Chansey Paech was elected at the age of 29 to represent the largely Indigenous electorate of Namatjira for Territory Labor in 2016. He was the first openly gay Indigenous man to be elected to an Australian Parliament. During the last Sitting week of the 13th Northern Territory Assembly Mr Paech was appointed as the first Indigenous Speaker in an Australian Parliament.
Chansey Paech MLA
I have just walked out of the NT Parliament for the final time as the Member for Namatjira.
It is a bitter sweet moment as I reflect back on the first speech I made in this place four years ago.
I was enthusiastic, hopeful of making a positive difference to the lives of the people I had the honour to be elected to represent. I hope I have achieved some change, no matter how small, to the lives of the people in Namatjira.
To be honest, sometimes it does seem like very small differences indeed when I am confronted daily by the entrenched poverty and challenges that face remote communities.
There is a continual battle for equitable services, for housing, for jobs, for autonomy over lives and communities, to provide for hope in the future.
The Gunner Labor Government has made some inroads. I’m very proud we have been able to make a start on creating a more equitable Northern Territory.
What we are achieving in areas like housing, with our commitment to build new homes and extend others, is making a big difference to many families. If we are to have any hope of closing the gap of Indigenous disadvantage it has to start with the provision of decent housing.
The drive to make a positive difference to the lives of people living in remote areas is still what motivates me to get out of bed every day.
It’s what motivated me to put up my hand to run in an electorate as large and remote as Gwoja.
The electorate is named after Gwoja Tjungurrayi, a Warlpiri-Anmatyerre man who survived the Coniston Massacre in 1928.
This was a state sanctioned massacre where upwards of 60 men, women and children were murdered, a crime where there was no justice served.
If I am fortunate enough to be elected as member for Gwoja I would like to see a permanent reserve set up around the massacre site to mark the area’s history.
Aboriginal Territorians are meant to turn aside, to forget, to erase this history from their present.
There are people alive today who remember the man Gwoja Tjungarrayi, the man who saw his family gunned down by people who were celebrated as brave heroes.
We should remember our history and we should talk about how we remember this history, what sides of the story we choose to commemorate, who we choose to put on a pedestal.
These killing times are engraved in current memory, they continue to impact families and communities down the years.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a reflection of this.
While the unacceptably high rates of Indigenous deaths in custody are at the forefront of the BLM movement, it is built on more than 200 years of systemic and deliberate actions and policies that were designed to wipe out, negate, disappear Aboriginal people from the Australian conversation.
The University of Newcastle’s Colonial Frontier’s Massacre Project map shows sites littered across the Northern Territory where its estimated that thousands of Aboriginal people were exterminated.
Some of those were killed at the hands of Mounted Constable Williams Willshire, who was officially documented as having killed at least 15 people.
But historians think probably many more died at his hand as Willshire wasn’t strong on keeping accurate records about the number of Aboriginal people he killed.
Willshire has the distinction of being the first policeman in Australia charged with murder.
Public subscriptions raised £2000 for his bail and also paid for his defence by Sir John Downer, the grandfather of Australian politician Alexander Downer.
Sir John played his own role in the killing times, but that is another story for another place.
Willshire was acquitted of murder but it’s a matter of historical record that he was responsible for the deaths of many Territorians - men, women and children.
We commemorate the memory of this man, described in the Australian Dictionary of Biography as a man who subjected Aboriginal people to terrorism, by naming a street in Alice Springs after him.
We are told we shouldn’t erase the bad, uncomfortable parts of history, the bits we don’t like.
Fair enough. But renaming streets is not rewriting history, it’s about refusing to commemorate killers, people contemptuous of Indigenous culture and people.
Do not ask us to celebrate the people and policies that tried to deny our humanity.
Aboriginal Territorians who survived the killing times lived as an underclass, often not permitted to stay on their own country. And of course they had their children taken away as a matter of government policy.
This year marked the 12th anniversary since then-prime minister Kevin Rudd gave an apology to those who suffered from past government policies of forced child removal and assimilation.
A report in 2018 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that over 17,000 members of the Stolen Generations are still alive today and that they experience higher levels of adversity in almost all of 38 key health and welfare outcomes.
Yet the Northern Territory is one of the last jurisdictions without a compensation scheme.
Because the NT members of the Stolen Generations were the direct responsibility of the Commonwealth Government they are reliant on them for compensation.
But the Commonwealth Government doesn’t seem to have this redress, for a small group of people now and getting less every day, even on their radar.
And in even more recent history we have the Northern Territory Intervention, when the Federal Government effectively took over Aboriginal communities, dismantling local decision making and disempowering people to this day.
These are only a snippet of the acts, the policies, the systemic racism that continues to impact on the lives and livelihoods of Aboriginal Territorians.
It is a trauma that is passed down through our DNA.
I’m often told I’m fortunate to be light skinned, that I can’t really know what it’s like to be ‘really Aboriginal’.
When I’m told this, I assume people mean that I don’t experience the blatant in your face racist acts that many of my darker skinned brothers and sisters face.
Of getting extra scrutiny when you go into a shop to browse. Of having an empty taxi drive past and never stop. Of having that prospective rental property suddenly go off the market.
I don’t face this racism every day as my darker skinned family and friends do.
But I do know the discrimination we face from within our systems of government.
The need to change this continues to motivate me. The reality that we need to do better.
We cannot keep under spending on remote Indigenous services. We cannot keep locking up our kids.
We have to make sure all our children have every opportunity to go to school, access good health services and families in crisis get the support they need to stay together.
And we need to make sure that remote Aboriginal voters are able to fully participate in our democracy
The Australian Electoral Commission’s Federal Direct Enrolment and Update program discriminates against remote Aboriginal voters in the Northern Territory and it needs to change.
Provisions in Federal Electoral laws allow the Electoral Commissioner to add a person to the electoral roll, or update a person’s address details on the electoral roll, if the Electoral Commission is satisfied that the person is entitled to be enrolled and resides at that address.
The Electoral Commissioner must contact the person in writing and inform them of the proposed action, which will be carried out unless the person satisfies the Electoral Commissioner within 28 days that they are either not entitled to be enrolled or does not live at the address.
In practice, the Electoral Commissioner forms a view as to entitlement for enrolment or electoral roll update on the basis of data provided by other government agencies.
Currently the AEC relies on data from State and erritory Driver's Licence Authorities, Centrelink and the Australian Tax Office.
Statistics listed on the AEC’s website reveal that so far in 2020 around 92,000 enrolment transactions, that is updates and new enrolments, or 15 per cent of all transactions, were via FDEU, compared to around 68 per cent of people who filled in an enrolment form online, and about 16 per cent who completed an enrolment through other means.
But Federal Direct Enrolment and Updates are only undertaken via mail and where there is a reliable mail service.
If the AEC is not confident the person will receive the letter, they are excluded from FDEU.
As many of the NT’s remote communities are deemed to not have a ‘reliable mail service’ or voters don’t have postal addresses this excludes many remote Territorians from direct enrolment.
I should note that the decision not to use anything other than physical mail for FDEU notices appears to be an operational policy decision by the AEC, rather than a legislative requirement.
This must be changed so remote voters have the same opportunities as voters living in larger urban centres.
We have an estimated 26,000 unenrolled voters in the Territory, most of them in the bush.
We also have an Australian Electoral Commission office that has been reduced from a staff of 16 to, at last count, three.
So it seems that Black Votes don’t really matter.
This, along with the history of systemic racism and the ramifications it has today, is why we march to say Black Lives Matter.
With Indigenous people making up only 3.3 per cent of the Australian population, we need the support of other voices to amplify our own.
The reality is, we know until we change our systems, those policies that govern our lives, that Black Lives just don’t matter as much.