The Real-Life Utopia And The Truth About Our Enduring Silence


The Real-Life Utopia And The Truth About Our Enduring Silence By Amy McQuire

John Pilger's Utopia - a documentary about uncomfortable truths in Australia - has debuted in the United States. Amy McQuire takes a look at its reaction in Australia.


On the wall of my office are the immortal words of Malcolm X: "If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing".


As an Aboriginal affairs reporter, this means I've always valued accountability over anything else in my journalism. More than any media outlet, regulator or court of law, it's Aboriginal people  themselves who hold me accountable.


Sadly, they are often unable to speak truth to the power of other sections of the media. That's why Utopia, a film by renowned journalist John Pilger, is so important to my people.


Every week I hear from non-Indigenous people who are genuinely shocked and saddened by the film. Many Aboriginal people are themselves overwhelmed seeing the truth finally aired not just nationally, but internationally.


This outpouring has not been reflected in the media, which has played its historic role of reducing Aboriginal people to the kind of stereotypes that would not be accepted in other countries - such as post-Apartheid South Africa.


Those with undisclosed agendas have attacked the film - and us - such as the Liberal party pollster Mark Textor, a propagandist for Prime Minister John Howard, who abused the film's "poverty tourism".


This reaction from the conservative white elite was anticipated. Pilger was himself stonewalled when making enquiries into the biggest Indigenous story of the decade: Suzanne Smith's 2006 Lateline report on child abuse in the central Australian community of Mutijtulu, which was one of the major catalysts for the Howard government's Northern Territory intervention.


Smith's story broke on ABC's Lateline program in 2006. She alleged that a predatory paedophile was trading petrol for sex with young girls in Mutijtulu, and that the community were protecting him.


In fact, the community had already driven the alleged paedophile out months before, a development that Lateline later tried to infer it was a result of its own broadcast. The audacity of this was breathtaking.


But that was only the beginning. The bulk of the Lateline allegations were dependent on the testimony of an "anonymous former youth worker" who, with his voice digitised and his face filmed in shadow, made outrageous and unsubstantiated claims of child sexual slavery.


That man was later revealed to be Gregory Andrews, a senior bureaucrat in the office of Indigenous policy coordination, who was advising the then-Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough at the time. He backed his minister's public claims of paedophile rings operating in Aboriginal communities.


The NT police investigated Andrews' allegations extensively following the Lateline program and said they had found "no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the claim petrol was being provided in exchange for sex". The Australian Crime Commission, which was given star chamber powers under the intervention, also later found no evidence of pedophile rings.


Smith's report not only smeared and demonised the community, and Aboriginal men in general, but ultimately led to the people of Mutitjulu losing control of their lives. First, the community was put under administration, and then under the intervention, which Pilger described as "one of the most savage attacks on Indigenous people in memory".


That was in 2006. Late last year, following the annual Walkley awards, the Australian media's night of nights, former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes sent a congratulations via Twitter to Smith, adding "John Pilger please note."


"Cheeky," Smith tweeted in response. "Don't you know I'm part of the state's apparatus to oppress people?"


At that stage, Utopia was in its final stages of production. Pilger had already approached both Smith and Lateline host Tony Jones about the Mutijtulu story, inviting them to appear on camera in the film. Neither replied; Pilger was instead referred to the ABC corporate affairs department's Alan Sunderland.


Pilger replied by email to Sunderland:


"I don't recall an ABC or any other television programme in which Mr Jones or Ms Smith have been given the opportunity to answer questions raised by their reporting of events leading to the "intervention"... I am puzzled that such a public journalist should enlist a corporate vetting process familiar to his colleagues in the conduct of their legitimate investigative work."


To which Sunderland responded:


"There is no sense in which our defence of the ABC's journalism and our keenness to respond to public attacks on our program makers and our programs is in any sense a 'corporate statement'.


"As part of the ABC News team, I can confirm we are fully accountable for our journalism and always happy to respond transparently to any questions."


To date, the only time the ABC has been held accountable for its role in the intervention was on a recent Q&A program. Arrente-Alyawarra elder Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, sitting with Jones, put it eloquently:


"We do live under trauma. Just look back to 2007. One of the most horrific controls was put on us with absolute lies.... We were all pedophiles. Look at Mutitjulu. That was a lie. Absolute lie."


That Kunoth-Monks said this is a testament to her strength and determination. That it came from a respected Aboriginal woman, an elder and stalwart of her community, is even more notable.


Instead of responding directly to the criticism, from a distinguished Indigenous woman directly affected by Lateline's reporting, Jones quickly deflected the question.


The ABC has never publicly explained their reporting; they have never issued an apology; they've never acknowledged the Mutitjulu community's suffering as a result of Lateline's false allegations.

In 2006, when Mal Brough visited the community following the Lateline reports, they protested, holding signs painted "Lateline Lies" in red.


Instead, the ABC's independent complaints review panel investigated the story after a campaign by Mutitjulu locals. It cleared the report of 29 out of 30 allegations (the one upheld was a minor issue over mislabeled file footage).


As former Family Court chief justice Alastair Nicholson said in Utopia, it was "farcical".


"It's a bit like the police investigating their own behaviour," he told Pilger.


"It may be a perfectly proper process internally to do that, but then to rely on it as exonerating the programme-makers seems to me to be going a step much too far."


Especially since Aboriginal people are still suffering under the Intervention.


Earlier this year I was at a Utopia event with Mutitjulu elder Bob Randall and his daughter, who broke into tears describing how their reporting affected her father. How could the national broadcaster get away with a story that demonised strong Aboriginal men, and effectively led to a policy that disempowered her people?


Mutitjulu elder, Bob Randall.


Rosalie Kunoth-Monks is from Utopia, a 12-hour drive from Mutitjulu, but Lateline's atrocious demonization of this community ultimately ended up hurting her family. The smearing of one community affected Aboriginal people right across Australia.


Instead of responding to the impoverishment and suffering of Aboriginal people in the midst of one of the world's richest societies - the very issue John Pilger raised in Utopia - the media rallies around its own false assumptions and received wisdoms, or falls willfully silent.


Journalists have a duty to report the truth about the epic injustice perpetrated against Indigenous Australia.


That's what Utopia did and why Indigenous people all over this country believe it broke a long silence.


It gave voice to the voiceless. It told the truth.


* Amy McQuire worked as a researcher on Utopia. New Matilda editor and owner Chris Graham worked as an Associate Producer on the film.

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ABC Indigenous News



By Robyn Powell


Updated August 27, 2014 16:58:49


The growing number of Indigenous children being put into government care is a national disgrace, a group representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families says.


Figures indicate one third of children in care are from Aboriginal backgrounds, which the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) says risks creating another Stolen Generation.


A forum held today in Adelaide has looked at the issue of Indigenous children in care.


Sharron Williams of the SNAICC told delegates something must change.


"It's a national disgrace when we allow for Aboriginal children, all children, to come into care at such high levels," she said.


A woman in the audience of a forum, who did not want to be identified publicly, told the ABC she had faced the trauma of her grandchildren being taken away to a government-run facility.


"I had the middle one begging 'Please don't let them take me away' and the youngest one went and hid under the bed," she said.


The forum has been told the answer to breaking the cycle hurting Indigenous families lies with empowering communities.


Former judge Robyn Layton, now working with Reconciliation SA, said Western ways were failing Indigenous people. "Well-intentioned non-Aboriginal people have been doing things the Western way," she said.


She said policies allowing children to be taken from their families dated back to colonisation, meaning many current parents had themselves suffered trauma earlier in their lives.


Ms Layton said providing more resources was not necessarily the way to break the cycle.


"What we need to do now to find solutions is to empower them to do things the cultural way, the Aboriginal way," she said.


Child protection authorities said they hoped to change policies so the number of Indigenous children in care could be halved by 2018.


SNAICC CEO Frank Hytten said there needed to be clearer policy on when to remove children from families over problems such as neglect.


"There isn't a clear understanding or a clear definition of what neglect is, so some issues that are labelled as neglect could often be poverty," he said.


"Therefore we start to punish the people who are living in poverty or who are living with that dysfunction for reasons that are not of their own making.


"We need to involve Aboriginal people in the decision-making around why their children are being removed and how best to work with families that are not working very well." 

August 27, 2014

Australian Associated Press: Early intervention may be the key to addressing an alarming spike in the number of indigenous children taken from their families in South Australia.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children represent 30 per cent of all children in out-of-home care in SA, according to the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC).

That's despite the fact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up just 3.5 per cent of the state's children, meaning they are 11.5 times more likely to be in care than non-indigenous children.

The number of indigenous children in care in SA more than tripled over the past decade.

Indigenous community members, service providers and researchers addressed the statistics at a forum in Adelaide on Wednesday, under the theme "Kids safe in culture, not in care".

SNAICC chairwoman Sharron Williams says the importance of culture for indigenous people means family disruption can have long-lasting traumatic effects.

"You can never take back the trauma of a removal, (just) as you can't take back the belief by parents that they're rubbish parents because they couldn't keep their children safe," she told AAP.

"We then go through the process, in many cases, of reunifying children, so we then have to go back and put back together a broken jigsaw puzzle."

Indigenous children were mainly removed because of emotional abuse and neglect, which Ms Williams said was strongly linked with the social and economic disadvantage commonly seen in those communities.

But the emotional damage experienced by children who were removed from their families fuelled a cycle of disadvantage and a disproportionate rate of child removal.

Recognising when a family was in crisis and implementing support mechanisms would help to ensure children remained safe at home, Ms Williams said.

"If we can do that, we will slow down children coming into the out-of-home care system," she said.

Ms Williams praised the prominent role for Aboriginal organisations in the NSW child protection system, saying the model should be expanded elsewhere.

"Self-determination means that Aboriginal organisations and Aboriginal people are part of their own destiny and I think that needs to happen," she said.


Crime monies may be used to pay for Stolen Generations reparations

New Matilda 26 Aug 2014 - South Australia may soon be the first mainland state to establish a Stolen Generations Reparations Tribunal and pay dispute-free compensation to Aboriginal people without the trauma and expense of recourse to the courts.


Continuing racist abuse of footballer Adam Goodes shows how far we still have to go

The Sydney Morning Herald – “It is a minority of halfwits who continue to sledge a man who has led the way in the fight against racism," Wilson says of those who have continued to jeer Goodes at matches. "He's been copping it week in, week out since the MCG incident last year. He is a statesman. He is the Australian of the Year. For him to get booed like that is disrespectful, inappropriate, and a disgrace."


Unpaid fines destroy lives with jail time

The Stringer, 26 August - Hundreds of Australians endure the ordeal of jail because of unpaid fines, their poverty a burden. Disproportionately First Nations people are incarcerated 'to pay off' their fines. According to the president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, Ray Jackson this "draconian practice criminalises people and destroys families and futures." Recently, 'unpaid fines' cost the life of a 22-year-old Yamatji woman, Juliecka Dhu.


Federal government steps up its campaign against Indigenous truancy

ABC television, 27 August - The federal government is threatening to withdraw welfare from parents of Indigenous children who don't attend school.