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Calling health professionals to stand up on May 1, and join the “Selfish Rabble”

Widespread anger and concern about the threatened closure of remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia have galvanised a national movement of opposition, as has been seen in a series of marches and protests around the country.

As a number of Croakey articles have shown, there are profound concerns about the potentially damaging health impacts of the threatened closures, amongst many other concerns.

The community-driven #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign (do read this article at The Guardian by one of its founders, Sam Cook) is promising “to launch the biggest humanitarian effort for Aboriginal Australia, by Aboriginal Australia”.

The campaign is an impressive display of resistance and resilience – and could also be seen as a community-driven public health initiative.

But when an #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA march brought central Melbourne to a stand-still last Friday, The Herald Sun newspaper responded with an inflammatory, insensitive headline that generated considerable anger and upset, as was reflected on Twitter.

Meanwhile, #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA has declared May 1 a day of national protest against the threatened closures, and Croakey suggests that health professionals should consider joining the protest.

Read the article below to see why Dameyon Bonson, the Founder of Black Rainbow Living Well – for Indigenous LGBTQI Suicide Prevention, hopes that former AMA leader Dr Kerryn Phelps will also join the May 1 protesters.

****

Dameyon Bonson writes:

Thousands of everyday Australians came together on Friday, April 10 to express their opposition to the forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities, particularly those in Western Australia.

As the #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA website states, the campaign aims: “To support the Aboriginal communities in Australia to remain in their homelands and on country & enable them to self-determine their own futures”.

These rallies are publicised and shared across social media, by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and are not the first rallies, nor will they be the last. May 1st is the next round.

Everyday Australians are coming together, in unity and solidarity to protect the homelands from closure. A few people felt inconvenienced by Friday’s rally in Melbourne.

Dr Kerryn Phelps, an elder of the Australian LGBTQI community and well known and respected non-Indigenous Australian, chimed in on Twitter to one of the many discussions that was happening on Saturday morning, the day after the #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA rally in Melbourne.

Dr Phelps commented on a tweet by public health practitioner Daniel Reeders that was retweeted by Melissa Sweet, journalist and author of this blog.

Responding to the Herald-Sun headline, Mr Reeders first wrote “Revealed values: some white people delayed on their way home one night matters more than whole Aboriginal communities having homes at all.”

If you have been following the #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign on Twitter and IRL (in real life), Mr Reeder’s tweet was a fair description of the phony outrage.

Dr Phelps responded on Twitter in a way that I can only describe as reactive and ill thought out – it happens a lot on Twitter, I’m not immune from it, I’m sure.

Dr Phelps’ reply, “Separate issues. You may not agree with closure of remote communities, but it is not OK to paralyse a major city”.

As a gay man, I was a little taken aback and then confounded that this comment came from a lesbian, who is vocally supportive of both PRIDE and Marriage Equality, both which hold significant marches or rallies every year. PRIDE marches are set to a yearly schedule, whereas the Marriage Equality rallies can be organised within weeks or months. PRIDE today was born out of protest back in the 1970’s.

The #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA rally in Melbourne had been advertised on social media for at least a couple of weeks, and is part of series of rolling rallies, with the first happening on March 19th this year.

Dr Phelps went on to justify her sense of observed/experienced paralysis of Melbourne with “I think I can stand on my record on indigenous advocacy without having to acquiesce to any form of protest.”

Mr Reeders tweeted separately to the thread shortly thereafter, “Isn’t that the ultimate privileged white elder response? ‘My past activism should make my current views immune to criticism.'”

Touché indeed.

But perhaps what is most troubling is Dr Phelps’ contribution to the discussion: “Hope nobody in your family needed an ambulance or other emergency service to get through”. Read it again. “Hope nobody in your family needed an ambulance or other emergency service to get through”.

Suddenly people rallying – which, by the way is their democratic right – against the closures of remote Aboriginal communities, a human rights issue, were, in Dr Phelps’ mind going to be responsible for any hold up to emergency proceedings or…was she meaning, what? If someone died because an ambulance couldn’t get through, it’d be the crowd’s fault?

It would be those people who have joined together in solidarity, in something that is largely becoming a civil rights issue, and perhaps the most organic act of reconciliation this country has ever seen, would somehow be responsible?

Dr Phelps, last week I was at a two-day Prison Health meeting, invited by Mr Sandy Davies, a Yamatji man from Western Australia and chair of the Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service and Deputy Chair of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (see Marie McInerney’s report on the conference here).

Dr Phelps, if everyday Australians causing a traffic delay is interpreted by yourself as “paralysis”, I’d love to know what word you use to describe the reality of fearing your community, your home, is on the hit list for closure.

I sat arms length from an Aboriginal woman, younger than myself, attempting to control her sobs as she told of the fear of no longer having a home. This woman told of the effect the threat of their homes being taken away is having on her grandparents, elders and older Aboriginal people, as well as the young people, because they too can sense the fear. They all can.

Dr Phelps, remote communities are the heart of our cultures. They are central and core to our histories, and cultures. They are the holders of stories and histories, wisdom, knowledge and cultures that have seen our people survive on this continent for over 70,000 years. They are also home to many fellow Australians.

I’m not at all sorry your Friday night was inconvenienced.

What’s perhaps the most astonishing aspect of your comments on that Saturday morning is that none included those simple but very powerful two words, “I’m sorry.”

But, I hope that you are sorry for being disrespectful to the hundreds of families earmarked to be forced out of their homes and off their land.

You no doubt offended many with your comments, and I do hope you are sorry. Because what you also did was show disrespect to many, many, more.

#SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA is a defiant act of reconciliation. Get on board or, respectfully, get out of the way.

Everyday Australians want change, no matter how inconvenient it may be for you.

May 1st is the next rally of #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA protectors. Come show your support. It’d be the Australian thing to do and I’m sure you’d be welcomed.

Dameyon Bonson is a Broome-based (on Yawuru country), Mangarayi/Maubiag Island male. He is the Founder of Black Rainbow Living Well – for Indigenous LGBTQI Suicide Prevention.

He is an anti domestic violence campaigner and an invited member of the National Advisory Committee for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSIPEP). You can follow him on Twitter @DameyonBonson

 


Comments 5

  1. Kerryn Phelps says:

    The barrage of negativity in social media directed at me over the weekend requires a response. Twitter can be an effective quick communication device but can also, because of the brevity of the posts, create misunderstanding.
    Throughout my medico-political career I have been a strong and passionate advocate for indigenous health, working to improve the lives of indigenous people.
    As President of the Australian Medical Association, I convened a special committee of the AMA to develop policy and advocate for indigenous health and to address social determinants of health in Aboriginal communities.
    I forged a link between the AMA and NACCHO, inviting its chair, Dr Arnold “Puggy” Hunter to address the AMA National Conference in 2000. Puggy invited me to travel with him to a number of remote communities including Bidyadanga and Beagle Bay in Western Australia. Puggy had struggled with poor health for most of his life and sadly passed away in 2001. His legacy lives on.
    I also made time to regularly visit other communities including Daly River, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Kununurra, Nhulunbuy, and Borroloola. I wanted to make these visits so that I could speak directly with community members and health care workers in order to understand the problems of remote communities. This was so that I could lobby governments with an insight one can gain only from direct personal contact.
    In 2001 I set up the first AMA Public Health Report Card on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health to track progress and help to make State and Federal governments accountable for funding and outcomes. That report card continues today.
    I was invited to address the ATSIC National Treaty Conference in 2002 to argue for the right to equity of opportunity for health, education and social justice for indigenous people.
    One of my tweets which was, conveniently, not quoted said “Let’s all commit to work positively for social justice for indigenous communities”.
    At no stage did I say that there was no right to protest.
    Attacking and alienating a long-term advocate is counter-productive and damaging to the cause.

    The following quotes and links are on the record. Although they were delivered over a decade ago, the issues burn on.

    AUGUST 2002, SPEECH TO ATSIC NATIONAL TREATY CONFERENCE
    https://ama.com.au/media/dr-kerryn-phelps-ama-president-atsic-national-treaty-conference-canberra
    “It is critically important that we are able to go beyond the good intentions and rhetoric that has appeared in so many government reports and embrace commitment and action.
    Such action must be backed by adequate funding and tied to achieving specified outcomes in defined periods of time.
    Canada, New Zealand and the United States have shown it can work….There will be fears and concerns that the process of discussing this issue or negotiating a treaty or compact will be divisive.
    However, as has been noted by many commentators, a treaty can only include what is agreed by both parties.
    In addition, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Treaties has noted, the process has much to offer such as:
    The creation of new juridical standards negotiated and approved by all parties
    The building of mutual trust based on good faith
    Mutual understanding of the other party’s vital interests, and
    A deep commitment from all to respect the eventual results of the negotiations.
    The aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can no longer be ignored.
    It is their right as citizens to have the opportunities that exist for other Australians.
    The right to equity of opportunity for health, education and social justice is fundamental.”

    PRESS CONFERENCE TO LAUNCH Public Report Card 2003, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, Time For Action
    https://ama.com.au/media/ama-15th-national-conference-2003-media-conference-dr-kerryn-phelps-ama-president-amas-public

    “PHELPS: I hope that it can only get better from here. Certainly this is as much as anything a consciousness raising exercise and what we’re trying to do is to motivate governments to continue the progress that they are making.
    We’re pleased to see that there has been progress made in terms of policy direction and in terms of some of the coordination but certainly there is a great deal more that needs to be done and you can’t make that sort of progress without putting adequate levels of funding.
    You really just need to travel a little to some of these remote communities where the need is so great. I mean, these people are asking for things that everyone else just takes for granted, if you live in a less remote location. I mean, things like roads and decent sewerage systems and water systems and educational opportunities for their children, fresh food and water. These are not a big ask but they do, because of remoteness, in many cases, take more money to provide these things.
    There’s also a need for more health workers working in Aboriginal communities and with Aboriginal people and certainly what we need to do is to build on the success of projects like Professor Wendy Hoy’s.
    There are a number of successful projects that have been outlined the report card this year and these are the things that need, once they’ve been piloted, been found to be successful in one community, to be funded and funded in the long term, not just have people scratching around for funds every 12 months and having things that get up and running and get a momentum and get people behind them, only to be disappointed 12 months later when the funding falls down.
    So there has to be consistent funding, there has to be a commitment by governments to coordinate, not only with each other but with departments within levels of government so at state level to have all of the departments responsible have some form of mechanism where they can appropriately untangle the wires and get things happening.”

    SPEECH: Presentation of Public Report Card 2003 – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health – Time for Action
    https://careers.ama.com.au/media/ama-15th-national-conference-2003-ama-president-dr-kerryn-phelps-presentation-public-report
    “Progress in establishing access to the right services and programs must be accelerated. Policy must be translated more quickly into functioning services.
    The funding required, ie the additional $250 million per annum for health services, must be phased in over a clearly specified period of time. Professor Deeble’s estimate of an additional $50 million per year must be implemented in effective prevention and population health programs.
    There must be a National Training Plan that will produce the required numbers of health workers, particularly those from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background. It is time for action.”

  2. puddleduck says:

    Where’s the “misunderstanding” to which Dr Phelps refers in this response (below and posted on the crikey article)?
    Can we take it that she stands by the tweets she made in response to the protest (and its effect on traffic)? I think the only interpretation is ‘yes’.
    Disappointing.

  3. Simon says:

    If someone needed an ambulance, the rally would have got out of their way. I’ve been in rallies where we’ve needed to do this. It’s not that hard

  4. bushby jane says:

    The ambulance service may have been aware of the rally and diverted their attendances.

  5. Vian Elwood says:

    Typical response of ‘look at everything I have done for you people – now why don’t you just get out of the way and shut up’. Sorry, but lauding how great you have done in the past doesn’t excuse your comment Dr Phelps – if anything it highlights a true lack of ongoing commitment and understanding to the health issues of Aboriginal people. Maybe those great forged ‘links’ that ‘you’ created between certain peak organisations weren’t the genuine thing if you are missing the importance of Friday’s rally.

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