Royal Commission sought for Human Rights issues on APY Lands

Posted on October 16, 2013 by Coober Pedy Regional Times

George Kenmore
On behalf of APY Council of Elders and Community Members
PO Box 280
0438 399 012

16 October 2013

For the URGENT Attention of the Members of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee

Dear Members

APY Lands

Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands are in the far north-west of South Australia. Returned to the traditional owners under Freehold Title in 1981, the Lands are home to Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people (Anangu). The region has ten major communities – with populations ranging from 100-350 people – and many family homelands.

APY Lands encompass the majestic Musgrave Ranges (which include SA’s highest peak), the towering monoliths of the Everards, idyllic woodlands and beautiful red-sand country.

This is a region that resonates with tjukurpa, with creation stories: the same stories that underpins some of the world's oldest surviving culture and the art and craft of Australia's oldest contemporary Indigenous art movement. Founded in the late 1940s at Ernabella.

I am writing to you yet again with grave concerns re my country and people on the APY Lands. So much has happened and still is happening that I find it difficult to know where to begin. My people are suffering pitifully at the hands of the Minister, bureaucrats, APY Administration and Chair. Their voice does not get heard. They are treated as a joke. And all the while Anangu's rights are being signed away and diminishing it seems by the day and it would appear that there is nothing we can do about it.

We have written to the Ombudsman seeking his help to investigate Minister Hunter in his role as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, only to be informed by his office that it is not the function of the Ombudsman to investigate Ministers. However, the Ombudsman is in fact investigating other matters that we have placed before him.

As a consequence of the Ombudsman's inability to assist us and in our desperation to fight back for our rights, the APY Council of Elders is writing to you to request your support and assistance in establishing a Royal Commission to investigate the very serious issues on the APY Lands and in particular with this Minister. We have nowhere else to go as we have reported to your committee i.e. Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee as well as the Ombudsman, and it appears no-one can help us. Minister Hunter is forging ahead doing want he wants and is pitting Anangu against Anangu in the process. He shows no mercy or compassion for the needs and future of Anangu in his quest to have his way. The Premier too is not interested in engaging with us - he handballs our letters to Hunter.

Greens' Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation spokesperson Tammy Franks MLC, to her credit, challenged Minister Hunter in Parliament in August of this year during Question Time in the Legislative Council. Ms Franks asked the Minister if he could explain why the requirements hadn't been fulfilled under the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Land Rights Act 1981 for provision for all Traditional Owners on the APY Lands to have access to a government-appointed conciliator, if they were unhappy with a decision or action of the APY Executive Board. Ms Franks went on to say that the failure of this government to provide these important conflict resolution options for the residents of the APY Lands is clearly a case of dereliction of duty.

Minister Hunter mislead Parliament when he responded that he was "in the very process of appointing a Conciliation Panel today". In fact what Minister Hunter appointed was a Review Committee to review the APY Land Rights Act - which incidentally the elders had told him when he visited APY in August of this year that they did not want altered.

The terms of reference for the Review, as reported in the article 'New APY rules to vet unsuitable people', in The Australian on 07 October 2013, show that the government wants to prevent unsuitable people being appointed to the APY Lands Executive through a new "fit and proper person" test.

The appointed 'panel' has absolutely nothing to do with conciliation. The 'panel' is about watering down our land rights act even further to fit in with the Minister's plans. No conciliator has been appointed. It would appear that Minister Hunter has lied re the fact that he has appointed a conciliator. We want him sacked.

A new person has been appointed as General Manager for APY, this depite the Elders telling the Minister that they were to be part of the process of interviewing and employing all future general managers. This request (see attached) by the Elders was completely ignored by this Minister.

Our Chairman is not listening to us nor is the Director of APY. Our requests listed below have been totally ignored by the executive, the minister, the general manager, the bureaucrats et al.

  1. An Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) so that we could sack the Executive (Minister Hunter has full knowledge of this);
  2. A Concilator to hear our concerns and help us to move forward;
  3. APY Council of Elders to be part of the governance and to be included in all g general manager was appointed last week regardless;
  4. FOIs were ignored unless we pay the necessary $1,500 fee even though none of us have jobs on our own Lands.
  5. No sign off on Regional Partnership Agreement before further consultation - the Minister and chair signed it the very day after the Elders said "no sign off".

In our desperation to protect the future of Anangu, and because our plea for an EGM has been ignored a group of APY Council of Elders went to the APY Executive Meeting last week and handed out letters to the appropriate people that stated that they i.e. the Chairperson, Director, Mining Manager, Executive Secretary were sacked. These letters were ignored. These people are still in their positions and in fact they hired the new General Manager last week in spite of being told that he was not welcome there. The Elders were treated as a joke and disregarded as usual. What a shocking indictment on this government.

At our meeting with you in Parliament House in Adelaide we shared with you our concerns for Anangu and the lack of engagement of Minister Hunter with the Elders.

  1. On 12 July 2013 we wrote to Minister Hunter seeking a conciliator to be appointed. Our letter was ignored and there was no conciliator appointed.
  2. On 25 July 2013 we wrote to Minister Hunter again informing him that we had written to the Ombudsman asking him to investigate the Minister's failure as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to act on our request.
  3. On 31 July 2013 Mr Preece the then General Manager of APY wrote to in answer to our request for FOI information in which he stated:
  4. a.  he was writing to advise me that APY will refuse to process the FOI applications until such time as I pay the application fees ($152.50) or provide APY with proof that I am the holder of a concession card, or would suffer financial hardship by paying the fees.

    b.  the likely fee for dealing with the FOI applications would be $1544.40. He further went on to state that "APY will not continue to deal with your application until both the application fees and the advance deposit have been paid, or you have provided APY with proof that you are the holder of a concession card, or would suffer financial hardship by paying the fees". I bring to your attention the fact that the Elders including Mike Williams is on an aged disability pension. Willy Pompey receives a disability pension. I am unemployed and do not receive a pension or income of any kind. Mr Preece had knowledge of this information. He is aware of my unemployment status. No documentation was forthcoming even though we advised him verbally in person of our financial standing. His response was "It's all about process. All about process" and he walked away. Is this or is this not abuse?

  5. On 02 October 2013 we wrote again to Minister Hunter and said in part "we seek the appointment of a Conciliator under S36 to appeal the sign off of the Regional Partnership Agreement (RPA) on 07 August 2013 by the APY Executive Chairman and yourself in your role as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation". To date no Conciliator has been appointed.

Today we Anangu are contained by extreme isolation, poverty and disadvantage in a forbidden zone behind the razor wire of a permit system that serves little function other than to preserve a feeding ground for public servants, contractors, NGOs and their hangers on. They are for the most part, utterly incompetent. They are what Alison Anderson calls the "Aboriginal Industry". They are the cause of our problems.

Please we are desperately seeking to be heard. Please help us to get a Royal Commission to investigate the very real human rights abuse that is taking place on the APY Lands at the hands of this government and others.

George Kenmore Elder and Advocate, APY Council of Elders
Willy Pompey APY Executive Board Member and APY Council of Elders
Mike Williams APY Elder and Minister Mimili Community