20
Sep
08

Re-instating permits in the NT

On Monday Alice Springs Town Council Committee unanimously passed the following motion:

That Council call on the Aust Gvt to reconsider re-instating the permit system on Aboriginal land on the proviso that it adopts a regional information and consultative mechanism to ascertain those communities that have a desire to remove permits.

The Centralian Advocate printed my letter on Friday:

As an urban Aboriginal person the most concerning aspect of the permit debate is the display of the race card.  A supporter of total reinstatement of permits said publicly ‘it is only non-Aboriginal people’ who favour removal.  Several Aboriginal people from communities have told me the direct opposite. 
One person told me it is not monitured so, on balance, it is unworkable.  Another said their community has significant potential in terms of eco-tourism ventures but that permits serve as a strong disincentive for tourists.  Expanding regional economies creates work opportunity.  Work opportunity is an essential pillar of effective welfare reform. 
Too often the alternative is substance misuse.  Some argue that it is substance misuse that undermines the survival of culture (a core argument in favour of retaining permits). 
We know there is opportunity to expand regional economies because of the tourist dollar, particularly the ‘spirited traveller’ and grey nomads.  We also know this because of the economic opportunities available to communities without permits (e.g. ntaria).  Town Council debated the issue because we felt it was important to give people choice rather than the single path of urban drift.
The removal of permits should not be imposed as an ideological measure across all Aboriginal communities.  Nor should total re-instatement. 
We need to move beyond the left-right ideological divide and develop new policy ideas. 
One idea is to establish a mechanism for CLC to enable Traditional Owners the right to prohibit access by individuals with a certain criminal history, or to require those dealing in art to register (with a subsequent right to issue injunctions).  Another idea is to remove permits in a community where the conditions favour removal and ensure that work (and enterprise) opportunities build wealth at the community level.  Different policy ideas need to be debated and the decision needs to come from the communities concerned. 
Playing the race card and adopting ideology ultimately does our people a disservice.
On October 15 The Australian reported the following comments of Deputy Chief Minister Marion Scrymgour:
“I know there were a number of communities in the Northern Territory that were wanting to have the permit system lifted, and wanted (Indigenous Affairs Minister) Jenny Macklin to provide a clear process in which those communities could nominate to have an open town,” Ms Scrymgour said.

“I’ve been told that communities like Papunya and Hermannsburg want their communities to be open towns. I think the federal Government needs to provide a mechanism.”

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