Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander News

Union Gets Behind Push for Constitutional Reform

The push for Constitutional reform to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a voice to Federal Parliament has been given the support of the Maritime Union of Australia.

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MUA supports constitutional change to recognise Australia's first people

 All members are encouraged to show their support and can do so here.


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This is the resolution that was moved by Mich-Elle Myers, MUA National Officer, at the ACTU Executive in March:

The ACTU Executive reaffirms its support for the Recognise Campaign.


The ACTU Executive believes that recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as the First Australians, and the removal of racial discrimination from the Consitution of Australia will be a further essential step towards building a nation based on mutual respect and understanding, and a nation that values its rich history.


In particular, the ACTU Executive reiterates its support for:


- The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the body of the Consitution of Australia, rather than the preamble;

- Changes to the Constitution of Australia that remove discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, ethnic or country of origin.


The ACTU Executive realises the urgency of educating & informing unions and union members about the Recognise campaign during 2014 and 2015 to ensure that a national conversation and movement can be built around a Referendum.


Unions have a proud history of showing leadership on reconciliation, the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, promoting an inclusive Australia and eliminating all forms of racial discrimination.


This is a campaign that needs a united effort from everyone in our society and with a reach of 2 million union members the ACTU Executive acknowledges the considerable role Australian Unions have to play in the Recognise campaign.


And the winner is... the MUA

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This year the union was recognised in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander category, while National Lead Organiser, Bernie Farrelly, was named Organiser of the Year.


Industry stalwart, Farrelly has worked in his organiser role for almost a decade.


Last night, his accomplishments in nurturing other organisers around Australia and for his strategy in uniting two unions on FPSOs, was rewarded.


“I’m overwhelmed," Farrelly said.


“It’s a tremendous honour to be recognised by my peers.


“I think it’s also a reflection of the quality of the people of I have to work with.


“Working in a union and having the opportunity to represent and work with grass root workers is a privilege and an honour in itself.”


The MUA also bagged the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander award for the second year in a row and Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray was there to receive the award on behalf of the union. 

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“It just goes to show we're doing something right for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters," Bray said


It was a busy year for the MUA in 2013 with Torres Strait Islander man and former wharfie, Thomas Mayor being installed as the union's first ATSI official. 


"I am particularly proud of the Wandilla initiative, which we launched last year," Bray said. 


Together with Tribal Warrior Association and shipping company Svitzer, the MUA formulated a program whereby Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants would receive real, on-the-job trainining aboard a working tug boat. 


"I saw it as a way to really engage young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women in the maritime industry," he said. 


To read more about the Wandilla initiative click here


"The ACTU award shows us we are on the right track."


Last year, Paddy Neliman, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander committee chairperson won the ACTU individual award.


This year the MUA endorsed the Transport Workers Union nominee and winner, Luke Logan, in the Occupational Health & Safety category.


Logan works closely with the MUA on the multi-union Port Waratah Coal Services site in Newcastle.


He was recognised for his determination in protecting members on site when safety issues arise.


For a full list of winners click here


Wandilla Launch Signals Beginning Of Innovative Training Initiative

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The event went without a hitch outside of the Australian Maritime Museum, kicked off by a traditional smoking ceremony, whereby special leaves were burned in order to ward off the bad, using the smoke to cleanse.


Then the formalities started with a Welcome to Country and a traditional Aboriginal song.


Each of the speakers – MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray, Tribal Warrior Association chief executive Shane Phillips and Svitzer human resources manager Mark Cox – all spoke about their involvement in the project which aims to provide young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with training and qualifications, with real job opportunities.


Bray recalled how he began discussions with Phillips over coffee three years ago, when they were still hatching ideas on how to develop a training program and the Eureka moment he had when he realised a tugboat was what was needed.


“Many people in regional communities sitting adjacent to these massive resource projects who have been promised the world but they never lead to any real jobs,” Bray said.


“We need to be able to link the training to direct jobs.”


He said he was confident this program would be able to produce some real outcomes for the participants because it was a collaboration of different cultures – a community organisation, a shipping company, a registered training organisation, in METL, and a union which has historically and traditionally fought for social justice issues – all speaking from the same page to close the gap between Australia’s Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.


“It’s a historic occasion, it’s a very proud occasion and a lot of hard work has been done and there is still a lot of hard work to do and I am looking forward to working with all of the parties that been involved so far to make sure it’s a success in the future,” Bray said.


View photos here







Proud Wharfie, Proud Indigenous Man

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Patrick ‘Paddy’ Neliman

“I work for a company called Northern Stevedoring Services, or NSS. I’ve worked for these guys in Townsville for 19 years, beginning in 1994, and now I’ve been a permanent for close to 10 years. I drive the cranes, the big Portainer gantry cranes, and the skill level that I do at work is we discharge the boxes and bulk and all of that kind of stuff and loading of ships as well.


“It’s a challenge every day. Our workforce distributes over Cairns and Mackay and Gladstone as well, but here in Townsville, we have 82 on the floor, not counting the office, 75 of them are members which is good.


“Size-wise, we’re just a small port. But volume wise we’re up there with Brisbane. It is a container and bulk handling port, they load stuff like sugar, fertiliser, cement. We do containers as well. Clive Palmer’s nickel, it gets discharged here in Townsville too, mainly stuff like that.


“I got the job when I was 20, turning 21. Before that I was in the Queensland Police Service. I was trained to be a police officer but I didn’t like that too much, so I came back to Townsville and my brother woke me up one day and got me down to the CES, I applied for a job, didn’t know what stevedoring meant, something to do with wharves, but anyway, I applied for a job.


“Back when I started, it was almost a sin if you weren’t union. I’ve been a delegate for about six years now. I put my hand up because blokes were retiring and I ended up being in the next lot to do the EBA talks.’’

Leadership role


“[As a delegate], I think I’ve found myself develop to become a better listener, and also a bit of a problem solver. I’ve generally taken on a counseling type of thing: let people talk, find out what the problem is and try to guide them with the best advice or experience I have. I’ve found myself to be a bit better at that stuff, where before if somebody told me something it went straight over my head and I didn’t know what was going on. Now I have an understanding of what’s going on and more care about how we can make a change.


“Back when I started, it was almost a sin if you weren’t union.’’


“Then the union deputy secretary advised me of this ACTU [Indigenous] committee, and recommended I should have a go at it. He thought I would be beneficial. I just wrote out a little resumé and handed it in and he came back to me at next negotiation talks and told me I got in. Since then, that’s when I got to understand about how unions work on that level with Indigenous communities for better conditions and pay and all that. And then as it panned out it didn’t just stop with our worksites and all of those kinds of policies and negotiations, it got to issues in our community regarding Stolen Wages and other things like that.


“I found out more about the Stolen Wages through working with the ACTU and becoming a delegate, and through the QCU in Queensland, their role in standing up to do things for the Stolen Wages campaign. I was shown how they developed the campaigns and the process to get the ball rolling and address it to the community. And that’s when I was made aware that if it works for that issue, there are a whole lot of other issues about people’s jobs and lifestyles on the islands and through areas.’’

Stolen wages and social compacts


“From 1908 until the 1960s, 80% of indigenous wages were kept in state trusts. I don’t know why. They probably thought Indigenous people couldn’t budget or understand the value of money. So now we’re fighting to get those stolen wages back. It’s a really hard sell but we keep pushing. I march every year with the Stolen Wages banner and I grab any wharfie who’s beside me, anyone in the community to hold the banner and march beside me. Yeah, so it’s alright. We’re still going and we’re a voice for the elders out there, so there’s no stopping yet.


“Now we’re developing social compacts between the unions and the land councils when there is development on the traditional lands. The idea is to give jobs to Indigenous people and they become union members. So memberships should grow and also the conditions and pay should be fair and reasonable for Aboriginal people.


“Out of the 82 in my port, there are only six blacks. We haven’t formulated ourselves to be an Indigenous committee amongst ourselves. But if there’s any issues I raise them with them and they give me a yes or no vote whether they feel strongly about stuff. They’re not identified as being Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders because of their fair complexions, but they’re happy to tell me what they think, they don’t really worry about being identified or not.


“In our last EBA, we put in a clause that we’d get a percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders in our workforce. It’s never been done before, except in WA I think they have 20%. That helped us to put in the clause and hopefully from that we’ll feed in a certain number, a percentage. We’ve got to get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders on wharves and hopefully it’ll work out good.”


Australian Unions: Celebrating NAIDOC Week

The ACTU has an active Indigneous Committee, and the inaugural ACTU Indigenous Conference was held in 2011 with a renewed emphasis on advancing Indigenous rights. At the conference, the ACTU announced a new partnership with Indigenous Australians to campaign to improve the lives of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through decent jobs, sustainable economic development and social justice.


This NAIDOC Week we are commemorating the Yirrkala Bark Petitions of 1963.  The Yirrkala Bark Peitions were a ‘first’ in many ways.


They were the first petitions to be written in traditional language, on bark, and presented to the Australian Federal Government – and the first petitions of their kind to be formally recognised by the Commonwealth. They were the first recognised protest – by Aboriginal people – against the granting of mining leases on Aboriginal land without prior consultation, consent and reparation for the use of land.


It’s been 50 years since the Yolgnu authored the documents.  Fifty years since the struggle for recognition and land rights was formally acknowledged by an Australia Government. Fifty years since the Yolgnu become the forerunners for Indigenous land rights.


The Yirrkala Bark Petitions set in motion the struggle for Aboriginal people to be recognised as the traditional owners and First Nations people of Australia.


The Yirrkala Bark Petitions and the Yolgnu people helped provide the foundations for significant shifts in Australia such as: the 1964 Wave Hill Walk Off (and proceeding award wages for Aboriginal stockmen); the 1967 Referendum and later the 1992 Mabo decision which overturned the notion that Australia was unoccupied before colonial settlement.


It was Dr Yunupingu’s ancestors – mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, cousins – who were the authors of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions.  These same ancestors grew Dr Yunupingu up to be a solid union and rights activist.


It’s safe to say that without the Yirrkala Bark Petitions, and the brave and defiant step taken by the Yolgnu to defend their land, that the civil and industrial rights movements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders would have been a more hostile playing field.


It is with these things in mind, that we pay tribute to the Yolgnu, their foresight and vision that was the  Yirrkala Bark Petitions and we give thanks and condolences to them for the man, Dr Yunupingu, that continued their legacy.


Vale Dr Yunupingu – a leader, an educator, a union activist and a true warrior for what he saw as a better Australia through recognition and reconciliation – communicated to us all through the language of music.

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Key milestones on the path to equality


A little known, but interesting and politically significant, timeline of protests and activities agitating for Indigenous recognition has culminated in what we now celebrate as NAIDOC week in July each year.1935


In 1935, William Cooper, founder of the Australian Aborigines League, drafted a petition to send to King George V, asking for special Aboriginal electorates in Federal Parliament. The Australian Government believed that the petition fell outside its constitutional responsibilities.



On Australia Day, 1938, protestors marched through the streets of Sydney, followed by a congress attended by over a thousand people. One of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world, it was known as the Day of Mourning.


Following the congress, a deputation led by William Cooper presented Prime Minister Joseph Lyons with a proposed national policy for Aboriginal people. This was again rejected because the Government did not hold constitutional powers in relation to Aboriginal people.



In 1955 Aborigines Day was shifted to the first Sunday in July after it was decided the day should become not simply a protest day but also a celebration of Aboriginal culture.



Major Aboriginal organisations, state and federal governments, and a number of church groups all supported the formation of, the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC). At the same time, the second Sunday in July became a day of remembrance for Aboriginal people and their heritage.



In 1972, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was formed, as a major outcome of the 1967 referendum.



In 1984, NADOC asked that National Aborigines Day be made a national public holiday, to help celebrate and recognise the rich cultural history that makes Australia unique. While this has not happened, other groups have echoed the call.

1991 – present


With a growing awareness of the distinct cultural histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, NADOC was expanded to recognise Torres Strait Islander people and culture. The committee then became known as the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC). This new name has become the title for the whole week, not just the day.


Each year, a theme is chosen to reflect the important issues and events for NAIDOC Week.


Source: http://www.naidoc.org.au/about/naidoc-history/


Mabo Day Report Back

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The delegation to Mabo Day has been the first opportunity for a face to face meeting this year, timed well for a productive agenda to be met. The committee met with the late Koiki Mabo’s wife, Bonita Mabo, as well as other senior Torres Strait Islanders at the event. The benefits of unions and indigenous people working together in a formal relationship through Social Compacts was discussed, reaffirming that unions walk alongside indigenous people in their struggles.


The great work that the MUA has done in empowering indigenous members was recognised by  the ACTU Indigenous Committee who held their meetings in conjunction with ours. A full agenda was addressed in a short time frame, the committees jointly addressing the ALP election campaign and indigenous strategies, work on an ACTU indigenous media campaign, the naming of an indigenous leadership program in unionism, and social compacts.


ACTU Secretary David Oliver attended the meeting to brief the committee on the ACTU “Join, For a Better Life” media campaign and to seek advice regarding how to reach our indigenous members and non members. Dave was impressed by the professionalism displayed and the contribution of the MUA.


Another significant guest to the meeting was Rod Little from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was formed to and represent Australia’s indigenous people. The Committee’s made many suggestions on how the National Congress could improve and resolved to follow the suggestions up with a formal letter to the leadership.


This years attendance to the Mabo Day celebrations was all the more valuable because of the interaction with the ACTU Committee, learning from the way that they function. Indigenous members from all branch’s are welcome to become involved and have your voice heard on the committee.


Call committee Chair Patrick Neliman on 0417 996 636 to find out more.



Tireless campaigner for maritime health and safety wins top award at unions’ night of nights

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John "Madge" McGartland with ACTU President Ged Kearney  

John “Madge” McGartland, a Wollongong-based seafarer and member of the Maritime Union of Australia, was recognised on a night when his union scooped the pool at the annual ACTU National Union Awards.


The MUA won four awards, including both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander awards, while the long-serving National Secretary of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, Peter Tighe, was awarded Occupational Health and Safety Campaigner of the year.


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Patrick Neliman collected both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander awards  

Other winners included the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association for its Unions for Transfusions program for community outreach, and the Swinburne University branch of the National Tertiary Education Union for the best workplace campaign.


ACTU President Ged Kearney said John McGartland epitomised the spirit of Australian unionism by tirelessly working for the betterment of his colleagues. Mr McGartland began his seafaring career in Port Kembla, and now works in the offshore oil and gas industry.


“Madge’s work is particularly dangerous and he has witnessed the loss of colleagues at work,” Ms Kearney said.  “He has fought tirelessly to improve the health and safety and other working conditions for his fellow workers.  He has proven to be there for members assisting them with industrial issues and encouraging them to become active delegates themselves.


“He is well respected by his fellow members and employers alike for his knowledge of the seafaring industry.


“Madge is also passionate about encouraging and mentoring younger members and while onshore he runs free seafaring courses to help train young seafarers in important skills”


The MUA took out four awards in total, including the best OH&S Campaign for its work on a national stevedoring code of practice.


The Jennie George Award for contributions to women’s advancement in unions was shared by Luba Grigorovitch of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union in Victoria and Lorraine Usher of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, while Darius Altman of the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association was named Organiser of the Year.


Ms Kearney said Peter Tighe, who has been National Secretary of the CEPU for almost two decades, had made an enormous contribution to improving workplace health and safety standards in Australia.


“Peter has always taken a keen interest in the health and safety of all workers, especially young workers and apprentices,” she said.


The full list of ACTU National Union Awards winners and photos are available at www.actu.org.au<http://www.actu.org.au>

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Muckaty Rally Outside Federal Court In Melbourne

It had been hoped that The Federal Court has decided to adjourn the case against the site until the end of the year.


"If it starts leaking it¹s going to destroy all the water the animals, the environment we don't really want it there," said Penny Phillips, a traditional owner.


Members of the Warl-Manpa community have lived at Muckaty, near Tenant Creek for thousands of years.


When the area was selected five years ago as the site for Australia's first nuclear waste facility they began an epic David and Goliath battle to save their land.


In court, they had hoped to have the date set to begin the formal hearing to try to have the decision overturned, but that decision has now been adjourned until November.


At the heart of the case, the community says that the Northern Land Council spoke to only a few of the local traditional owners before deciding to support the plant five years ago.


Further delays in court proceedings could mean some people won't live long enough to formally voice their objection.


Australian Conservation Foundation's Dave Sweeny says Muckaty residents were targeted because of their isolation.


"No-one wants it in their backyard and the minister has looked for a backyard far enough away from most of the voters and most of the camera, and they've picked on Muckaty," he said. 


"But that's not good enough."


It is hoped that the case will finally be heard in March or April next year.


The rally was well attended and speakers included Victorian Branch Secretary Kevin Bracken.


Click here to watch a video taken from the rally.