Aborigines starved out of homelands - Amnesty

By Lisa Martin

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. Photo / AP
Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. Photo / AP

Starving Aboriginal people off their traditional homelands is akin to "ethnic cleansing", the Amnesty International boss has been told during his Central Australia visit.

Amnesty International chief Salil Shetty visited communities in Utopia on the weekend describing the plight of locals as "devastating."

"I've been to many places in bad shape in Africa, Asia and Latin America but what makes it stark here is when you remind yourself you're actually in one of the richest countries in the world," Mr Shetty told AAP in Utopia.

At Mosquito Bore he toured overcrowded dilapidated homes, some little more than a tin shed, without basics such as running electricity, toilets or working washing machines.

The human rights group profiled the Utopian region, in an August report that claimed homeland communities were being starved of money for proper housing, maintenance and basic services like rubbish removal.

Amnesty says the policies are aimed at driving Aborigines off their homelands and herding them into 21 "hub towns" where the federal and NT governments were splashing out cash for resources and services.

Community leader Rosalie Kunoth Monks told Mr Shetty how desperately her people wanted to stay on their land.

"It's not that they're coming here with bulldozers or getting the army to move us it's that they're trying to starve us out of our home," she said.

"They won't support us becoming sustainable in our own right.

"If you're made to feel a second class humanity, if it's not ethnic cleansing please let me know what it is."

Mrs Kunoth Monks said the community was "ready, willing and able" to live up to the promise of its name if only was given a leg up and allowed to play catch up.

Utopia which is world famous for it's aboriginal dot paintings, is trying to start its own cattle business and wants a cultural centre, she said.

"Insidious game playing" by governments is making people tired and destroying their faith in the system, she said.

The Utopia region, 260 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs, has about 1200 residents in 16 different communities.

More than one-third of the NT's Aboriginal population lives in 500 remote homeland communities.

Mr Shetty also visited a medical clinic in Utopia and was told by staff how people were more healthy living in small communities on traditional homelands because of the wider availability of alcohol in bigger towns.

"They have a big tough battle ahead but it's one worth fighting for," Mr Shetty said.

He said poor treatment of Aborigines was a "scar on an otherwise fair faced Australian human rights record."

He will meet with indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin on Wednesday in Canberra to demand the end of discrimination for homeland people and emergency action to improve housing conditions.

The community claims Ms Macklin has ignored repeated invitations to visit Utopia.

"All the decision makers should come and spend time but not come here to lecture but to listen," he said.

He said Canberra was struggling to grasp that for homeland communities, land was more than just a physical place.

"All of them are very clear they don't want to leave homelands ... everything else flows from that the land is their culture, their spirit, their ancestors," he said.

"You can't take an economist's view that there are dispersed communities, no scale economy, it's not efficient to provide services so let's take them off their land to growth towns."

AAP lpm/

-AAP

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