Wednesday, 19 September 2012


Briscoe inquest: 'Lessons learnt' - but will justice be done?

On September 17, NT Coroner Greg Cavanagh handed down his damning findings regarding the death in custody of Kwementyaye Briscoe in the Alice Springs watch house in January.

Briscoe, a young Aboriginal man, had committed no crime, but was taken into so-called protective custody for being excessively drunk.  He was found dead in his cell before the night was through.

He was found to have consumed most of a bottle of rum in the police van, which he obtained from another prisoner. He was dragged through the watch house and shoved down against a bench, where he hit his head and arm.

During the inquest, other prisoners reported having seen Briscoe bleeding from the head and gasping for air. He was left un-attended for two hours, despite prisoners asking police to check on him.

Cavanagh found the police on duty that night were “utterly derelict” in their failure to keep Briscoe under observation. He found they were distracted “by various things including an iPhone, iPad and the internet”, according to the September 17 Sydney Morning Herald.

But Cavanagh’s criticism reached beyond those directly involved on the night. According to ABC Online on September 17 he said: "In my view the catalogue of errors is so extensive and involves so many police officers of various rank as to suggest mismanagement for a period of time by police command at a level higher than just local."

However, justice campaigners fear nothing will change in relation to police treatment of Aboriginal prisoners. The SMH said up to 10 officers had been disciplined in relation to the event but confirmed none had been sacked. NT Police Commissioner John McRoberts said “lessons had been learnt”, the paper said.

NT Aboriginal leader Barb Shaw has called for constable Gareth Evans to be sacked. Evans was recorded dragging Briscoe through the watch-house.

Cavanagh recommended police avoid dragging prisoners, suggesting wheelchairs or stretchers be used when people are unable to walk.  He also said nurses must be made available in watch-houses.

New NT Chief Minister Terry Mills has vowed to implement the recommendations, and promised a “genuine change of culture within the police force”. But the recommendations have been criticized as inadequate by justice campaigners.

Hilary Tyler, a friend of Briscoe’s family, said on September 18:  “The recommendations are a farce, and do not address the systemic issues. The NT Police needs to take ownership of this, and Constable Evans should lose his job.”

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Bipartisan support for bilingual ed?

"Our language is like a pearl inside a shell. The shell is like the people that carry the language. If the language is taken away, then that would be like a pearl is gone. We would be like an empty oyster shell."

-Yurranydjil Dhurrkay, Galiwin'ku, Elcho Island, North-East Arnhem Land

Emma Murphy, Darwin

On September 17, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs tabled its much-anticipated inquiry into language learning on Aboriginal communities: Our Land Our Language.

The report unashamedly puts language front and centre not just to Aboriginal identity but also health and wellbeing. It says, for example, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who speak an Indigenous language enjoy “markedly” better health and are more likely to: be employed, attend school and receive a post-school qualification than those who don’t. They are also less like to abuse alcohol, be charged by police or to have been a victim of violence.

Aboriginal languages are dying at a horrifying rate: of the around 250 languages spoken at the time of invasion, around half have disappeared. The report found that only about 18 are spoken today – many others are being painstakingly revived, recovered and recorded. Greg Dickson, writing on on September 17, said that National Geographic has identified northern Australia as a “global hotspot”, where endangered languages face a “severe threat” of extinction.

It is with this sense of urgency that Aboriginal communities and bilingual education advocates have long rallied for more support and funding for the urgent work of teaching children to speak, read and write their own language.

The recommendations in Our Land Our Language have been welcomed by bilingual education advocates, and are implicitly highly critical of current approaches – especially in the Northern Territory, where bilingual education was dramatically shut down four years ago by the then Labor government.

For example, it recommends “resourcing bilingual school education programs for Indigenous communities where the child’s first language is and Indigenous language” – in the NT, about 40% of children speak a language other than English at home. It also recommends compulsory cultural awareness training, and training in “English as an additional language” teaching for all teachers working in Aboriginal communities.

Beyond the classroom, the report recommends establish a national interpreting service for Indigenous languages, expanding the Indigenous Languages Support Program and establish improving community access to language archive at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

It also recommends constitutional recognition of Indigenous languages.

While it is unclear how many of the recommendations will be implemented, both Labor and the Coalition were quick to welcome the report.  The September 18 Australian said School Education Minister Peter Garrett had promised to “talk to state governments about adopting bilingual education for Indigenous children”. He acknowledged attendance would improve if children were taught in their own languages for the early years.

Opposition Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion said education was a matter for state and territory governments, but conceded “I generally support bilingual education as a transitional program from preschool to Year 5”, the Australian said.

However in the recent past, both Labor and Coalition governments have stressed the importance of English as the predominant language in education.

Labor MP Shayne Neumann, who chairs the standing committee, told media on September 17 that the result of NT Labor’s English-only policy, introduced in 2008, was “a decline in school attendance and educational outcomes”. He said Territory Labor defended the policy at the committee hearing in Darwin early this year, only to quietly drop it soon after.

This report was released less than a month after the NT elections, which saw a CLP government swept to power on a strong bush vote. On the campaign trail, and during community visits since, the CLP has talked up the importance of first-language learning – without committing to any detailed policy or funding commitments.

The task now for Aboriginal communities and defenders of bilingual education will be to make sure governments start putting funding and resource commitments on the table. It will be a large task to rebuild abandoned bilingual programs in the NT, for example. We must ensure governments don’t adopt the easier, more symbolic recommendations and let the actual hard work fall by the wayside.

[Our Land Our Language can be accessed here.]

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Pacific Solution 2.0 begins

On September 13, Pete and I tried to run away to Mandorah for the night, mainly to sleep, and hang out without doing any political organising. We've been there a few times before, have, in fact, blogged about it. You take the ferry across to the cox peninsula, and there within stumbling distance of  the jetty, is the daggy Mandorah pub.

It's a large, mainly outdoor affair, simple concrete floors and a tin roof - feels a bit like a big converted garage, open to the elements on three sides. The meals blackboard proudly proclaims it  the "no hot chips pub", and the guys who run it learn your name and offer free tea and coffee.

It's right on the beach, looking back over the water towards Darwin. We tried to ignore the sinister-looking navy ships slightly blocking the view (we learned on the TV later they were returning from multilateral war games).

It had been a busy few weeks - apart from me not being very healthy, this is what we'd been up to: Darwin refugee advocates condemn Pacific Solution . We spent the afternoon quite indulgently enjoying having a TV(a novelty that soon bored us), and I did some laps in the pool with blue and yellow peeling paint, feeling somehow like I was back in time at a holiday resort from an earlier era.

As we had dinner back at the bar, enjoying the sunset, I thought that I was finally relaxing, after a few months that have been rather anxious, for reasons I won't go into.

And then Labor's rotten, cruel new policy to send asylum seekers to Nauru intruded into our holiday, as we heard the first planeload of  refugees was likely to leave for the island gulag that night.

The media calls came until almost 11pm, then started again at 6:30am.

We could have turned our phones off, theoretically. But how can we when our own government prepares to send some of the most vulnerable people on the planet far away from our support, from legal support, from adequate health facilities...  When men, women and children in detention in Darwin can't  eat or sleep, so anxious are they as they wait to hear if they'll be among those left to languish on Nauru - for up to five years, according to the government.

This is already a failed policy: it hasn't stopped the boats - more asylum seekers have arrived on our shores since the legislation was passed then there is capacity to accommodate at Nauru or  Manus. It hasn't stopped deaths at sea- just days after the legislation passed, around 100 people died as their boat sunk after leaving Indonesia.

All the policy will do is destroy the mental health of refugees, whip up xenophobia and confirm what many around the world already know to be true: the Australian government is racist, cruel and has no respect for human rights.

With heavy hearts we pulled ourself back across the water, to Darwin and all that awaited us there. For now, it seemed, the asylum seekers detained in Darwin had escaped being sent to Nauru, but it's highly likely they will be among those transferred over following weeks.

It reminded me of the line to a song, "We who believe in freedom cannot rest ... until it comes."

Like a friend said recently, I hope Labor & Coalition MPs responsible for this new level of cruelty policy will cause are also not sleeping well at night.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Life under the Country Liberal Party, week two

According to news reports today, two men - new Chief Minister Terry Mills and parliamentary secretary Peter Styles - will oversee the ministry for women's policy. Women's policy. That's right.

And Alison Anderson has been sworn in as Minister for Indigenous Advancement. Advancement? Sorry, what century are we in? That's right, blackfellas, get ready to be pulled up by your bootstraps and ... advanced into civilized society, as defined by the "tough-on-crime", "let's normalize Bagot", CLP.


Monday, 3 September 2012

What are the CFMEU comrades up to down in Melbourne?

"Bad laws are meant to be broken," writes unionist Chris White:

And some great analysis also here:
"Three days earlier, Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) shop stewards and organisers were violently confronted by police on horseback. The police tried to clear the way for the scabs to enter the site and used batons and capsicum spray against the unionists.
As news spread of the violent struggle, thousands of construction workers on city sites walked off the job to join in solidarity and the police were repulsed. No scabs got into the site that day."

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Liberal backbencher slams war in Afghanistan

Gotta give props where props is due, and sometimes it's due to a Liberal MP, turns out...

Washer slams "utter stupidity" of Afghan war

Liberal backbencher Mal Washer has described Australia's ongoing role in Afghanistan as "utter stupidity" after five diggers were killed in Afghanistan this week.
The Western Australian MP, who is an opponent of the war, says Australia must question why we are still in Afghanistan.