Three well known leaders of the First People’s rights struggle, Tauto Sansbury, Geoff Clark and Michael Mansell have come together to call for a National Summit of Traditional Owners. They have declared that the Prime Ministerial Indigenous Advisory Council led by Bandjalung man Warren Mundine is not only an embarrassment to First People but it is an insult to suggest itself as an advisory body representative of the First People of this continent. According to these icons of the freedom and rights struggles, the Indigenous Advisory Council, now one-year-old, has abysmally failed First People.
The National Summit will be held in November with a call out to all the legitimate representatives of First People to attend. It is expected that from the Summit an Assembly of First People representatives will be formed. There will be a representative for each Country speaking to their issues and hopes. This Assembly will then head to Canberra in the anticipation that the Federal Government – the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Tony Abbott will meet with them.
“It will not be possible for Prime Minister Abbott to refuse to meet with the duly elected representatives of every Aboriginal region of this land. To reject meeting with an Assembly of all our people, of all the people of this land, would be an insulting slap to the face to all our people, past, present and future. It would be an unbelievable act of racism,” said Mr Sansbury, chair of the Narrunga People.
Mr Sansbury was deeply involved in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, working with Elliott Johnston QC and led both the National and South Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committees for more than ten years.
Mr Sansbury said the Indigenous Advisory Council’s time is up.
“The Indigenous Advisory Council has only one option, and that is to resign. If they have any dignity left, they should resign immediately. It is one year in office and they have not delivered a single outcome for Aboriginal people anywhere in the nation.”
“They are nothing more than an embarrassment to all of us, acting only as mouthpieces for the Government, for the Prime Minister, confirming only what the Government position is.”
Mr Sansbury said he was very disappointed in Mr Mundine who he said had broken a promise to the Narrunga People.
“Warren Mundine promised me some months ago that he would make a two day visit to our people, to meet with us and hear what we have to say.”
“He has broken this promise.”
“I called his personal assistant, Tess, and asked whether Mr Mundine would live up to his promise to me to meet with our people. She said that we would have to pay for Mr Mundine’s visit.”
“I said ‘No’.”
“I said he should keep his promise, he should visit us as promised in his role as the Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council,” said Mr Sansbury.
“I have met with Nigel Scullion, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, and at least he gets about to meet people but this is not the case with the so-called Chair of the so-called Indigenous Advisory Council. Warren should apologise to our people for not keeping his promise.”
“We all know that the Indigenous Advisory Council is dysfunctional. We all know that it does not even work alongside with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Our people right across this continent have had enough.”
“We have endemic and regional issues that need to be dealt with but the Indigenous Advisory Council is incapable of this.”
“They do nothing about the extreme poverty, about the increasing homelessness, about the increasing arrest rates, about the increasing suicide rates.”
“They just do nothing.”
“They know the issues, they know that there is a new Stolen Generation, more children are taken now than ever before, and they have said and done next-to-nothing.”
“I ask the Indigenous Advisory Council to show us even a single report let alone a single policy that they have recommended.”
“They are the worst advisory body in the history of Aboriginal politics. They are not an Indigenous body, they are not representative of who we are or what we are about.”
Mr Sansbury said that he and Mr Clark have been phoning leading Elders all around the continent and that many have already confirmed they will attend the National Summit bent on the idea for the call for an Assembly to be formed.
“We want the legitimate representatives of each Country to speak for their Country.”
“We will meet in Tasmania for the Summit and eventually, more than likely before the year is out we will get to Canberra.”
Barrister and former chair of the Tasmanian Legal Centre, founder of the Aboriginal Passports in 1988, Palawa, Trawlwoolway and Pinterrairer man, Mr Mansell said that the fundamental problem is not with the Indigenous Advisory Council but with the Federal Government.
“The problem is with our Government using Aboriginal people for their own ends. This Government is using these people, is using this Indigenous Advisory Council, using Warren Mundine. They are using them as a political tool.”
“They are using them as a ploy to avoid doing anything in Aboriginal Affairs,” said Mr Mansell.
“Government should be engaging with our people from right across the continent to discuss land rights, sovereignty, all our issues, but they are not.”
“The National Summit is a good idea, to bring together our communities to speak for themselves.”
“If you want to remain credible in the eyes of Aboriginal people you take the bottom-up approach, you elect people from the communities to represent their people. You do not do this handpicked approach of ‘advisers’ as the Prime Minister has, picking people only who will say and do the Government’s bidding.”
The former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner, and who in 1983 co-founded the Aboriginal Provisional Government, Framlingham Aboriginal community-based Geoff Clark said that in light of the failures of especially native title the National Summit is long overdue.
“We are in the formative stages but we will get it right, it has to be done right.”
“We need people speaking for their people and for Governments to listen.”
Mr Clark said such a body could challenge the assimilationist threats from Governments.
“Native title is really about extinguishment, it is not about our people’s rights. We have the miners decimating everywhere they go. The miners have a free reign and why should they? They should be working with our people.”
“Government is now a threat to small communities. They are looking at closing them down, moving people on into other hardships. This has been disastrous thus far, creating many social problems.”
“This whole agenda of moving our people around is what has led to so many of the current problems, the poverty, the arrests, the suicides.”
These three seasoned stalwarts of the First Peoples rights struggle each have more than forty years of fighting for their people. Now, they are bringing together representatives from all over the continent. In my travels around the continent of late, as word spreads of what these gentlemen are doing there is a buzz and people saying this is the way it should have been all along. If the Assembly of First Peoples arises from the National Summit many already believe it will be significantly historic, hugely supported and more than likely arrive as the greatest challenge this Government will face “in having to at long-last at least deal with our people.”