LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – In “Pilger’s polemic fails Australia and Aborigines” Kieran Finnane enters into a polemic herself to discredit Pilger, but what exactly is it about Utopia that the writer disputes? The facts? Is she saying it is all too complex and nuanced for anyone to understand or analyse, let alone criticise?
Pilger unashamedly comes from a position – he does not pretend to be “neutral”. He makes it clear that he is outraged and asks why nobody else is. He asks why Aboriginal disadvantage has become normalised and why Australia – a first world nation – continues to accept it.
You can criticise him for taking a position you do not agree with, but this does not discount the facts he examines and exposes.
Finnane is wrong that Pilger overwhelmingly depicts Aboriginal people as “victims”. He gives a voice to strong Aboriginal activists and leaders who have played huge roles in their communities and fought for their rights: Rosalie Kunoth Monks, Bob Randall, Vince Forrester, the Murray family from Wee Waa, Trisha Morton Thomas.
Finnane mentions a number of Aboriginal people whom she thinks should have been included in the film yet attacks those that were.
This critique trivialises the traumatic impact of the Intervention and the invasion of the army into Aboriginal communities. The sudden announcement of the intervention and its speedy operations shocked and alarmed many people.
The demonising of a whole race of people, especially the men, is having a lasting and devastating effect and is in no small part leading to alcohol abuse, anger, violence, depression and so on.
If we look at Utopia the region, you mention there have been health benefits for people living on country but let’s not overstate it – they are still well below mainstream Australian standards.
And it must be remembered that the comparatively good health has come about through the independent Urapuntja Health Service and because of the Aboriginal communities’ determination to stay on land in spite of government policy.
People remaining on their land is actively discouraged under the Intervention’s model of “hub towns”. And this is why Pilger is so damning of government policy, because it undermines any ability for self-determination.
Not wanting to start a statistics war around conditions of Aboriginal people, there are plenty out there and they paint a damning picture. But I take issue with Finnane’s use of statistics presented in isolation. She tells us that Aboriginal households in Utopia have an average size of 5.6 per persons and a weekly median income of $739.
Now, let’s compare this to the rest of Australia which has an average of 2.6 persons per household and a weekly median income of $1234. The average Utopia resident receives $168/week and the average Australian $577.
Using ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Service) definition of the poverty line and the ABS statistics, Utopia residents are clearly in poverty. Is Finnane denying this? Does she deny the overcrowding crisis in Aboriginal communities?
Admittedly there are gaps in Pilger’s film: the abolition (counter to Review findings) of ATSIC (the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission); the dissolution of CDEP which had enabled people to contribute to their communities in a meaningful way, and the unkept promises of ‘real’ jobs; the skyrocketing rate of incarceration and juvenile detention; the alarming rate of suicide amongst Aboriginal people and in particular the young.
For all these reasons Paddy Gibson, Chris Graham, the Intervention Rollback Action Group and Stop the Intervention Collective continue to speak out about the discrimination and injustice of what is happening in this country.
It is disingenuous to trivialise the views of people such as Altman and Gibson who spend considerable time in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. Others, such as Barbara Shaw, live the Intervention.
‘Utopia’ is a difficult film for many people to ingest. Hearing the messages might mean doing something about the serious situation. And no-one seems to have answers. Perhaps it is time to recognise our true history – hidden, secret to a large extent.
Time for a Treaty in recognition of the people whose land we inhabit. And time for true self-determination as per Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Alice Springs Greens Working Group
LETTER TO THE EDITOR