NACCHO Aboriginal Health and racism : #LowitjaConf2016 : Fitzroy Crossing: Is the real human crisis forgotten in debate over rights #18C and Bill Leak

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“It is frustrating because we are talking about a really basic human right here,”

“You would think there would be priority for high-quality, early-years education for children who need it most — children who have every right to it.

“This is a definite way to end disadvantage.”

The Australian writes today in Melbourne, Fitzroy Crossing’s most prominent Indigenous leader, June Oscar who successfully fought for alcohol restrictions in Fitzroy Crossing, will speak about the plight of Baya Gawiy at the Lowitja Institute ­Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference.

Read 54 NACCHO articles Aboriginal Health and Racism

 ” We condemn the Australian’s publication of Bill Leak’s racist cartoon. Racism damages the health and wellbeing of those it targets.

We acknowledge that the media industry has a long history of perpetuating harmful and racist stereotypes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that it is well past time that this stops.

We urge the editorial leadership at the Australian to reflect on the hurt and distress they have caused, and to make a sincere and genuine apology “

More than 200 people working in the media, communications and related fields ( Including NACCHO Media ) signed the open letter below, regarding The Australian’s recent publication of a Bill Leak cartoon attacking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  As recently reported at Croakey, a number of health and community organisations have also made complaints . See Full list of names at Croakey

Although Australian cartoonists have a rich tradition of irreverent satire, there is absolutely no place for depicting racist stereotypes, I would urge The Australian to be more aware of the impact cartoons like the one published today can have on Indigenous communities.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has condemned a ‘racist’ cartoon published by The Australian newspaper. SMH

The News Corp newspaper was accused of inflaming already heightened racial tensions by publishing a cartoon criticising Indigenous family values.

 “Yesterday, that months’ old intervention was rediscovered by Andrew Bolt (presumably during one of his periodic trawls of the blogosphere looking for something about which to be offended), and then injected into the Murdoch press’s crusade to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

It’s worth looking at how Bolt and co present the Croakey letter, as an illustration of how dishonest their campaign’s become.

Bolt heads his post “A list of the media’s enemies of free speech” and tells his audience “you can read the names of 173 people who actually want Bill Leak’s cartoon banned”.

I signed the letter criticising Bill Leak’s cartoon. It didn’t mention ‘banning’ anyone

Picture above : Dee Walker with Mila Phillips, 18 months, and her brother Taj, 2½, at the Baya Gawiy centre. Picture: Colin Murty

Fitzroy Crossing: real human crisis forgotten in debate over rights

When two staff members from Western Australia’s Aboriginal Legal Service arrived in Fitzroy Crossing last month to gather complaints about Bill Leak’s cartoon for the Australian Human Rights Commission, they had to drive past what many consider the region’s real looming human rights crisis.

The Baya Gawiy early learning centre, recognised for transforming the lives of some of the nation’s most disadvantaged children, will soon run out of funding and faces closure.

Elsia Archer, president of the vast shire of Derby-West Kimberley that covers the town of Fitzroy Crossing, is aghast. She says of all the issues that the legal service and the commission chose to get involved in at Fitzroy Crossing, they picked a cartoon depicting a neglectful indigenous father that “nobody up here is even talking about”.

“It’s bloody stupid,” she said. “What about fighting for the child centre in Fitzroy or doing something to get some youth programs up here.”

The early learning unit, where 22 of the 28 enrolled children are indigenous, was created and designed by the Aboriginal community after a sustained wave of alcohol-related indigenous deaths in the Fitzroy Valley.

A 2007 coronial inquest heard heartbreaking stories of misery, violence and child neglect, including evidence suicide had become a form of self-­expression among chronic drinkers.

Centred on Fitzroy Crossing, the 450-strong Fitzroy Valley population — with 80 births a year — has had one of the world’s highest recorded rates of children born with a serious alcohol-­related disability. One in eight children born in the valley in 2002-03 had foetal alcohol syndrome and about 55 per cent of mothers admitted to drinking heavily while pregnant.

The Baya Gawiy unit is not only internationally respected for its pioneering approach to working with children with FASD, it is crucial in preventing new cases by working with women and families to raise awareness of health issues.

Additionally, it is the only childcare within a 260km radius and caters for children of teachers, police officers and other service providers.

For local indigenous woman Jadnah Davies, the centre made it possible for her to work.

It was 44C outside the airconditioned playroom at the early learning unit yesterday when her 2½-year-old son Taj picked up a plastic cow figurine to enact its unfortunate encounter with a saltwater crocodile.

The Australian reported yesterday that the WA Aboriginal Legal Service prepared complaints to the human rights commission about Leak’s cartoon on behalf of two Fitzroy Valley men, disability pensioner Bruce Till and retired country music performer Kevin Gunn, after Mr Till got in touch to complain about indigenous ­people being breathalysed at the local pub.

The cartoon, depicting an ­indifferent indigenous father who has forgotten his son’s name, prompted community leader Joe Ross to consider the priorities of human rights advocates. “Bill Leak’s cartoon attempted to tell one story of indigenous ­impoverishment, but the real human rights story is the plight of our children being born into a community that has no direction or hope, a community that lives in remote Australia having to withstand the defunding of early childhood centres such as our Baya Gawiy centre by the Australian government,” he said.

“To me, the Bill Leak cartoon portrayed the abandonment of our Aboriginal children by the many components of their world including fathers, mothers and government agencies entrusted to protect their innocence and ­potential to succeed in life.’’

I signed the letter criticising Bill Leak’s cartoon. It didn’t mention ‘banning’ anyone

This year Americans celebrated 50 years since network TV’s first interracial kiss: a smooch between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, screening on 22 November 1968.

The anniversary prompted NITV’s Sophie Verass to investigate the Australian equivalent. In what year, she asked, did viewers first see an Indigenous and a non-Indigenous person kiss?

The answer’s profoundly depressing.

In 1976 the raunchy soap Number 96 allowed a romance between the Indigenous actor Rhonda Jackson and her white co-star Chard Hayward. But, Verass explains, “before audiences see Rhonda Jackson lock lips on-screen, we’re introduced to Indigenous Australians’ sexual agency on television with a close-up of Jackson screaming as a masked male figure aggressively forces himself on her.”

Yes, that’s right – the first sex scene involving an Indigenous person in Australian TV was a sexual assault.

Twenty years later, The Flying Doctors featured an interracial affair. Even then, viewers didn’t see any physical contact between a black and a white person: Verass suggests that a love scene was actually scripted but was “cut by Channel Nine for being too controversial and ‘offensive for the Australian public”.

It was not until 1994 that Australian TV boldly went where Star Trek had gone 26 years earlier, with Ernie Dingo and Cate Blanchett puckering up during the ABC miniseries Heartland.

All that’s by way of illustrating a simple point: the Australian media has an appalling record of representing Indigenous people.

That was why I, along with hundreds of other writers and journalists, was happy to endorse an open letter published by Crikey’s Croakey blog in August this year in response to that notorious Bill Leak cartoon showing a drunken Indigenous man unable to recognise his son.

Yesterday, that months’ old intervention was rediscovered by Andrew Bolt (presumably during one of his periodic trawls of the blogosphere looking for something about which to be offended), and then injected into the Murdoch press’s crusade to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

It’s worth looking at how Bolt and co present the Croakey letter, as an illustration of how dishonest their campaign’s become.

Bolt heads his post “A list of the media’s enemies of free speech” and tells his audience “you can read the names of 173 people who actually want Bill Leak’s cartoon banned”. The Australian subsequently took the same line, tweeting, “These people want to silence Bill Leak.”

Except, of course, the letter doesn’t say that at all.

Here’s the full text.

We condemn the Australian’s publication of Bill Leak’s racist cartoon. Racism damages the health and wellbeing of those it targets.

We acknowledge that the media industry has a long history of perpetuating harmful and racist stereotypes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that it is well past time that this stops.

We urge the editorial leadership at the Australian to reflect on the hurt and distress they have caused, and to make a sincere and genuine apology.

Pretty innocuous stuff, you would think. Yet it provokes Bolt to go full Malcolm Roberts, with a bizarre rant about “the enemies of our freedom, a vast and largely nomenclature with far more power collectively than you could have imagined”.

Of course, back here on planet earth, editors make judgments all the time as to what they publish and what they don’t. That’s what editing means. If Bolt thinks that such decisions amount to censorship (which is what he implies), he should hand over the passwordand login to his blog so we can all have a go at it.

Yes, the letter calls for editors not to publish racist content. Does Bolt disagree? Is he arguing that, say, the Herald Sun should adopt the slogan that the old Bulletin maintained until the 1960s: “Australia for the white man”? Was it censorship when Donald Horne removed those words from the masthead?

If Bolt thinks the press should openly embrace old-school race baiting, well, he should come out and say so.

One presumes that’s not his argument. Remember, back in 2014, Bolt repeatedly denounced Fairfax for publishing a Glen Le Lievre drawing about the Gaza war, an image widely criticised (in my view, correctly) for employing, wait for it, racial stereotypes. So was Bolt part of the anti-cartoon Illumanati only three years ago? If it was wrong to publish illustrations of hook-nosed, conspiratorial Jews back then (and it was), what makes Leak’s drawings of thick-lipped, low-browed Aboriginal men clutching cans of VB acceptable?

In any case, as Bolt grudgingly admits halfway through his fulmination, the Croakey letter makes no mention of section 18 at all, a minor detail that makes his whole screed utterly bizarre.

For what it’s worth, I don’t see the Racial Discrimination Act as a particularly great tool in the fight against racism, for all sorts of reasons – not least that it focuses attention away from deeper structural problems.

Let’s not forget the context for Leak’s nasty little cartoon.

In July this year, Four Corners aired the awful Abu Ghraib-style images of Don Dale youth detention centre. In response to footage of Indigenous youths being abused by white prison officers, Bill Leak drew his cartoon … blaming Indigenous people.

It was a response entirely in keeping with the media’s long history of belittling and denigrating Indigenous people, and as such entirely deserving of all the outrage it generated.

Yet a reliance on section 18 for redress means that anti-racists look to the courts for solutions, instead of, say, taking to the streets or organising a picket. To put it another way, legalistic solutions are demobilising, counterposed to the sorts of social movements that have won real change in the past.

In the Northern Territory, an astonishing 97% of children in juvenile detention centres are Indigenous. That’s an appalling statistic, symptomatic of something deeply wrong in Australian society. Redressing injustice on that scale requires activists, not lawyers.

By all means, we should be angry about racism in the press, no matter how much the Andrew Bolts howl in response. But we need to use that anger to mobilise for real change.

After all, that Star Trek kiss came at the high point of the 60s – an era of mass revolt on all kinds of fronts. There’s a lesson in that. If we transform the society, the media will follow.

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