"Look at the benefits of Homelands living before moving to shut them down"

Australian Human Rights Commission – Thursday, 21 February 2009

“Ministers and others really have a duty to take a good look at the benefits of Homeland living, and genuinely consult Homeland residents and their representative bodies, before moving too rapidly to shut them down. This would conform with the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The Working Future policy announced by the Northern Territory Government yesterday appears aimed at reducing support to Homelands and driving these residents to move to the 20 proposed Hub Communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said today.

“Homelands are places where we Aboriginal people can exercise our fundamental right to live on our country of affiliation and maintain language, custom and cultural practices. This has enabled us to be the oldest continuous surviving culture in the world,” Commissioner Calma said.

“The Homelands movement is a powerful expression of Aboriginal self-determination and self –governance. Government should be assisting these communities in their quest to control their lives and their future rather than undermining these efforts.”

Commissioner Calma said people in Homelands were committed to living lives without alcohol and other addictive substances and generally shunned the corrosive elements of town life.

“While it may cost more upfront to support Homelands, the savings in terms of reduced costs in healthcare and poor life expectancy are more than demonstrable with at least two longitudinal studies indicating that Aboriginal people are likely to be healthier and happier in Homeland communities,” he said.

“We not only have a right to be on the land that is ours and that has supported us for over 40,000 years, but we also have a right to the benefits that come with being on that land such as improved health and well-being.”

Commissioner Calma said that despite these benefits, new combinations of government policies seemed to be designed to drive Aboriginal people from ancestral Homelands.

Changes to the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) would cripple Homelands, he said. “The Northern Territory Government says it will support Homelands that commit to self sufficiency but I have serious questions about how Homelands can do this when the CDEP is being phased out in remote Australia and viable alternative options are not being proposed,” he said.

“The CDEP pays people to do grounds maintenance, ranger work, and to assist at schools and at health clinics. These are the jobs that put food on peoples’ tables and yet these CDEP positions will be gone by 2012. Will governments convert these positions to paid positions – or will these roles cease to exist?”

Mr Calma said other changes in government policy such as education would also have a dire effect on Homelands communities.

“Taking education away from Homelands will mean parents will be torn between their legal requirement to school their children and their desire to protect their children by keeping them away from a myriad of potential problems in the towns,” Commissioner Calma said.

Federal and state policy changes also meant there would be little chance for any new housing in Homelands, he said.

“Ministers and others really have a duty to take a good look at the benefits of Homeland living, and genuinely consult Homeland residents and their representative bodies, before moving too rapidly to shut them down. This would conform with the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”