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HomeIssue 9Human rights, centre stage

Human rights, centre stage

p2590 Rainer Chlanda bush 430By KIERAN FINNANE
Updated, see at bottom.
When youth worker Rainer Chlanda got the call that he would receive an NT Human Rights Award for his advocacy for young people, he was on a dirt track heading for a remote community with one of his young clients and his grandfather.
Rainer was chuffed. He told them he’d be going up to Darwin, to the Supreme Court, to get the award.
“Supreme Court, that’s bad!” exclaimed his client.
Rainer laughed but it illustrates, he says, how these young people perceive the court: “For this client the justice system represents a system that puts him in peril. That’s so for a lot of Aboriginal people, much more than it being seen as an establishment protecting their rights.”
For the client’s grandfather, the idea of the award belonged to another world: “The news didn’t mean much to him but when I told him about the $500, that hit home, a resource so scarce to him.”
In accepting the award, Rainer wants to acknowledge this grandfather and the women he has encountered more often in his work: “They are embedded so profoundly in disadvantage and struggle, but despite that they persevere, they rise above the adversity to defend the rights of children every day. They’re not on the clock and go far beyond what I’m able to do, fierce advocacy every day with the services, so children and young people can be safe, thrive, be heard, have some control in their lives, have decisions made that are in their best interest.
“They are doing the work I’m being praised for, out of love and compassion.
“Before now I’d never heard of this award. Now that I know about it, I’ll be nominating these people, because they’re infinitely worthy.”
p2590 Jodie Clarkson 350The awards, known as The Fitzgeralds, are named after former anti-discrimination commissioner, the late Tony Fitzgerald. Rainer is one of two Central Australian individual recipients, winning the Fitzgerald Youth Award; Jodie Clarkson (left) has received the Fitzgerald Diversity Award.
Jodie has worked in the NT for over 20 years, mostly in Alice Springs, with the Desert Park and the Aboriginal Interpreter Service. Ahead of the ceremony tonight, she was thinking of her parents, grateful to them for instilling in her a deep sense of social justice. She was also thinking about “all those desert people and Top End people who have been so, so patient, guiding me in my learning journey, understanding how to live, learn and walk with them on their country.”
One of the things she is most passionate about is educational justice for first-language speaking children. Language is central to the way we learn about self and society, she says, it’s core to identity, and it’s time for the dominant culture to embrace the pedagogies that will strengthen families and communities.
“All students have the right to learn in their first language first.”
She and Rainer are on the same page in that regard. Children only being offered education that does not recognise traditional knowledge which is immense, is one of the ways their rights are continually disregarded, he says: ‘They are not given a voice, decisions so often are not made in their best interest, they are discriminated against at every turn, including being refused service because of the colour of their skin.”
In order to create real systemic change, to have a hope of overcoming incredible levels of violence, incarceration, poverty, misery, we must understand the impact of trauma experienced at a young age, he argues, as he has done before in these pages.
“Trauma affects your neuro-biology. This is hard science, you can see these effects on MRI scans, but it’s the general public who need to grasp this fact so they can support government to support therapeutic responses that promote growth and healing and that come from within the community whose struggle it is.”
p2590 Rainer Chlanda cropThere is hope for change, for instance with implementation of the recommendations of the NT Royal Commission. But for the time being the age of criminal responsibility in the NT is still 10 – “absurd”, says Rainer (right).
“I can personally attest, you can be a 12-year-old cognitively impaired child with a recognised disability making you developmentally eight years old, and with a recorded history of abuse and trauma.
“You can come before the courts because you’ve acted out, in an antisocial way, needs you can’t express in  words.
“You are locked in a concrete cell, listening to the screams of other traumatised kids and looking out through the window to the adult prison, as if to say, you had better get used to looking at this.
“So much is complicated when considering what can be done for many of our social issues but it’s clear this is not an appropriate response, we have to do better than this.”
From Central Australia also, Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group have won The Fitzgerald Social Change Award in the organisation category. Governed and run by women residents of town camps, they work on early intervention and primary prevention of family and domestic violence. They are joint winners with the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT.
The awards are organised by the Anti Discrimination Commission, the Darwin Community Legal Service, the Melaleuca Refugee Centre, NT Council of Social Service, and the Rotary Club of Darwin South.
Note: The writer, Kieran Finnane, is Rainer Chlanda’s mother. The Alice News editor, Erwin Chlanda, is Rainer’s father. We congratulate him, Jodie, Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group and all other recipients of the awards for the vital work they do.
UPDATE, 11.35 am, 13 December 2018.
p2460 Women's march Shirleen Campbell 430Shirleen Campbell (right), co-coordinator of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group ( TWFSG), said it was an honour to be recognised for the frontline family violence work of the group.
“This award is for all the men and women we work with who are striving to change for the better not only for themselves, but for their families and their communities,” Ms Campbell said.
“The TWFSG has been promoting human rights, particularly the rights of Aboriginal women and children to be safe, visible, listened to and supported since we started in 2015.
“We continue to ask people to listen to us, stand with us and support us because we are the leaders and voices of our communities, we have the lived experience.
“This NT Human Rights Award recognises that we have the local solutions and we work every day campaigning, advocating and promoting where we say ‘enough is enough’ – No more family violence.”
The Award paid tribute to the significant work of the TWFSG in raising awareness of local action and solutions in the family violence sector.
A march organised and led by the Town Camp women in 2017 attracted over 300 supporters. The women also took their message to Canberra earlier this year, which attracted significant attention from national leaders and media.
Their latest project, Mums Can Dads Can, is having significant impact through social media, tackling  rigid gender stereotypes and their role in high rates of domestic violence.
Source: Media release on behalf of Tangentyere Council.
UPDATED, 11.30 am, 13 December 2018.


  1. Congratulations Rainer, you work your butt off, you truly beleive in what you do and put your heart and soul into it.
    Well deserved.

  2. Well done to the Centralians who received these Fitzgerald awards. However, the phrase “social justice” is an invention of the Human Rights Commission and its advocates, brought into vogue especially by the Mabo decision of 3 June 1992. Justice has always been justice. No need to qualify the word with the adjective “social”. Human rights legislation such as the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 is simply additional legislation to complement the common law and other legislative law. If applied with due diligence and integrity, all of our law in Western democratic society is aimed at delivering justice. “Justice” is a simple, stand-alone, most powerful of words. Adding a qualifying adjective dilutes its meaning and is rather pointless.

  3. Congratulations to all recipients, rewards well merited.
    However I agree with John
    Justice is one of the most important moral and political concepts.
    Latin socius means “friend.” A friend is a person who we know well and who we like a lot, but who is usually not a member of our family.
    So we can wish justice even if it is not for our friends.
    Social justice is a political and philosophical concept which holds that all people should have equal access to wealth, health, well being, justice and opportunity.
    We have all the same rights, that is JUSTE.

  4. John Bell – I agree regarding Justice. Something is either Just or it is not.
    Ben Shapiro speaks of this quite concisely.
    But anyhow, let this not detract from these awards.

  5. @InterestedDarwinObserver. Everyone agrees that these awardees are to be highly commended. Wonderful recipients.
    My comment was an observation that the “social justice” terminology is symptomatic of a concerted move to overlay common law with a supposedly superior moral ethos of human rights law.
    Eg making judges take human rights law provisions into consideration when making decisions.
    I believe this thinking is fraught with danger.
    There should be greater emphasis on due diligence and ethical behaviour by practitioners of the common law and legislators than imposing new law.
    The old law system is not broke. It just needs practitioners and legislators to be more diligent and ethical.

  6. “Something is either just or it is not”? “Simple most stand alone most powerful of words”?
    Oh Jeezus, I can’t even bother correcting my spelling mistakes. I wish I could say something really obscene. You are all incredibly clever. Put your privileged wonderful knowledge back on the shelf with the nice art work and do something real. These are only words, lovely round English ones.

  7. @ Carolyn Newman: “They are only words.” The reality of words in court, Carolyn, is that it is the skilled use of words by legal wordsmiths (lawyers) that sway the judge towards guilty or not guilty. Clever lawyers use words you and I don’t even know the legal meaning of to get us convicted when you are innocent of the charges.
    In their unscrupulous game-playing world, words can mean whatever they want them to mean.

  8. Carolyn: The problem with the term “Social Justice” is that nobody really knows exactly what it means. The other problem is, social justice, dependent on the definition, could be quite in conflict with the meaning of justice.
    Taking a stab at what it means, the American Oxford dictionary states “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society”.
    The question is, what does this mean? Does this mean that the distribution of wealth and privileges ought to be spread equally across the population? That sounds like Socialism or Communism. Neither of which will lead to justice or betterment of the population.
    Does it mean bridging the gap between those that have and those that have not? If so, that can either mean bringing everyone up or taking every one down. How do you bring everyone up?
    There are disparities between the haves and have nots due to personal responsibility and good decision making.
    How does society enforce those positive traits on the “have nots”? Or, how would it be fair or Just, to take from those that have shown personal responsibility and good decision making in order to give those that do not do those things?
    Of course, Australia does this to a great extent already, through a comprehensive progressive tax system. This is a massive redistribution of wealth as evidenced by the fact that the top 10% of income earners pay over 50% of the annual personal income tax collection.
    Social Justice does not seem compatible with freedom. How can a person be free to create a better life for themselves and their family if the view of Social Justice suggests that having something, be it money, a nice house, the best food and the best health and education options, that someone else does not, is fundamentally wrong and represents a lack of social justice?
    Freedom and justice are what is needed, not the undefined, “Social Justice”.
    In regards to “Privileged Knowledge” – perhaps we should all dumb down our conversation to promote “Social Justice” in our literary abilities.
    And yes, I agree, they are only words. Sticks and Stones may break my bones …
    Of course, the words in below comments seemed to have triggered you to want to type “obscene words” and demeaning the writers. Just words indeed.
    I see no one here diminishing the achievements of the recipients. Congrats to all.

  9. This is another reason I so rarely comment or even bother to read the comments on these pages. A great story of young people doing really wonderful things and I congratulate them and applaud their passion and their work. Well done. All parents involved must so very proud! With young people in Alice Springs of this caliber Alice just might have a chance! Congratulations again.
    But as usual so many have to take over the comments with pedantic nit picking over the “importance of words” instead of congratulating those who have been recongnised here in the story. Well done, take the shine off their good work. It took @InterestedDarwinObserver 28 lines before his throw away one line of congratulations. Try sticking to what the heart of the story is all about!

  10. Long Term Alice: The conversation evolved. It became a conversation between commentators – not just directly about the article itself.
    Seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to have occurred.
    My comment was in response to another comment. My original comment – Comment 6 – was a succinct three lines / 30 words. Cheers.

  11. Many years ago the then Human Rights Commissioner Dame Roma Mitchell visited Alice and spoke to school groups on human rights. At the end I asked her to also talk on human responsibilities. It didn’t happen. There must be a balance somewhere?

  12. I rejoyce at the honour received by Jodie and Rainer. Long term perseverance in working daily for what we call social justice.
    Social additional to plain justice to express that it implies justice for any social group which is discriminated against.
    In this respect I advocate for learning more than one language.
    To remain monolingual in a multicultural society is a contradiction in term.


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