Bess Price and Parliamentary Privilege

Parliamentary privilege is a legal immunity enjoyed by members of parliament, in which elected members  are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their parliament duties.

Parliamentary privilege is controversial because of its potential for abuse; a member can use privilege to make damaging allegations that would ordinarily be discouraged by defamation laws, without first determining whether those allegations have a strong foundation.

Unc would argue that Bess Price made an error of judgement in attacking individual people for their affiliations and for their opinions in the NT Assembly. It should follow that those people have a right of reply in the parliamentary process. It is not that Bess should not be able to present her views, it is what she said under the privilege of parliament.

Unc would argue that the material in the address was not part of her function, and therefore breached the immunity of privilege given to members of parliament.

Hiding behind privilege, and dismissing everyone that has a disagreement with your views as left-wing, or worse, in support of violence against women, is not what we need from a member elected to represent. So also is the trashy language, referencing white people in the same way as white folk talk about black people.  Racism has no place in a democracy. Democracy has made it possible for Bess to take a seat in the NT Assembly.

Unc’s view is that there is nothing to be gained by anyone in the Pan Aboriginal movement defaming other Aborigines, who have worked hard all their public lives and have worked tirelessly to lift the participation rate of Aboriginal people in society and give them and their families a better life.

Methinks that the pressure by critics, including Bob “Northern Myth” Gosford,  Chris Graham, Chris Sarra, Larissa Behrendt, Marlene Hodder, Barbara Shaw, Koori Radio  and others including community people in Central Australia, are taking their toll on the Aboriginal members. The people are entitled to feel duped by their representatives, who in good faith voted for Bess. Now, under parliamentary sanction, it in effect tars them all with the same brush of racism.

Bess Price owes her success to a clique of white journalists and editors in the mainstream press. By contrast, Barbara Shaw from Alice Springs Mount Nancy town camp has never been given the same press, simply because she opposed the Intervention. Barb Shaw has not been on Q&A or had glowing articles written about her in The Australian. Barb Shaw has lived all her life in town camps and has the knowledge and respect of many people. The ABC, which prides itself on it unbiased presentation has shown that it will always go with the flow and is prepared to present a view of Aboriginal Australia is through the eyes of a single person

Bess Price statement read into Hansard is a cry for help from Government to do more. It’s a message to Aboriginal people and the people and businesses who are living off the misery of Aboriginal people. It’s a message to the Elders, store owners, shires, councils, pubs, road houses, cattle stations, tourist operators, the mining companies, footy teams, educators, health centres, and bureaucrats, barricaded behind chain wire fences. The message is you all bear some responsibility for the carnage.

Bess Prices concerns are real, lets not forget that. It makes no sense to talk economic enterprise, in these communities and towns, spending millions of dollars on fly in fly out programs, when the problem is that there is not enough water to have a decent shower. Not enough food to have a decent feed. Not enough teachers to have a decent education. Not enough health workers to have decent health. Not enough activities or jobs.

Unc can understand the frustrations of Bess. What is happening is a national shame. Every death or youth suicide, of an Aboriginal person caused by petrol sniffing, by violence, or by drunk driving with family in the car “shames us all”.

In the Territory, it seems to be easier to get a change to the drinking register, take kids away again (that idea came a gutser) boot camps, and now mandatory rehabilitation centres for 12 weeks, effectively jailing people, then it is to get real change to grog laws.

The Territory Assembly reminds me of ATSIC, it appears that blackfellas are on one side and bureaucrats are on the other. They are prepared to let blackfellas fight among themselves. It’s a distraction that allows them to fund their pet projects in Darwin.

I have not lived in the Territory for a few years. Can someone tell Unc what measures have the Aboriginal members of the Territory Government done to shut down the animal bars, prevent the grog flowing to towns, communities and to the town camps? The rivers of grog still flow even though some of the Intervention measures were well received.

Is this a good thing? Some parts of the Intervention were and are needed. But dis-empowering men and taking away their money is draconian and unnecessary. Unless you have lived on community and grown up witnessing this (Unc has walked the walk and so has Bess), unless you have seen the turmoil caused by grog, you have no idea of the real situation. Bess is like all of us who have witnessed the carnage and feel that nothing gets done.

Grog and Aboriginal people, has been a problem since the ships sailed into Botany Bay 1789. It’s ironic that people coming by boat are now classified as illegal, while the people that sailed down Botany Bay in 1789 are “settlers” and convicts. What did Aboriginal people learn from that early experience? They were exposed to rum, witnessed the brutal floggings of convicts, “Yeah” a great model for Australia’s Aborigines.

History will judge the Intervention as being a policy failure made on the run, it is ABC “lateline policy” and an ABC /SBS view of Australia who both have a “sense of entitlement”, to promote their brand of Australian culture.

The answer to the problems is not more papers from right or left think tanks for that matter, or weekly stories from journalists hunting for a Walkley Award.

The goal posts have changed in politics in Australia; we now have even  right-wing think tanks and politicians agreeing on policies that they previously stayed away from, such as  Gay Rights, Aboriginal issues, parental leave, NDIS. It is only recently that the conservatives have shown any real interest  in everyday Aboriginal affairs.  Yes they can claim Fraser and land rights, but that was already in place. The same as they will claim NDIS and parental leave.

It has always been people like Frank Hardy, the trade unions, labour, and recently the Greens  leading the way, dragging the conservatives along. They were nowhere to be seen on Aboriginal issues until recently.

Sometimes Bess. “It is better to keeps ones mouth shut and be thought a fool, then to open it and leave no doubt”.

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