on this subject)  cut by the Liberal Kennett Government in 1993 (an excellent reason to elect an Independent at the next election in 1996) and the North-South pipeline, and I think the burdensome cost of desal rated a mention as well. 

Among those who turned up to give John Brumby a 'warm' welcome was that indefatigible Water Warrior and academic researcher, Maria Reidl - with her trademark hat as you can see from the picture above.  Maria has reported from the Brumby in Mildura Front as follows:  

We had desal, pipeline, train signs. We had ½ hour notice as he was planning to sneak into town and just have media circus. It is all about the election as the $100mil he promised if great but what about his promised passenger train and no pipeline and yet another coal-fired power station. Sneaking didn’t work. I find him quite arrogant and unwilling to ask and seek advice from the community. And is happy to keep making promises that I do not believe he will keep as his ONLY intention is to be elected premier-as he has never been elected!

Cheers
Maria

Keep up the good work, Maria!


BTW, there is another hurdle for the solar plant.  It has to get Federal funding!

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Monday, 20 September 2010


Sorry, Crikey.  
It's not that I'm a content kleptomaniac -
 it's just that I think this story needs as wide a coverage as possible.  
Thanks, Paddy.
Make up your own minds, Networkers,
but this sounds like a cross between Kafka & Through the Looking Glass.
Do the Centrelink people participating in this system
in this way
thinking all this is rational?
I think they ought to rethink their job situation -
they may be driven nuts before too long -
and then someone (when they get their benefit for mental illness)
will want to put them on income management!

Monday, 20 September 2010 .
Business as usual 
under Labor’s ‘new’ income management
by Paddy Gibson, 
at the University of Technology, Sydney


The new system of income management designed by the federal Labor government has been progressively rolling out across the Northern Territory since the start of August.

The new system is allegedly “non-discriminatory”, applying to all welfare recipients across the NT and potentially Australia.

It is also supposed to soften the grip of income management on “prescribed” NT Aboriginal communities. On paper, people on aged and disability pensions are now exempt.

Implementation of these reforms, however, has just meant one more round of racist, humiliating interaction with government bureaucracy for communities suffering under the intervention. Centrelink is doing all it can to keep Aboriginal people on the system.

Last Friday, September 17, I went into Centrelink with some elderly women from Ilparpa town camp on the southern fringe of Alice Springs. These women have long complained about the BasicsCard making it harder for them to access their pension and deeply resent their lives being taken over by the NT intervention.

Centrelink has been telling Aboriginal organisations in Alice Springs that 70% of Aboriginal pensioners in Tennant Creek and the Barkly region have “volunteered” to stay on the new income management system.

After our experiences on Friday, I’m genuinely amazed that 30% managed to escape.

Over the next four years, $350 million is being spent on income management in the NT alone. A reasonable slice of this must be being spent on marketing. Alice Springs Centrelink is full of advertisements promising good health, pride and happiness for those on the BasicsCard.

May, who is 76, asked me to come and sit in at her interview with the Centrelink officer. Fluent in several Aboriginal languages, she speaks only broken English.

The man behind the counter was friendly.

“How can I help you today, May?”

“BasicsCard.”

“You want to check your balance on your BasicsCard?”

“No, the BasicsCard is no good. I want to stop.”

“Oh, your BasicsCard isn’t working. No worries I’ll get you a new one.”

There are so many problems with BasicsCards not working that Centrelink hands replacements out like lollies.

He came back with a shiny new card, gave May a form to sign (which she did) and got her to punch her preferred pin number into the computer.

“OK, that’s it today then?”

I said, “excuse me, but isn’t there a new system operating? Perhaps you could get an interpreter to explain to May what her rights are if she wants to come off the BasicsCard?”

“Look I’m just not doing that any more. Only two of the 30 or so people I asked actually came off, because if they stay on they get a bonus.”

He was referring to a $250 “incentive” payment that pensioners will get every six months if they decide to sign up for “voluntary income management”. The Ilparpa women had heard this payment was being offered to other people and dismissed it as a “bribe”. But it’s a lot of money for any struggling family.

There was no Warlpiri interpreter available, so May talked straight for herself.

“I want cash. BasicsCard is rubbish. I am a non-drinker and I don’t gamble, I’m a Christian woman.”

This began a 15 minute tug of war, with the Centrelink officer pulling out several stops to try and convince May to stay on the card.

He turned around his computer to show May the list of “essential items” she could spend her BasicsCard on.

“I get paid wages, but I have to buy clothes and food too. See, it’s no different. It’s like we’re all on income management really.”

“I want cash,” she kept insisting.

“I’ve worked with communities for 25 years,” he was talking to me now.

“People come under a lot of pressure to hand their money over to their family.”

May said, “I can look after my money. I don’t give it out. I need cash.”

He tried one last angle, “well if you come off the system, we won’t be able to pay your rent anymore.”

Before income management, many Aboriginal people had their rent deducted directly from Centrelink under a voluntary system called Centrepay. Apparently, this is no longer an option.

Asking questions, we found out that you can arrange direct deduction by talking with NT Housing. But Centrelink will not assist to make these arrangements — unless you stay on the BasicsCard.

Worn down by the argument, the Centrelink staffer did not actually know how to take May off the system. It took three staff crowded around his computer for another 15 minutes before everything was sorted.

One was a supervisor, who asked the Centrelink officer if he was sure May wasn’t “vulnerable”.

Pensioners assessed by front-line Centrelink staff as being “vulnerable to financial exploitation” can be kept on the new system against their will. Racist assumptions about Aboriginal people being unable to look after their money continue to underpin income management.

Two other Ilparpa pensioners were not as lucky as May with their negotiations and are still on the card.

I interviewed Biddy when we got back to Ilparpa camp. Biddy is very elderly and can’t walk without a frame because of a recent operation on her leg.

When you went to Centrelink today, what did you tell them?

I told them I want to cancel that BasicsCard. I want cash. But they said, ‘no, no, no, no’. The lady told me, ‘we can’t cancel this BasicsCard’.

Why did she say that?

She said it’s because of the bonus. And also the rent.

What did she say about the bonus?

That it’s $250 every six months.

But did you want the bonus, or did you want to get cash?

No, I wanted cash. I don’t like the BasicsCard.

Why didn’t she listen to you?

Because I’m a cripple person. I’ll try again next week.

I also accompanied Lydia during her Centrelink interview. She has serious hearing problems and struggles to understand English. We were told that she had “volunteered” for income management at a previous appointment on September 1.

Once you “volunteer” you can’t come off for at least 13 weeks. Despite having no recollection of her “decision”, Lydia now has to go through a formal appeals process to be taken off the BasicsCard. The appeal is being processed in Tasmania.

The Centrelink officer was most apologetic. After checking Lydia’s record, it was revealed she was actually the officer who had “volunteered” Lydia two weeks previous.

On Saturday, I saw my friend Donald at a service station and explained the ordeal to him. He receives a disability pension and lives at another town camp. Donald is very confident and fluent in English. But he, too, had to argue hard with Centrelink to be taken off the BasicsCard:

“They kept telling me it was good for me. That I was doing really well with my finances since being on the card. They’ve got no idea. I’ve had that much trouble with bills since they took control.

“I can speak up for myself. But the others, they’ve got no chance.”

The Intervention through the eyes of indigenous people from outside Australia

The Living Letters Team
Back Row l - r: Rev. Sealin Garlett, Dr Hanna Grace, Second row l- r: Ms Georgia Corowa, Ms Maria
Chavez Quispe, Rev. Dr Anthony Dancer, Rev. Dr Mindawati Perangin-Angin, Fr Rex Reyes, Mr Graeme
Mundine. Front row l-r: Ms Renée Grounds, Ms Hera Rere Clarke

Details of The Living Letters Team:
The Living Letters team travelling to Australia in September will be composed of:

International delegates:

  • Ms Hera Rere Clarke, WCC Central Committee member, New Zealand, Anglican
  • Ms Renée Grounds, United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, United States
  • Dr Hanna Grace, Egypt, Coptic Orthodox
  • Rev. Dr Mindawati Perangin-Angin, WCC Central Committee member, Indonesia, Karo Batak Protestant Church
  • Fr Rex Reyes, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Episcopal
  • Rev. Dr Anthony Dancer, Social Justice Commission of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia (accompanying member)

Local delegates:

  • Ms Georgia Corowa, coordinator, Queensland Churches Together Indigenous People's Partnership
  • Rev. Sealin Garlett, deputy chair of the NATSIEC Commission, Uniting Church in Australia

WCC and NATSIEC-NCCA staff:

  • Mr Graeme Mundine, NATSIEC-NCCA (local coordinator)
  • Ms Maria Chavez Quispe, WCC (team leader)

World Council of Churches Living Letters Statement
At the invitation of the National Council of Churches of Australia (NCCA) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC) to the World Council of Churches (WCC) a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Christians have come as a Living Letter to the Aboriginal Peoples of the Northern Territory in Australia.

We come from around the world; from Bolivia, Egypt, The United States of America, The Philippines, Indonesia, Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australia and bring with us our own stories and experiences as Indigenous and marginalised peoples. We have come to hear the voices of Aboriginal Peoples and to bear witness to the injustices they face on a daily basis.

We thank our Aboriginal brothers and sisters for the very warm welcome we have received everywhere we have travelled. We have visited communities and peoples in Darwin, Galiwink’u, Mapuru, Wadeye, Hermannsburg, Amoonguna, Mount Nancy Town Camp, the Anglican Northern Territory future leaders and the students of Nungalinya College. We deeply appreciate the generosity people have shown us by inviting us into their homes and lives. Our only regret is that time and distance did not allow us to visit more communities.

We have gained valuable insights and have been profoundly moved by what we have heard. We are concerned to observe the discrimination, oppression and racism that Aboriginal Peoples experience on a daily basis. We are dismayed by the lack of consultation and negotiation from Governments of all levels as they make and implement policies and programs that have significant impacts on Aboriginal Peoples.

Many of us are shocked because we did not realise this is still happening in Australia. We have had insight into the “other” Australia. The one that is hidden away and not talked about honestly. Our shock was compounded by the fact that Australia is quick to condemn human rights abuses in other countries, and yet perpetuates them in its own backyard.

We too say “enough is enough!” As Christians we affirm that respect of the whole human person is important. We have heard of the injustices being perpetrated against Northern Territory communities and believe that they are not just against the Aboriginal Peoples of these places but they are being perpetrated against humanity and against the will of God.

The things we have heard about and seen this week remind us that colonisation is not something that happened two hundred years ago, it is ongoing. As Indigenous and marginalised peoples from other lands, we feel a connection to the struggle of the Aboriginal Peoples. We too experience colonisation and systemic racism in our own contexts.

We have heard about the Northern Territory Emergency Response, also known as the Intervention which was initiated by the Howard Government ostensibly to address child
abuse.

We have heard the Intervention has taken control of the lives of Aboriginal Peoples through such measures as compulsory income management and compulsory acquisition of leases over Aboriginal land.

We have heard that it was necessary to suspend aspects of the Racial Discrimination Act in order to implement these measures.

We have heard of the people’s confusion and despair at these extreme measures and their hope for change with the change of Government in 2007. Despite this hope, the Labor government has continued the Intervention which remains a blight on Australia’s reputation.

We challenge these unjust and racist structures and systems and question the Australian lawmakers about how they conduct their business just as Jesus questioned the Pharisees and lawmakers of his time.

The Intervention has been a failure because the Government has not listened to Aboriginal voices and has not negotiated or properly consulted about any aspect of these policies. The Government used armed forces to implement the Intervention. People continue to be forced from their homelands and outstations. People are being treated like criminals without just cause.

The Government and the media continue to paint a picture of Aboriginal dysfunction and yet refuse to look in the mirror at the devastating effect that their own cultural practices have on Aboriginal communities.

We say to the current Government you have had three years to “reset the relationship with Aboriginal Peoples”, yet you have failed to do so. In fact we have heard in every place we visited that life has not improved under the Intervention, it has in fact deteriorated. We have heard of despair, anguish and confusion throughout the Intervention years and the dismantling of communities.

We have also heard and seen the strength of resistance. “The oldest living, surviving culture in all the world” has not been crushed. The will of the people to stand up for their rights has heartened us and inspired us to action. We feel a great responsibility to ensure that the time and stories that was generously shared with us will produce positive outcomes and that their voices will not go unheeded.

To our Indigenous brothers and sisters we say; “You do not stand alone”. We will endeavour to support and encourage your resistance against injustice. We affirm your right to self- determination. We affirm your right to live in your own Traditional Lands and we affirm your right to maintain and enrich your cultures and ensure your traditions are strengthened and passed on for generations to come. We encourage you to continue to draw on the strength of your cultures to resist the debilitating effects of the ways of the colonisers.

We stand in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, but more than that we commit to speak out and tell the world what we have seen and heard. We strongly encourage the Churches in Australia and the World Council of Churches to commit themselves to take action to support your political rights, your human rights and your rights as Australian citizens. Our first action will be to produce a report which will detail our observations, concerns and recommendations arising from this visit and through our actions we will show that this Living Letter visit is not a “breeze blowing in the wind.”

To our Indigenous brothers and sisters we say 
“Your fight is our fight.”

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