Chapter 2: Lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities - Social Justice Report 2011

Social Justice Report 2011

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Chapter 2: Lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

2.1 Introduction

Last year I set out my priorities for my term as Social Justice Commissioner.[1] My priorities revolve around the central idea that to address the disadvantage faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and build a more reconciled nation, we need to develop stronger and deeper relationships:

  • between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community
  • between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and government
  • within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

This year I am addressing the relationships within our own communities in my Social Justice and Native Title Reports.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities face many challenges and sadly some of the divisive and damaging harms come from within our own communities. Ask any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person and they will tell you stories of the back stabbing, bullying and even physical violence perpetrated by community members against each other. When we already have so many of the odds stacked against us, it is tragic to see us inflict such destruction on ourselves.

There is a name for this sort of behaviour: lateral violence. Lateral violence is often described as ‘internalised colonialism’[2] and according to Richard Frankland includes:

[T]he organised, harmful behaviours that we do to each other collectively as part of an oppressed group: within our families; within our organisations and; within our communities. When we are consistently oppressed we live with great fear and great anger and we often turn on those who are closest to us.[3]

The theory behind lateral violence explains that this behaviour is often the result of disadvantage, discrimination and oppression, and that it arises from working within a society that is not designed for our way of doing things.

The Social Justice Report 2011, in conjunction with the Native Title Report 2011, will start a conversation about lateral violence in our communities. Although it is not an easy conversation to have, it is one that is long overdue.

Last year, when I first raised the concept of lateral violence in this role, I was concerned that a frank airing of this issue might cause me some grief. I was prepared that some would accuse me of airing our dirty laundry in public. There were already enough bad news stories about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the popular domain. The last thing we need is for certain sections of the society to add lateral violence to the litany of dysfunctions associated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

When the time came to consider the drafting of this Chapter this year, I was concerned to achieve a balance between what could be seen as the identification of another one of these dysfunctions and the need to address an issue that has serious implications for us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

I have had to think long and hard about being open and honest about the damage that lateral violence does in our communities; am I contributing to the further demonisation of our people?

While this is a view that some people may possibly take, the damage and impact caused by not doing anything about lateral violence is, in my view, far greater than the risk of speaking out.

In coming to this view, I’ve been buoyed by the encouragement I have received whenever I have raised this issue with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. There seems to be a considerable appetite within our communities to confront and deal with lateral violence.

I have been similarly challenged by how to confront this issue and how to get the balance right between painting lateral violence as another problem of a troubled people and explaining its historical context without apportioning blame.

Addressing lateral violence will require significant courage, goodwill and determination but I think the gains will be immense. While we continue to harm each other with lateral violence and while governments and industry operate in a way that fosters lateral violence, there will be little progress in improving the indicators that measure the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community. As I have consistently argued since becoming Social Justice Commissioner, real progress will only come from a basis of strong, respectful relationships.

This Chapter informs the conversation on lateral violence by providing an explanation, as well as examples, of lateral violence in our communities. This Chapter consists of two parts:

  • The first part will describe and explain the concepts behind lateral violence, the historical processes and the role of governments in creating the conditions for lateral violence.
  • The second part of this Chapter will look at the practical experience of lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, by examining organisational conflict, bullying, impacts on social and emotional health and physical violence leading to involvement with the criminal justice system.

Lateral violence is an emerging area of public discourse here in Australia, and consequently there is currently very little research and formal evidence about the experience of lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. While drawing on strong theoretical underpinnings, this report will also be based on anecdotal evidence from our communities, sharing our stories, struggles and successes as we begin to address lateral violence.

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2.2 Understanding lateral violence

(a) Definitions of lateral violence

Lateral violence, also known as horizontal violence or intra-racial conflict, is a product of a complex mix of historical, cultural and social dynamics that results in a spectrum of behaviours that include:

  • gossiping
  • jealousy
  • bullying
  • shaming
  • social exclusion1
  • family feuding
  • organisational conflict
  • physical violence.

Lateral violence is not just an individual’s behaviour. It often occurs when a number of people work together to attack or undermine another individual or group. It can also be a sustained attack on individuals, families or groups.

The use of the term ‘violence’ can be confusing. As Text Box 2.1 notes, it is important to understand that lateral violence doesn’t just refer to physical violence but also social, emotional, psychological, economic and spiritual violence.

John Liddle, in a speech during the first Aboriginal Men’s Health Conference in Alice Springs, where the important Inteyerrkwe Statement of Apology was made, describes lateral violence:

By recognising actions such as malicious gossip as violence we can better appreciate that this kind of mental assault can be just as damaging as physical violence. We can appreciate the trauma that these attacks can have on others, and we can better understand how these attacks undermine both our communities and our own wellbeing.[4]

Some research has shown that like other forms of violence, lateral violence is cyclical in nature and includes discreet stages.[5] Diagram 1 illustrates the process.

Text Box 2.1: What is violence?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence as:

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.[6]


The WHO goes on to explain this definition further:

The inclusion of the word ‘power’, in addition to the phrase ‘use of physical force’, broadens the nature of violence to include those acts that result from a power relationship, including threats and intimidation. The ‘use of power’ also serves to include neglect or acts of omission, in addition to the more obvious violent acts of commission. Thus, ‘the use of physical force or power’ should be understood to include neglect and all types of physical, sexual and psychological abuse, as well as suicide and other self-abusive acts.


The definition covers a broad range of outcomes – including psychological harm, deprivation and maldevelopment. This reflects a growing recognition among researchers and practitioners of the need to include violence that does not necessarily result in injury or death, but that nonetheless poses a substantial burden on individuals, families, communities and health care systems worldwide...These consequences can be immediate, as well as latent, and can last for years after the initial abuse. Defining outcomes solely in terms of injury or death limits the full impact of violence on individuals, communities and society at large.[7]


Diagram 2.1: The cycle of lateral violence

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Like all forms of violence, lateral violence can become normalised if it is not challenged. The normalisation of violence, as well as the harm and trauma caused by all forms of violence, fuels the cycle of lateral violence.

These behaviours are not unique to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. People everywhere deal with similar behaviours on a daily basis. However, what makes lateral violence different for us is that it stems from the sense of powerlessness that comes from oppression.

Lateral violence affects Indigenous peoples all around the world. In particular, there has been pioneering research and interventions to address lateral violence in Canada. Text Box 2.2 outlines some of the developments in Canada.

Text Box 2.2: The Canadian experience of dealing with lateral violence
The history of Canadian Aboriginal peoples is different from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, there are also notable similarities in the way colonisation has attacked culture and the traditional structures that kept communities functioning in healthy ways.

The Social Justice Report 2008 examined some of the Canadian history and journey to healing that informs the efforts to address lateral violence.[8] In particular the legacy of forced removal of children has had a profound impact:

Like Australia, generations of Aboriginal children were taken away from their families. In Canada between 1800s and 1990s, over 130 government funded church run industrial schools, boarding schools and hostels operated for Aboriginal children. Many of these children suffered physical and sexual abuse, as well as the loss of family, community and cultural connection. It is estimated that there are approximately 86 000 survivors of the residential schools alive in Canada today and 287 350 people estimated to have been intergenerationally impacted.[9]

Canadian Aboriginal people have led the way in addressing lateral violence, in particular through the work of people like Allen Benson and Patti LaBoucane-Benson from the Native Counselling Services of Alberta. By starting the conversation about lateral violence through workshops, community training and the production of educational videos, they have brought the conversation to thousands of people, including Indigenous peoples in other countries like Australia, and started the healing process.

Lateral violence has also been identified by the Canadian Aboriginal Healing Foundation, an independent Aboriginal run corporation set up to deal with the legacy of the residential schools, as an example of the ‘unresolved trauma’ still facing communities. Lateral violence has been addressed within the broad suite of community based healing and culture revitalisation programs that fit within the three pillars of healing; ‘reclaiming history, cultural interventions and therapeutic healing’.[10] Lateral violence programs have operated at the level of healing relationships for those affected as well as more broadly defined cultural renewal programs which aim to prevent lateral violence by increasing connection to and pride in culture. Given the high number of Aboriginal people forcibly removed from their communities and culture to residential schools, cultural renewal has been a particularly important area of work.

Lateral violence has also been identified in other contexts. For instance, the nursing profession has categorised the bullying that occurs amongst nurses as lateral violence.[11] Nurses have a relatively low status in the hospital environment and little power compared to other health professionals so it has been suggested that they act out towards other nurse colleagues to vent frustration. While the nursing context seems far removed from the situation of Indigenous peoples, there are common themes around power that I will be exploring below.

(b) Colonisation and the historical development of lateral violence

The concept of lateral violence has its origins in literature on colonialism from Africa[12] and Latin America,[13] as well as the literature around the oppression of African Americans,[14] Jewish people[15] and women.[16] The process of colonisation and other forms of oppression have their roots not only in the violent subjugation of groups but also more insidious forms of social control.

In order to establish power and control, the colonising powers positioned the groups being colonised as inferior to themselves, ignoring their basic humanity as well as their cultural identity, existing power structures and ways of life. Despite often fierce resistance on the part of the colonised groups, theorists such as Paulo Friere[17] and Frantz Fannon[18] argue that the colonised groups internalised the values and behaviours of their oppressors, leading to a negative view of themselves and their culture. This results in low self-esteem and often the adoption of violent behaviours.

Colonisation robbed groups of their power, autonomy and land. Living in a world where they are constantly portrayed as second class citizens at best, but often not even citizens at all, it is not surprising that colonised groups have struggled to maintain their own identities and confidence in their abilities. Their anger and frustration about the injustices has manifested itself in violence, not ‘vertically’ towards the colonisers responsible for oppression, but ‘laterally’ towards their own community.

The overwhelming position of power held by the colonisers, combined with internalised negative beliefs, fosters the sense that directing anger and violence toward the colonisers is too risky or fruitless. In this situation we are safer and more able to attack those closest to us who do not represent the potent threat of the colonisers. Or as Richard Frankland explains:

[Lateral violence] comes from being colonised, invaded. It comes from being told you are worthless and treated as being worthless for a long period of time. Naturally you don't want to be at the bottom of the pecking order, so you turn on your own.[19]

Gregory Phillips describes lateral violence as trying to ‘feel powerful in a powerless situation’.[20] Acts of lateral violence establish new hierarchies of power within colonised groups that mimic those of the colonisers. That means, not only are we dealing with the harm that lateral violence causes individuals, we are also dealing with the destruction that it causes to the traditional structure and roles in our societies as we abandon our own ways and become the image of those who oppress us.

Looking back on our history, we see the same patterns here in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been living together on our lands and with the environment for over 70 000 years. We have strong social structures, rich culture and complex ways of managing a harsh landscape. This included strong sophisticated systems of law. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had mechanisms to govern not only interpersonal relationships, but trade and territorial agreements between different nations, clans and groups. Men’s and women’s business, elders councils and ceremonies regulated all aspects of life and were used to remedy conflict.

Strict protocols for dispute and conflict resolution were developed and payback was limited to only the most severe offences like murder. Punishments were proportionate to the crime and physical violence was very rarely used:

[I]nstances of customary sanctioned violence were isolated instances of punishment governed by strict rules and regulations. Society was regulated through principles and values that determined everyone’s cultural and social responsibilities and breaching those responsibilities attracted punishment.

The role of sanctioned violence was to ensure social cohesion and relative harmony, but...the threat of violence or abuse was often enough to act as a deterrent to antisocial behaviour. ‘Fighting behaviour was controlled by elders and senior adults, and was carried out according to social rules in response to specified offences’.[21]

However, when the British arrived on our shores, rather than respect our rights, the great lie of terra nullius was created: we simply didn’t exist as fellow humans in the eyes of our colonisers, leading to the cycle of violence, oppression and dispossession.

We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples did not give up their land without a fight. There are many courageous freedom fighters who mounted brave but ultimately doomed battles. Like the failed attempts at resistance in other colonised countries, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples found there was effectively no way for them to challenge the colonisers as their power and resources were too great. This frustration planted the first seeds of lateral violence.

As large scale resistance became untenable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were forced onto missions and reserves. The missions and reserves set up the perfect conditions for lateral violence. The missions and reserves were based on the notion that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were a ‘dying race’ who could not be saved because of their supposed inferiority and inability to live in the ‘modern world’.

The central premise of the mission and reserve system was that European culture was superior to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were not allowed to practice their cultures or speak their languages. They lived in a system where every aspect of their lives was controlled by the authorities. The missions actively attacked our traditional roles, culture and social structures.[22]

Again, the missions and reserves reinforced the powerlessness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the futility of resistance. Based on the necessity to survive, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders also began to adopt some of the behaviours and values of their oppressors and internalise the negative messages about their own culture and value.

The missions and reserves were the first real attempt to ‘divide and conquer’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Bringing Them Home report graphically tells the story of how fair skinned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families.[23] Fair skinned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, or those deemed to have been ‘assimilated’, were able to apply for exemptions from the Protection Act, setting up a situation that created social fractures and jealousy. These government attempts to control and define Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, in other words, determine who was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and who was not, historically sets up one of the fundamental drivers of lateral violence. Text Box 2.3 examines the Protection Acts illustrating how Australian governments viewed issues of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity during this period of history.

Text Box 2.3: The Protection Acts
Each Australian State and Territory enacted legislation that legalised the government’s control and management of the lives and destinies of Aboriginal peoples, and later Torres Strait Islanders. The legislation that defined Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity was based on abhorrent notions of blood quantum and based solely on the perspectives of the colonisers, rather than our own feelings on belonging and connection. For example the Native Title Administration Act 1936 (WA) defined a ‘native’ as:

(a) any person of the full blood descended from the original inhabitants of Australia;

(b) subject to the exceptions stated in this definition any person of less than full blood who is descended from the original inhabitants of Australia or from their full blood descendants, excepting however any person who is-

(i) a quadroon[24] under twenty-one years of age who neither associates with or lives substantially after the manner of the class of persons mentioned in paragraph (a) in this definition unless such quadroon is ordered by a magistrate to be classed as a native under this Act;

(ii) a quadroon over twenty-one years of age, unless that person is by order of a magistrate ordered to be classed as a native under this Act, or requests that he be classed as a native under this Act; and

(iii) a person of less than quadroon blood who was born prior to the 31st day of December, 1936, unless such person expressly applies to be brought under this Act and the Minister consents.[25]

The use of blood quantum was taken to extraordinary levels. In Western Australia in 1952 public servants used fractions as minute as 1/128th Aboriginal descent to determine welfare benefits.[26]

The Protection Acts were intended to have a long-term effect, aimed at integrating the Aboriginal population into the broader population where possible, and isolating those that could not be integrated in accordance with the Acts.

In effect, the Acts reduced those under the Act to ‘State wards’, and ‘limited the reproduction of part-Aboriginal offspring – the so-called 'half-caste menace' – seen at the time as a threat to an ideal 'White Australia'’.[27]

Although presented at the time as a charitable, humane and philanthropic measure, the 1897 Act in its practical outcome was oppressive and restricted the freedom of Aboriginal people more effectively than the sale of opium.[28]

In the name of their ‘protection’ Aboriginal people who had survived the early ‘disorder’, the outright violence and particularly ‘governmental form of warfare’, were herded into missions and reserves by the ‘ordering’ state.[29]

Below are excerpts from one example of the Protection Acts, the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld) that is referred to in the quote above. The Protection Act in Queensland survived until the 1970s.[30]

Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld)

Section 3

The following terms shall, in this Act (unless the context otherwise indicates), bear the several meanings set against them respectively:

“Half-caste" – Any person being the offspring of an aboriginal mother and other than an aboriginal father: Provided that the term "half-caste," wherever it occurs in this Act elsewhere than in the next following section, shall, unless the context otherwise requires, be construed to exclude every half-caste who, under the provisions of the said section, is deemed to be an aboriginal.

Section 4

Every person who is-
  1. An aboriginal inhabitant of Queensland; or
  2. A half-caste who, at the commencement of this Act, is living with an aboriginal as wife, husband, or child; or
  3. A half-caste who, otherwise than as wife, husband, or child, habitually lives or associates with aboriginals;
shall be deemed to be an aboriginal within the meaning of this Act.

Section 6

The Governor in Council may from time to time appoint, for the purpose of carrying the provisions of this Act into effect, fit and proper persons, to be severally called ''Protector of Aboriginals," who shall, within the Districts respectively assigned to them, have and exercise the powers and duties prescribed.

Section 7

The Governor in Council may appoint such and so many Superintendents for the reserves, situated within such Districts as aforesaid, as may be necessary for carrying the provisions of this Act into effect.

Section 8

Every reserve shall be subject to the provisions of this Act and the Regulations.

Section 9

It shall be lawful for the Minister to cause every aboriginal within any District, not being an aboriginal excepted from the provisions of this section, to be removed to, and kept within the limits of, any reserve situated within such District, in such manner, and subject to such conditions, as may be prescribed. The Minister may, subject to the said conditions, cause any aboriginal to be removed from one reserve to another.

Section 10

Every aboriginal who is –
  1. Lawfully employed by any person under the provision of this Act or the Regulations, or under any other law in force in Queensland;
  2. The holder of a permit to be absent from the reserve; or
  3. A female lawfully married to, and residing with, a husband who is not himself an aboriginal;
  4. Or for whom in the opinion of the Minister satisfactory provision is otherwise made;
shall be excepted from the provisions of the last preceding section.

Section 11

It shall not be lawful for any person other than an aboriginal, not being a Superintendent or a person acting under his direction and not being a person authorised under the Regulations, to enter or remain or be within the limits of a reserve upon with aboriginals are residing, for any purpose whatsoever.

Section 31

The Governor in Council may from time to time, by Proclamation, make Regulations for all or any of the matters following, that is to say, –

(1) Prescribing the mode of removing aboriginals to a reserve, and from one reserve to another;

(3) Authorising entry upon a reserve by specified persons or classes of persons for specified objects, and defining those objects, and the conditions under which such persons may visit or remain upon a reserve, and fixing the duration of their stay thereupon, and providing for the revocation of such authority in any case;

(6) Apportioning amongst, or for the benefit of, aboriginals or half-castes, living on a reserve, the net produce of the labour of such aboriginals or half-castes;

(7) Providing for the transfer of any half-caste child, being an orphan, or deserted by its parents, to an orphanage;

(8) Prescribing the conditions on which any aboriginal or half-caste children may be apprenticed to, or placed in service with, suitable persons;

(10) Prescribing the conditions on which the Minister may authorise any half-caste to reside upon any reserve, and limiting the period of such residence, arid the mode of dismissing or removing any such half-caste from such reserve;

(11) Providing for the control of all aboriginals and half-castes residing upon a reserve, and for the inspection of all aboriginals and half-castes, employed under the provisions of this Act or the Regulations;

(13) Imposing the punishment of imprisonment, for any term not exceeding three months, upon any aboriginal or half-caste who is guilty of a breach of the Regulations relating to the maintenance of discipline and good order upon a reserve;

(14) Imposing, and authorising a Protector to inflict summary punishment by way of imprisonment, not exceeding fourteen days, upon aboriginals or half-castes, living upon a reserve or within the District under his charge, who, in the judgment of the Protector, are guilty of any crime, serious misconduct, neglect of duty, gross insubordination, or wilful breach of the Regulations;

(16) Prohibiting any aboriginal rites or customs that, in the opinion of the Minister, are injurious to the welfare of aboriginals living upon a reserve ;

Section 33

It shall be lawful for the Minister to issue to any half-caste, who, in his opinion, ought not to be subject to the provisions of this Act, a certificate, in writing under his hand, that such half-caste is exempt from the provisions of this Act and the Regulations, and from and after the issue of such certificate, such half-caste shall be so exempt accordingly.

Although the detail of the Protection Acts varied across Australian jurisdictions, all of these legislative measures imposed the classificatory system of who was or was not living under the Act.[31]

This system of classification set up tensions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as well as often irreconcilable conflicts for many individuals. Text Box 2.4 gives one example of paradoxes of living between two worlds.

Text Box 2.4: Living between two worlds
An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission report, As a Matter of Fact, describes one example of the way the Protection Act defined the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, even when individuals were granted exemption. The complexity of the situation can be seen below:

In 1935 a fair skinned Aboriginal man of part Indigenous descent was ejected from a Hotel for being Aboriginal. He returned to his home on the mission station to find himself refused entry because he was not an Aborigine. He tried to remove his children but was told he could not because they were Aboriginal. He walked to the next town where he was arrested for being an Aboriginal vagrant and placed on the local reserve. During World War II he tried to enlist but was told he could not because he was Aboriginal. He went interstate and joined up as a non-Aboriginal. After the war he could not acquire a passport without permission because he was Aboriginal. He received exemption from the Aborigines Protection Act, and was told he could no longer visit relatives on the reserve because he was not Aboriginal. He was denied entry to the Returned Services Club because he was Aboriginal.[32]

Ironically, while the protection system developed complex blood quantum calculations to decide ‘how Aboriginal’ individuals were, they had no regard for the existing tribal, clan and family group divisions that are important markers of culture and identity. This resulted in groups who were forced off their own land being made to live in close quarters with those they should not associate with on missions and reserves. In the past, these tensions were managed through avoidance and other social controls but when different groups were forced onto missions and reserves, serious conflicts arose.

In summary, this very brief look at the process of colonisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia explains how colonisation creates the conditions for lateral violence through:

  • Powerlessness – colonisation sets up a power dynamic where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples felt powerless in the face of colonisers, breeding anger and frustration with no appropriate way for them to be vented. Colonisation created a system where every aspect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ lives were controlled. This robbed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of their right to self-determination.
  • The dismemberment of traditional roles, structures and knowledge – colonisation diminished traditional culture and roles as well as eroding the traditional structures for dealing with conflict.
  • Attacking and undermining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and humanity – colonisation denied the value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. It was a fundamental attack on the humanity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and our capacity to function as a society, community and family. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were seen as ‘lesser people’ with an ‘uncivilised culture’. Serious negative consequences were put in place for continuing to practice culture and language. The violence of the colonisation process served to reinforce the apparent worthlessness of our peoples. In this environment, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders began to adopt some of the behaviours and values of the colonisers and internalise some of the negative attitudes about their own culture in order to survive. This undermined pride and added to feelings of powerlessness.
  • Creating conflict about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity – government authorities began to decide who was Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, setting up divisions and jealousies in communities.

Diagram 2.2: The origins of lateral violence

Lateral violence

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The next section of this Chapter will bring us into the present and look at the contemporary drivers of lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

(c) Contemporary concepts of lateral violence

Our history of colonisation casts a dark shadow across our present. While lateral violence has its roots in our history, it thrives today because power imbalances, control by others, identity conflict, negative stereotypes and trauma continue to feed it.w

(i) Power, needs and disadvantage

Let me say firstly, I do not think that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are powerless. Our history is full of many brave communities and individuals who have done their best to look after their families, communities and culture. We all have choices and we all have responsibility for the lives we lead.

However, power is a web and we are held down because of it and it is indisputable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still deal with an unequal power dynamic. From the fact that we are yet to be recognised in the Australian Constitution; that governments seldom work in true partnership with us; and that we are the most disadvantaged group on a range of social indicators; it is clear that the power balance remains unequal.

Noel Pearson describes the power dynamics at play, arguing the ‘lower down the social pyramid you go, the more intense the dynamic is’.[33] Based on his work, Pearson suggests:

For those at the bottom, the gravitational forces are so strong as to almost prevent progress.

Some would say this is the nature of oppression. Whenever the forces of social class come to bear at the lower end of society, then lateral violence and fellow envy is all-consuming. There’s no one lower down to direct any downward envy, so one can only look to these laterally to ensure they don’t improve their lot.

I see this every day among the people with whom I work, whom I Iove and whose futures I work to try and improve. People striving to climb to a better life who are thwarted. People who do not think it is right that anyone should climb to a better life. People who have hope but not the courage; the desire but not the will. And I don’t blame them for their sense of debilitation.[34]

Marcia Langton has also discussed the underlying power issues involved in lateral violence, arguing that lateral violence is:

[T]he expression of anomie and rage against those who are also victims of vertical violence and entrenched and unequal power relations.[35]

This ‘anomie and rage’ is also a product of the sense of powerlessness that many feel at not being able to have their basic needs met. Basic needs are not just food, water and shelter but also include the needs that all human beings have to feel heard, valued and autonomous. People need to meaningfully participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

Human needs theory helps explain this further, giving us another way to look at what is happening below the surface of conflicts like lateral violence. According to human needs theorists, one of the primary causes of conflicts like lateral violence is ‘people’s unyielding drive to meet their unmet needs on the individual, group and societal level’.[36] Expanding on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as explained in Text Box 2.5 below, theorists such as John Burton have argued that many conflicts could be resolved if human needs were met.[37]

Text Box 2.5: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
The hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation.[38] As the diagram below illustrates, the different categories of needs must be met from the ground up, meaning that physiological needs, followed by safety, love/belonging and esteem needs must be met before the highest order needs, self-actualisation, can be met.
//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/60/Maslow%27s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg/300px-Maslow%27s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg.png

There are three main categories of human needs according to conflict resolution practitioner, Andries Odendaal: acceptance needs, access needs and security needs. Text Box 2.6 outlines these different types of needs.

Text Box 2.6: Human needs
Acceptance needs: We all have a strong need for dignity. We need to be accepted for who we are and to be treated with respect. When we experience discrimination, oppression, humiliation or marginalisation, we shall most probably resent it so deeply that we shall be willing to spend an extraordinary amount of effort – and even resort to violence – in order to address our frustration.

Access needs: This refers to the need of all people to have access to life sustaining resources (land, housing, water, employment, economic opportunities). It also refers to the need to participate in political and economic processes that control and regulate access to those resources. Access needs are frustrated when perceptions or practices of exclusion exist.

Security Needs: ‘Security’ is used here in the more holistic meaning of the word. It does not only refer to safety from physical harm and danger, but also safety from hunger and want. People need to feel safe; to have the sense of security that they may sleep in peace and have sufficient to eat. It is not only the actual experience of insecurity, but also the fear of future insecurity that drive conflict behaviour.[39]

Burton’s categorisation of human needs also moves beyond the material to encompass:

  • distributive justice
  • safety and security
  • belongingness
  • self esteem
  • personal fulfilment
  • identity
  • cultural security
  • freedom
  • participation.[40]

I think it is important to make clear at this point that lateral violence is intrinsically linked to the disadvantage that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face relative to the broader Australian population, as well as the lack of participation that is afforded to them in decision-making. I will discuss the role of government in the creation of conditions leading to lateral violence below and will devote significant discussion to cultural safety and security in Chapter 4. However, in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, this means that while these needs are unmet there will continue to be conflict and lateral violence in our communities.

For instance, while we continue to trail behind non-Indigenous rates of school achievement, employment and health outcomes, there will remain an undercurrent of anger and frustration that our human needs, and ultimately our human rights, are not being met. Unfortunately, this anger and frustration will most likely turn in on itself and attack our community through expressions of lateral violence.

The problem is that this interaction between powerlessness, unmet needs and disadvantage is cyclical. The more harm we do to ourselves through lateral violence, the more risk factors increase for disadvantage. The circuit breaker needs to be addressing lateral violence in our communities.

(ii) Identity conflict

As previously discussed, the assault on identity first emerged during the colonial process as part of assimilation policies to determine who would become part of mainstream society where:

[C]omplex systems of classification and control were an intrinsic part of the colonial administration aimed at ‘exterminating’ one type of Aboriginality and replacing it with a more acceptable ‘sanitised’ version.[41]

Identity and in particular, notions of ‘authenticity’ have become powerful weapons in lateral violence. An Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Research Discussion paper by Scott Gorringe, Joe Ross and Cressida Fforde based on a workshop with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants, elaborates on the link between lateral violence and identity, with one participant stating:

Lateral violence comes from identity problems. Identity is the sleeper. If you have a strong spirit all the rest of you is supported. When we don’t know who we are, something else jumps in to take that place.[42]

While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still have to deal with media and broader community ignorance and insensitivity about who is a ‘real Aboriginal person’ it is distressing that so much of the venom about identity conflict comes from within our communities. Gorringe, Ross and Fforde argue:

Words that undermine Aboriginal identity are commonly used as insults and tools of social exclusion (such as ‘coconut’, ‘textbook black’ or ‘air conditioned black’), as are accusations of supposed privilege and favouritism applied to those perceived as (or even accused of being) ‘real blackfellas’. In doing so, a sense of division is created between individuals, groups, communities and even geography – thus the language/no language, remote/urban or north/south ‘divide’.[43]

These false divisions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, or ‘hierarchies of blackness’,[44] fuel conflict and lateral violence when people step outside of these narrow, prescribed roles. For instance, Noel Pearson has spoken about the supposed clash between ‘modern’ identities as individuals in a ‘market capitalist system’[45] and ‘communalist traditions and dynamics’.[46] Pearson reflects on the role of pioneering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights advocate, Charlie Perkins, in challenging this false dichotomy:

Charlie Perkins was clear about the importance of individual endeavour and the pursuit of wealth, and that this was not inconsistent with his Aboriginal identity. He came under criticism publicly and from within indigenous circles for this. I look back on my own youthful views – when I did not understand the double standard that made it ok for any white fella to do something that Perkins was not supposed to do- and I feel ashamed to have held those views. I woke up to the defeating view and came to appreciate a great friendship with a man who was trying to negotiate peace in the conflict between Aboriginal individualism and Aboriginal community.[47]

This sort of criticism of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who find success in the non-Indigenous world is more than just the characteristically Australian ‘tall poppy syndrome’. There may be elements of jealousy at work for those who manage to succeed where others do not, or as Noel Pearson explains again:

Paul Keating once told me, the problem with your mob is you're like crabs in a bucket. If one of you starts climbing out and gets his claws on the rim, about to pull himself over the top to freedom, the other mob will be pulling him back down into the bucket. You all end up cooked.[48]

However, if we look beneath this instinct, again we will see that notions of identity are at stake. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who work in the government or industry, do not leave their Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander identity and culture at the door when they go to work. False distinctions about who is ‘community’ and who is not undermines the strong connections that exist for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who live a less ‘traditional’ lifestyle. This is a source of great hurt for many people who I speak with that juggle the challenges of their community, family and professional obligations, often with little recognition for the hard work and complex ground they tread.

Conflict generated by identity is also in sharp relief in the way the native title system operates. The Native Title Report 2011 will provide an in depth analysis of how the native title system contributes to lateral violence and identity conflicts.

(iii) Negative stereotypes

Negative stereotypes are not new to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As I have explained above, the process of colonisation is intimately linked with the creation of negative ideas about the colonised group to justify the position of the colonisers. Sadly we still live in a world where there are many negative stereotypes about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We are perceived by some sections of the broader society as drunks, criminals, welfare dependant, lazy, violent and victims just to name a few.

What is even sadder, is that we have internalised some of these negative stereotypes and they colour our expectations and self-perception. This sort of internalised racism is a well-researched area overseas and is described as:

[A]cceptance of attitudes, beliefs or ideologies by members of stigmatised ethnic/racial groups about the inferiority of one’s own ethnic/racial group (e.g. an Indigenous person believing that Indigenous people are naturally less intelligent than non-Indigenous people).[49]

For instance, Chris Sarra, a leading Indigenous educator, has conducted extensive research on the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children perceive themselves, based on the dominant negative stereotypes that abound. Sarra argues:

The greatest tragedy is that young black kids make choices about these perceptions as well. Too many aspire to be these negative things thinking that they are supporting their Aboriginal identity. So those who do well get picked on by other kids who say ‘you’re a coconut’ etc. These kids think that the negative stereotype is a cultural identity but of course it is not.[50]

Another way to think about this according to former Western Australian Premier Carmen Lawrence is as a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’:

A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when expectations about an individual's behaviour cause that person to act in ways which confirm the expectations. The phenomenon has been measured in many situations and it is clear that minority groups in any society are the most vulnerable to such effects, especially if the expectations are negative and constantly repeated. So often do Indigenous Australians hear that they are sick, lazy and unproductive that they internalise these opinions and become convinced of their own unfitness.[51]

These sorts of negative stereotypes create a victim identity, positioning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as ‘problem people’.[52] Negative stereotypes create low self-esteem, in turn reinforcing the feelings of powerlessness which engender lateral violence. If we feel badly about ourselves, if we believe the negative stereotypes and accept a victim mentality which undermines our individual agency, then we are more likely to lash out in lateral violence.

These negative stereotypes are not just internalised on an individual basis, they can be applied to others in our families and communities as well. This means that if we view those closest to us negatively as well, they become more ‘deserving’ victims of lateral violence. Internalising these negative stereotypes not only affects our self-respect but also our respect for others.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are well aware of the negative stereotypes that exist and how they play out across the broader society. Because of the constant barrage of negative images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the mainstream media, according to Sarah Maddison:

[T]here is a strong tendency for Aboriginal people to smother tensions and disagreements. Given the intense media interest in any sign of trouble in Aboriginal communities, there is a prevailing pressure on communities to appear trouble free, meaning that many less prominent community issues are sidelined from general discussion and often remain unresolved.[53]

Jackie Huggins has argued against this ‘distinct double standard’:[54]

When Blacks publicly analyse and criticise each other it is perceived as in fighting. However, when non-Aboriginals do the same it is considered a healthy exercise in intellectual stimulation. Why is the area of intra-racial Aboriginal debate such a sacred site?[55]

This situation creates tension in our debates. On one hand, it is very easy for disagreements to get out of hand in the public realm, quickly degenerating into the ugliest forms of lateral violence, where we attack the person, not the policy. However, one the other hand, it is crucial that the diversity of views and experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is expressed and recognised in order to solve the problems in our communities.

In other words, these negative stereotypes stifle our diversity and compromise our ability to discuss and take charge of the important issues that face our communities. While we give currency to negative stereotypes we provide the weapons for lateral violence to attack our communities.

(iv) Trauma

Lateral violence clearly causes trauma for individuals, families and communities. The next part of this Chapter will provide some examples of the impact of lateral violence on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. However, it is important to recognise that given the cyclical nature of lateral violence unresolved trauma is one of its drivers.

Trauma and healing have been dealt with extensively in the Social Justice Report 2008.[56] Trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can be experienced in three inter-related ways according to Gregory Phillips:

  • Situational trauma – trauma that occurs as a result of a specific or discrete event, for example from a car accident, murder or being taken away.
  • Cumulative trauma – it is subtle and the feelings build up over time, for example racism.
  • Inter-generational trauma – if trauma is not dealt with adequately in one generation, it often gets passed down unwittingly in our behaviours and in our thought systems. For example, if you want to heal children and youth, you have to heal yourself as well to break the cycle.[57]

Lateral violence fits into all three of these categories. It manifests in individual acts of violence (situational violence), it is based on and breeds internalised racism (cumulative trauma) and has resulted from the historical processes of colonisation, dispossession and forcible removal of children (inter-generational trauma).

The cumulative nature of the trauma caused by lateral violence is significant for communities. Although an individual act of lateral violence, be it bullying, backstabbing or gossiping can target one person, the traumatic impact can reverberate across the community because of the close community and kinship ties in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. For instance, family members often get drawn into the conflict, especially if it reignites old feuds. This can escalate the situation rapidly, sometimes spilling into a full blown community crisis. When this crisis fans out to the entire community it reinforces the negative stereotypes that communities are dysfunctional, always in conflict and not safe places. This spreads feelings of trauma and insecurity.

The impact of trauma does not stop there. It is very difficult for a community in crisis to function effectively as many people are tied up in conflict or disempowered by the effects of trauma. Similarly, the cumulative effects of grief and sorry business are profound in our communities, where we are constantly confronted with funerals, illnesses, conflict and other sources of stress and loss. In this situation it is difficult for a community to muster its strengths and take an active role participating in decision-making.

Importantly, we need to recognise that if we don’t work to address the trauma created by lateral violence, it will spill over into the next generation. It is crucial that we are serious about the trauma and harm that it causes and take steps to break the cycle now.

(v) Historical and contemporary causes of lateral violence coming together: Palm Island case study

The previous discussion has looked at some of the concepts that explain how lateral violence comes about in our communities. To give an example of how the historical and contemporary issues are played out in our communities, Text Box 2.7 examines how lateral violence has evolved on Palm Island. Palm Island is not alone in experiencing lateral violence but I think it provides a particularly stark example of how the policies of colonisation, including the Protection Act, have set the scene for lateral violence. Palm Island is also a remote and isolated location so many of the past and present injustices take place off the main stage and only ever come into the spotlight when intense violence takes place, feeding the negative stereotypes about our communities. In the face of this, the people of Palm Island have acted courageously to keep their families together and maintain their cultures as much as possible.

Text Box 2.7: Palm Island – A continuum of conflict
Palm Island... breached almost every known principle of human rights and freedom. It was...a concentration camp for Aborigines the most notorious, authoritarian, racist institution in Australian history.[58]
Historical Background
Traditionally, the lands of the Manbarra people, Palm Island (also known as Challenger Bay) was first gazetted as an Aboriginal Reserve in 1914[59] by the Queensland Government under The Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Acts 1897 – 1934 (the Act).[60]
Following the removal of the traditional owners and the destruction of the Hull River Reserve (now known as Mission Beach) by a cyclone, Palm Island became fully operational as a reserve in 1918.
Removals
It is estimated that 7 198 Aboriginal people were removed across Queensland during the years 1911–40; and at least 13 076 Aboriginal children were separated from their country and their families between the years 1859–1972.[61] Palm Island was the first reserve to receive children under the State Children’s Act 1911(Qld).[62]
Records indicate that during 1918-71 almost 4 000 people were removed to Palm Island. This was more than half the total population removed to government reserves in Queensland.[63] Most were removed for trivial offences and this is reflected in a number of family histories of those removed to Palm Island for the ‘offence’ of simply being an ‘Aboriginal child’[64] or being deemed to be a ‘half-caste’.[65]
Other crimes that resulted in removal included drinking alcohol, being without employment, being found off an Aboriginal reserve without a permit, living too close to a white settlement, being an orphan, or cohabitating with a person other than an Aborigine.[66] It was in this light that Palm Island was labelled a penal settlement despite the fact that the Queensland Government argued that it was not.[67]
The process of removal was often ‘physically torturous’ and resulted in ‘long-term mental and emotional distress’, with people being arrested, often placed in neck chains, and marched by foot under the supervision and often abuse of police troopers long distances to the coast, where they were then transported across to Palm Island. A non-Indigenous health worker on Palm Island at the time recalled:
There was a whole group come down from Coen [Far North Queensland]. They’d walked the whole distance. Police would be on horseback...A policeman got one of the native girls pregnant on the way...The girl was only fourteen or fifteen.[68]
It has been reported that by the end of the 1930s Aboriginal people from some 40 different tribal, language, or clan groups[69] with incompatible territorial and kinship ties were forcibly relocated to Palm Island.[70]
In recognition of their different relationship to the Island and its surrounding territories, historical residents were called the Bwgcolman (pronounced Bwook-a-mun).
Fertile ground for lateral violence
The microcosm thus founded on the island was a distortion of Indigenous culture, in that alien and sometimes warring clans, together with Torres Strait Islanders, were forced to live and work in shared facilities.[71]
Despite the challenges and constant oppression faced by those removed to Palm Island under the Act, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples managed to form long-lasting and secure relationships that continue today. However, these challenges have created significant stress and resulted in bouts of conflict over the years. The history, both past and present, of Palm Island provides fertile ground for lateral violence to flourish.
The potential for lateral violence in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population on Palm Island is significantly increased due to a number of factors that have occurred during the history of colonisation on the Island. These include:
  • Deliberate attempts to destroy traditional social relations including kinship ties, and ignoring traditional law on inter-group marriage, prohibiting meetings between ‘inmates’ and the speaking of traditional languages.
  • Draconian punishments applied for non-criminal offences including ‘being sent to jail for two weeks for waving to a boy’, ‘or turning up two minutes late for morning work parade’.[72]
  • Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) police were used to enforce compliance.
  • Every aspect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ lives including the need to seek permission to access earnings, and to move around and visit or keep family together, were controlled by the State.
  • The process of obtaining exemption from the Act divided Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples into those who were regarded to be successfully assimilated versus those who were not.
In an effort to maintain culture, identity and self-determination, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on Palm Island resisted. While children were separated from their families and placed in dormitories, elders set up specified camps in an attempt to ‘live the lifestyles which they had in their own country’,[73] with groups from close localities forming joint camps.[74] Residents also successfully conducted a strike in 1957, in protest against cuts to wages and the treatment of women.[75]
Despite these efforts, western education and law was imposed and government control over all aspects of each and every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s life was enforced.[76]
From the earliest implementation of the Acts, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander identity has been used as a weapon, justifying removal, exclusion or control. ‘The very act of removing people from their homelands and relocating them in a place with which they had no affiliation played a critical role in undermining their traditional culture’.[77]
Identity among other things, continues to be a source of conflict used against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples both within and external to those who continue to live on Palm Island.
The complexity of the forced co-location of some 57 different Indigenous tribal, language, or clan groups on a small Island with such a violent and brutal history, chronic unemployment levels of over 95 percent, one of the highest suicide rates in the country and a mortality rate for adult males of around 50 years of age, creates many challenges for the Island’s representative Community Council.[78]
Issues including alcohol and drug abuse, assault and sexual abuse, gambling, theft, and violent conflict contribute to the ongoing struggle to overcome the disadvantage experienced by those living there.
It is often the tension between those charged with addressing the above issues on the Island, such as the Palm Island Shire Council, and those who are struggling with the ongoing effects of the trauma associated with colonisation that result in lateral violence in the community.
With the deliberate and articulated desire to allow conflict to foment between the various groups forced into exile there – ‘if there is to be any letting off of steam, they would go for each other’. ‘Horizontal violence’, exacerbated so much by the introduction of alcohol, was widely tolerated until recent times... Moreover, at each critical point of Palm Island’s history, when the violence threatens to become ‘vertical’ and is directed at the oppressor, the mask of benevolence falls.[79]
Grounds for a continuum of conflict
The Island’s problems are far from over, in fact, the trouble is symptomatic of the Island’s sad history.[80]
While the potential for conflict or lateral violence between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living on Palm Island was well secured in the establishment of the Reserve, the ongoing isolation and exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living on the Island from the broader Australian community, exacerbates the effects of similar policies redesigned to reflect a contemporary context.
The violent death in police custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee in 2004, and the subsequent events, is a tragic example of the continuing oppression of people living on Palm Island under the complete control of, and financial reliance on the state.
Images of the violent protests by the Palm Island community; the imposed ‘state of emergency’ resulting in a military style police operation; the removal and arrest of 26 community members and the incarceration of Lex Wotton who subsequently had his right to free speech removed, was extensively reported in national and international media. This served to reinforce the negative stereotypes portrayed for many years of the life experienced on Palm Island. However, the media profile has also exposed the extent of control, injustice and systemic racism experienced even today, by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Mulrunji’s death in custody, takes place against the history of dispossession, colonial state control, state ordered and enforced “dispersals” of people from their own territories into camps and the generations of deprivation and violence...The tragedy surrounding his death demonstrates that a continuity of colonial control persists in Australia. No treaty instrument recognises Indigenous prior sovereignty or protects their unique citizenship status as first peoples and consequently the state can at any time reinstate its rule by “exception” over an Indigenous domain, already disempowered by violent colonial invasion and dispossession... The dramatic events surrounding Mulrunji’s death... begs the question of whether the Island has ever been freed from the “state of exception” established through the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld).[81]
While the Palm Island community have stood together to fight the injustice associated with this ongoing situation, it is debilitating circumstances such as these, where people are denied hope, and a sense of access to justice or a level of control over their own lives, where lateral violence thrives.

(d) Government role in creating the conditions for lateral violence

The reality of lateral violence is that governments cannot and should not intervene to fix our internal relationships. This is simply not appropriate and takes further power away from our communities to be self-determining. However, it is undeniable that governments have had a role to play in the creation of the environments that breed lateral violence.

Earlier in this Chapter I discussed how historical government actions premised on discriminatory notions of racial superiority have broken down traditional forms of authority and created tensions within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. These included:

  • forced relocations through the establishment of mission and reserves
  • creating exemptions from the Protections Acts for fair skinned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals
  • the usage of complex blood quantum to calculate who was or was not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person
  • the devaluing and demonisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures
  • the denial of any decision-making authority or control over our own lives
  • continuing social exclusion and lack of participation in society.

Governments need to be aware of the legacy of these policies and make sure that their actions empower rather than disempower. Governments must work with our communities as enablers and facilitators. They can also work to remove existing structural and systemic impediments to healthy relationships within our communities.

Let me be clear, I do not think there is an agenda on the part of governments to create the conditions for lateral violence in our communities. In some cases, the conditions that lead to lateral violence are a product of unintended consequences. In other cases they are yet another symptom of a system of government that is not designed or equipped to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This is a further reflection of the need to strengthen the relationships between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Nonetheless, we are still seeing too many examples of government processes creating or perpetuating the conditions of conflict that result in lateral violence. I will now examine some examples that impact on many communities.

(i) Engagement that divides

One of the greatest sources of tension and conflict in our communities is the ongoing issue of who speaks for community and to whom governments choose to listen. The perception that government always consults with certain individuals, families or other groups fuels jealousy and division, especially when there are contested issues or funding at stake.

Engagement that is ineffective or that only listens to certain community factions fosters community division and can perpetuate lateral violence. The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) argues:

The process of colonisation has created confusion when it comes to voice and self-determination. Who speaks for country? Who speaks for current historically mixed Aboriginal communities? Who speaks for the various areas of policy and human services delivery? ... the lack of cultural knowledge on the part of governments and the non-indigenous community in general has led to polices which continually cuts across the often informal Aboriginal community authority structures.[82]

This lack of cultural knowledge means that the wrong people are often consulted by government:

In recent history lots of people were brought together. Although it may be appropriate for only one group to speak or make a decision, government wants to bring everyone together [to consult], and this actually erodes or marginalises someone’s powerbase.[83]

The problems created by poor engagement run deeper than jealousy and confusion. A real danger is that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups who do not feel they are being listened to by government become disillusioned with the whole process. Again VACCA argues:

The problem that is left with Aboriginal leaders and communities is that they are given the choice of either out right rejecting the imposed engagement structures or engaging with them, despite their problematic nature, to make some gains for their communities.[84]

If governments continue to leave groups out from the engagement process or consult with the wrong people, not only do they miss out on the depth and diversity of views necessary to form good policy, but they also alienate groups from the process, possibly limiting the success and reach of the project. Alienation breeds powerlessness and can manifest in lateral violence.

This problem of engagement has been noted by the Strategic Review on Indigenous Expenditure conducted by the Department of Finance. Text Box 2.8 shows that it is important that governments recognise and adapt to diversity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Text Box 2.8: Strategic Review on Indigenous Expenditure
The Strategic Review on Indigenous Expenditure emphasised the importance of effective engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It noted that governments must ensure their engagements account for diversity within Indigenous communities and that all voices within the community are heard:
Governments also need to recognise that Indigenous ‘communities’ are most often heterogeneous, rather than homogeneous, groups. The phrase ‘community’ tends to evoke an image of an homogenous group with inherent allegiances, natural solidarity and a collective voice. However, this does not necessarily reflect the reality of life in many communities. Many of these communities are often highly heterogeneous, comprising several Indigenous families, clans or language groups with few traditional ties, whose genesis stemmed from successive government policies over many decades which led to many Indigenous groups moving from their traditional lands. The breakdown of customary law and the lack of shared systems for dispute resolution for the different groups now living together seriously inhibit attempts by Indigenous leaders and governments to develop shared visions for the future, to foster cooperative relationships and implement effective strategies for change.
Another issue is the tendency for governments and their employees to view resident Indigenous community organisations as representing the ‘whole community’ and to focus their community engagement and consultations on these organisations alone. In some cases, these organisations may only represent key families in a region rather than the diversity of views, interests and needs. Whilst these organisations are often key providers in their region and their views are of particular importance, especially concerning policies and programs for service delivery, careful assessment of the whole of community views is needed for balance and equity.[85]

I am well aware that effective engagement can be difficult for governments to implement. On the one hand many of the communities that I speak to feel like they are consulted to death yet on the other hand, they feel disengaged and isolated from decision-making processes. I am constantly being told by communities that governments are not hearing their voices, ‘no matter what we say they do not listen and nothing changes’.

We need to strive for a culture of engagement where a true dialogue is created between policy makers and communities who are impacted by policy decisions. This culture of engagement should ensure that the right people speak for their community or country whilst also providing an opportunity for all community members to feel like they have participated in the process. It is fundamental that this process operates without coercion or pressure coming from either within our communities or externally from governments.

(ii) Deficit-based approach

Lateral violence feeds off conditions where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are characterised as passive, troubled and dysfunctional who are unable to help themselves without some form of intervening hand from the government. Marcia Langton argues:

The crisis in Aboriginal society is now a public spectacle, played out in a vast ‘reality show’ through the media, parliaments, public service and the Aboriginal world. This obscene and pornographic spectacle shifts attention away from everyday lived crisis that many Aboriginal people endure – or do not, dying as they do at excessive rates...

It seems almost axiomatic to most Australians that Aborigines should be marginalised: poor, sick, and forever on the verge of extinction. At the heart of this idea is a belief in the inevitability of our incapability – the acceptance of our ‘descent into hell’.[86]

It is an unfortunate reality that governments of all persuasions continue to have a tendency to address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage from a deficit-based approach – addressing the ‘Indigenous problem’.

A deficit-based approach means that our communities are perceived consistently as not having the capabilities to overcome the challenges confronting them. Governments see these challenges as problems that they are required to fix through active intervention. Of course, governments do have a role to play in delivering services so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can live in conditions equal to all other Australians, but the problem is that this approach is not necessarily undertaken in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, or built on the ethos that those in communities are best placed to develop and implement the solutions. The unintended consequence is that governments orient themselves as ‘the deliverer of all of the solutions’.[87] As Noel Pearson has argued this breeds passivity and powerlessness within our communities and denies us the opportunity to take responsibility.[88]

Marcia Langton describes how this portrayal of disadvantage reinforces powerlessness:

Paradoxically, even while Aboriginal misery dominates the national media frenzy – the perpetual Aboriginal reality show – the first peoples exist as virtual beings without power or efficacy in the national zeitgeist.[89]

As highlighted by Gorringe, Ross and Fforde powerlessness creates a cycle of transgenerational inferiority, with one of the workshop participants explaining:

If people are brainwashed to think they’re inferior then there is a collapse and people begin to act in negative ways and this is served up as proof of ‘inferiority’. This gets handed down to our kids who hear it all around. [We] need to remember how great we were and go forward from a position of strength.[90]

A sense of victimhood in our communities feeds into caustic environments where lateral violence is perpetuated. Rather than confronting unacceptable behaviour like lateral violence an identity of victimhood that is further fed by deficit approaches ultimately transforms our communities into the toxicity of passivity and powerlessness.

In its fullest expression a deficit-based mentality becomes explicitly stigmatising. This is most graphically illustrated by the blue signs – banning alcohol and pornography – that were erected at the entrance of the 73 prescribed communities under the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). In my address to the National Press Club, entitled Towards a reconciled Australia I touched on the damage caused by the blue signs:

Each of the Intervention communities had big blue signs erected outside them which, amongst other things, loudly proclaimed restrictions on alcohol and pornography - as if everyone living behind those signs are alcoholic, perverts and perpetrators!

I invite the residents of Yarralumla, Redhill, Woollara, Mosman and Toorak, to name just a few well-known, middle-class suburbs, to contemplate how they would feel with similar signs erected at the entrance to their communities.

These signs continue to diminish the people living behind them and they diminish us as a nation.[91]

These blue signs characterised all people within the prescribed communities as perpetrators. This is despite the clear evidence emanating from the Little Children are Sacred, the report that served as the catalyst for the NTER. This report did indicate that child sexual abuse was serious, widespread and often unreported. Yet it also dispelled as myth that Aboriginal men are the only offenders of sexual abuse. In fact, not surprisingly, it found that most Aboriginal men who the inquiry spoke with regarded sexual abuse as abhorrent.[92]

Again let me be clear I am not saying that child sexual abuse should not have been addressed. Or that it was not a problem that warranted action. Our women and children have a right to be safe and secure. But I am saying that it should not have been addressed from such a broad brushed deficit approach. Indeed Little Children called for the total opposite:

What is required is a determined, coordinated effort to break the cycle and provide the necessary strength, power and appropriate support and services to local communities, so they can lead themselves out of the malaise: in a word, empowerment![93]

The approach typified by the blue signs damages our communities and reinforces negative stereotypes; stereotypes which we sometimes use as weapons to turn on our own through lateral violence.

(iii) Fragmented funding arrangements

Scarcity of resources and competition for funding is unfortunately part and parcel of operating in the modern service delivery environment. However, the bureaucratic maze that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations must negotiate seems endless. The current bureaucratic and administrative burdens facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that accompany their day-to-day operation can act as impediments to running effectively which in turn can result in powerlessness. Lateral violence thrives in disempowered organisations.

The Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure found that Australian Government Indigenous-specific programs are unduly complex and confusing with excessive red tape.[94] These findings are consistent with a range of previous studies that examine government funding arrangements.[95] A body of evidence suggests that the funding arrangements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are more complex than mainstream organisations.[96] Text Box 2.9 cites the factors that create this bureaucratic burden as identified by the Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure.

Text Box 2.9 Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure
The Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure examined repeated calls for the Australian Government to reduce the administrative burden and complexity of funding arrangements associated with Indigenous programs. The report noted the following ‘well known and extensively documented’ justifications for these petitions:
  • existence of multiple ‘like’ programs which overlap and duplicate each other in places, while also leaving gaps in others, together leading to complexity and confusion
  • programs with poorly articulated objectives often underpinned by flawed assumptions and weak program logic which then raise unrealistic expectations of what can actually be achieved through the program
  • short term, staccato and ‘pilot’ funding arrangements with no commitment to ongoing funding and disconnected from the reality of the scale and timing of investment needed to drive lasting change
  • annual funding rounds for ongoing service needs which draw heavily on the limited administrative and management capacity of community organisations
  • multiple and complex funding arrangements - both within and across government agencies - with a need for greater commonality in their alignment and contract management approaches even though the contracting party throughout is the ‘Commonwealth of Australia’
  • the barriers created by these funding arrangements for long term planning and recruiting and retaining skilled and motivated staff who are essential for achieving the gains sought in challenging contexts
  • an approach by many program managers on contractual rather than relational governance, leading to management styles that micro-manage Indigenous and other organisations, and stifle innovation and agility by local providers
  • the unintended consequence of these funding arrangements in diverting precious resources from service delivery towards administrative compliance
  • the compounding negative effects for the sustainability and organisational capacity of Indigenous organisations.[97]

These factors can all contribute to reducing the effectiveness of our organisations and can contribute to cultures of powerlessness. I am not saying that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are powerless or dysfunctional. However, what I am saying is that the hurdles that governments set up for our organisations can be higher than those for other organisations and are unrealistic. Rather than support and build the capacity of our organisations, complex government funding requirements can become the business of our organisations, taking them away from their fundamental service delivery role.

There seems to be a curious circularity to this situation where organisations’ core business becomes satisfying these complex reporting and accountability regimes rather than the delivery of the programs for which they are funded. Confronted with this stark choice many organisations, not surprisingly, opt to secure their funding at the expense of service delivery. This leads to compromised outcomes in which the lack of results are used as a blunt instrument to indicate the incompetence of organisations, which in turn puts their funding at risk.

When I think of these cycles, the words of Carmen Lawrence above in relation to self-fulfilling prophecy seem hauntingly familiar.

This does not empower our organisations to do their work, it makes them feel like they are constantly chasing the dollars to survive rather than thrive into the future.

Complicated funding arrangements operate not only to fragment our organisations but fragment our communities. I have heard countless stories where different organisations from the one community are fighting each other for small grants. The problems around scarcity of resources have also been noted by a participant in the research conducted by VACCA:

If the outlook for all of that is limited I think it sets up competitiveness. There’s this idea that there’s not much there and you’ve got to grab it. And it sets up...conflict.[98]

This creates territorialism and becomes a battleground for latent disputes to be played out.

(iv) Native title, land rights and cultural heritage regimes

It is no secret that the native title system provides a platform through which lateral violence can be perpetuated. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples often identify the native title system as it currently operates as a source of conflict in their lives. Another participant in the VACCA research stated:

I think partly it’s the way institutions, governments and others structure things, I mean look at the way Native Title for example it, has contributed to that conflict. It has encouraged people to go within themselves more and look for difference, as opposed to connection.[99]

The current system brings issues of identity and the authority to speak for country into sharp focus.

In addition to this, across Australia, there are various land rights and cultural heritage regimes that sit uncomfortably alongside the native title system. While these systems should be working together for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the various regimes can operate to exacerbate conflict. For example the interaction between native title and land rights regimes can foster divisions between traditional owners (native title system) and historical people (land rights).

I discuss these issues in greater detail in the Native Title Report 2011.

2.3 What does lateral violence look like?

The previous section of this Chapter looked at the principles that underpin our understanding of lateral violence. This section will move from the theoretical to the real world lived experience of lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

As I have stated previously, the research into lateral violence in Australia is still in its infancy. The most authoritative source at this stage comes from the work of VACCA. Text Box 2.10 provides a graphic illustration of some of the ways lateral violence has affected communities in Victoria.

Text Box 2.10: Communities under pressure in Victoria
VACCA describes some of the ways lateral violence is expressed in Koori communities in Victoria:
We observed in our research and amongst our interviewees a weight amongst the communities.... The communities we attended are all under pressure. All are living with an axe over them. From funding agencies, from communities and from broader society. The social pressures are overwhelming. People spoke of going to twenty funerals a year, rather than this being an occasional statement, it was all too common a statement. Young and old people spoke of extreme physical, emotional and spiritual violence amongst the communities and how it horrified and exhausted them and at the same time occasionally dragged them in. A former prisoner spoke of being used as a thug in some family or community war and how he cried when he told of how he had beat his cousin at the orders of an Elder. A young grandmother told how she would not take her grandchildren shopping as she did not want them see her beaten or abused in the street. Other people told us of Elders being beaten fortnightly for their pensions, Elders ordering bashings of relatives and ‘enemies’ like pseudo Mafioso gangs. These are some of the countless incidents we were told of in just a few communities throughout Victoria. Daily there are incidents happening or being played out as you read this document.[100]

The examples I use here are based partly on research and partly on anecdotal evidence. This is not a comprehensive examination of all the different sorts of lateral violence that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities either. However, it does reflect many of the concerns shared with me as I have spoken with people both from urban, rural and remote communities about lateral violence.

Talking about lateral violence and related issues is very sensitive and I am grateful to all community members, workers and researchers who have shared their stories for this report. It requires courage to name a problem as entrenched and insidious as lateral violence. Together, we are taking the first step in tackling lateral violence.

(a) Bullying

Bullying is one of the most common and destructive forms of lateral violence. Bullying is when someone (or a group of people) with more power, repeatedly and intentionally use negative words and/or actions against someone causing distress and damaging wellbeing.[101] It can be both direct (such as hitting or teasing) and indirect (such as spreading rumours or gossip or deliberately excluding someone). ‘Carrying yarns’ or malicious gossiping and rumour mongering is another way that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders describe indirect bullying.

Bullying is something that can happen to anyone and takes place in a range of different contexts, including in families, communities, workplaces, schools and cyberspace. This section will look at some examples of bullying related to these contexts.

(i) Cyber bullying

As technology has developed so too have the tools of bullying. Cyber bullying is a term that is used to describe the bullying and harassment that takes place through the use of technology. It includes using Facebook and other social networking sites and forums, email, Twitter, instant messaging programs and mobile phones to spread rumours or gossip, and post and send hurtful photos, videos, messages and comments.[102]

Cyber bullying is particularly harmful because of the potential for internet postings to go ‘viral’[103] meaning that they are rapidly disseminated to an extremely large audience in the click of a button. Some forms of cyber bullying can also be conducted anonymously. When individuals are not accountable for their actions, it can lead to more extreme forms of cyber bullying.

While we don’t know much about the incidence of cyber bullying in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we do know that it affects at least one in ten students.[104]

Social media sites can provide empowering spaces where young people can explore and affirm their Indigenous identity but members can also use these sites to develop their own hierarchies of who is and isn’t Indigenous. Although this sort of lateral violence is not new, the use of technology means that a lot more people can receive this hurtful information, compared to verbally ‘carrying yarns’ or spreading malicious gossip and ‘running people down’ by making personal attacks on their character and credibility.

Text Box 2.11 examines the damaging impacts of social networking sites on mobile phones in the Northern Territory. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. I have heard about similar forms of cyber bullying in many different communities.

Text Box 2.11: Mobile phones as weapons of lateral violence
In the Northern Territory, many communities are finding mobile phones are often the medium through which gossip, bullying and other forms of lateral violence are spread. Eileen Deemal-Hall has worked with communities through the Northern Territory Department of Justice and says ‘we’ve got health warnings on cigarette packets, but we have nothing on the mobile phones – some applications are hazardous’.[105]
One of these applications is Telstra Bigpond’s Diva Chat, a chat service available on mobile phones. Diva Chat allows phone users to choose a username and send messages to each other. This is a popular way for its users, primarily younger women, to communicate with each other because no phone credit is needed.
But Diva Chat has also been causing problems in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia, with the application being used to send abusive messages.
Eileen Deemal-Hall believes that the appeal of Diva Chat lies in its anonymity. She says ‘you can give yourself a username and send whatever message you like’.[106] Sergeant Tanya Mace from Yuendumu police station believes that this anonymity is appealing to the women who use Diva Chat in her community:
Women, they sit there and ... they talk stories... and think about how they can have a go at their enemies. I’m not speaking about everyone but generally the women will hide behind their phone, without fear of confrontation.[107]
Eileen Deemal-Hall believes Diva Chat’s popularity with young women is a typical example of the oppressed becoming the oppressors, ‘women have been oppressed for thousands of years, now they’ve discovered a way they can be in control’.[108]
The individual messages that are sent using Diva Chat, Bluetooth, Push and other technologies are causing widespread troubles that are involving many members of families, extended families and entire communities. According to Eileen Deemal-Hall:
Although it can be gossiping and family fighting, it can also extend to discussions over land issues, for example in Queensland land issues were being discussed over Diva Chat. The end result is families and whole communities fighting.[109]
Nicki Davies, co-ordinator of mediation services in Yuendumu echoes these sentiments and believes that it is the youngest who are most vulnerable to this form of cyber-bullying.
It doesn’t just affect individuals, it affects the whole community. My greatest concern is for the children. The kids take on the thoughts and emotions of adults, they’re carrying on adult’s fights.[110]
Recent evidence shows that Aboriginal children appear more likely to be involved in bullying than non-Aboriginal children.[111] It also shows that children who become involved in bullying are likely to experience reduced social and emotional wellbeing and face problems at school. As Nicki describes:
[S]o many kids have a genuine fear of going to school, you see people walking down the street who are looking around when they walk to see who is around, or they are just trying hard to be invisible.[112]
Many communities in the Northern Territory are developing their own ways to stop cyber bullying, but holding individuals accountable is proving problematic. Determining who sends anonymous messages is a difficult process, even when a hosting company can identify a phone number, the register of who purchased the phone and its number is often not kept properly. In many communities there is also likely to be shared use of a mobile phone. Sergeant Mace says: ‘I describe a mobile phone as a communal asset, one person owns it but 20 people use it’.[113]
The community of Maningrida, on the north coast of Arnhem Land, was troubled by young people misusing mobile phones to spread gossip which caused family fighting. Although phone providers were supposed to be checked for the 100 points of ID, this protocol was not being followed. The community has now taken the decision to stop selling phones to people under the age of 18.
Other communities such as Hermannsburg/Ntaria and Galiwin’ku have also developed plans to achieve community safety and manage technology.[114] The community of Yuendumu has developed a reporting system to address the misuse of Diva Chat which will be explored in Chapter 4.

(ii) Young people and bullying in schools

Bullying affects a large number of school aged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey found that one third of students aged 12-17 years had been bullied at school and one quarter had been ‘picked on’.[115]

An in-depth study of Yamatji children in the mid west of Western Australia by Juli Coffin found that over 40% of primary school students reported that they ‘saw or experienced bullying every day or nearly every day’.[116] High school students reported a lower incidence, with 16% reporting that bullying was a daily occurrence. Adults interviewed indicated that they felt ‘bullying was part of childhood and happened everywhere’.[117]

According to the research conducted by Juli Coffin, the vast majority of bullying experienced by Aboriginal children was intra-racial.[118] In other words, this bullying can be seen as another example of lateral violence impacting on our children and young people.

Like other forms of lateral violence, identity issues are an integral part of the bullying described by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. Triggers for bullying include:

[B]eing from a different area, being fair or very dark skinned/different looking to the norm, or socialising with different cultural groups especially non-Aboriginal children.[119]

Childhood and adolescence are critical times for identity formation and to have your cultural identity called into question, ‘attacks the core of Aboriginal children and youths’ being’.[120]

Issues of cultural identity also interplay with the negative stereotypes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For instance, many of the children and adults in Juli Coffin’s research thought that bullying was:

‘[J]ust something Aboriginal people do’ and intrinsically linked to being a ‘proper Aboriginal.[121]

This idea reinforces the negative stereotypes about Aboriginality. Juli Coffin notes that none of the children or young people interviewed had anything good to say about being Aboriginal. If young people do not have pride in their culture and identity, it increases the risk that they will feel powerless and go on to perpetrate further lateral violence.

Long standing feuds and cultural obligations are also a factor in this type of lateral violence. Children get drawn into feuds that are passed down the generations and have strong obligations to defend their family. This perpetuates the cycle of lateral violence and also brings other people into the conflict. Once the children are engaged in the conflict, it is then not uncommon for the older relatives to get involved, often escalating the situation to physical violence.

Children and young people who experience bullying report that they do not want to go to school where they are likely to be further victimised. Juli Coffin found that most parents and caregivers responded to their child’s experience of bullying by keeping them home from school until the situation settles down.[122] While the parents have their child’s best interests at heart, children must attend school or the ‘cycle of non-attendance and non-achievement’[123] begins. This suggests that there needs to be stronger partnerships between parents and schools to tackle bullying. Chapter 4 will provide a positive example based on the Solid Kids, Solid Schools program.

However, the most disturbing aspect of bullying that Juli Coffin found from her research was the way violence has been profoundly normalised in the lives of these children and young people.[124] Both parents and children identified the levels of family and community violence as leading to an acceptance of violence as normal, describing how young children are initially scared after seeing violent behaviour but as they grow older ‘a normal pattern was for them to either ignore it, or to rush out to watch, discuss and even join in’.[125] One research participant described the reactions of children to violence in his community:

If they are inside say watching a DVD then they hear someone fighting they press pause and go and watch the fight have a good laugh and then go back inside like nothing happen.[126]

Our children have the right to live free from violence, not in a world where the manifestations of lateral violence are common place and accepted. Similarly, these acts of feuding or family violence should never be seen as ‘cultural’. They must be seen for what they are: unacceptable and illegal physical violence. Again, our children have the right to live in a world where their strong, rich culture is not denigrated by those who try and excuse their actions through false notions of culture. This perpetuates the cycle of lateral violence.

(iii) Organisational conflict

Our organisations are another battleground for feuds and bullying to be played out. The weapons of choice here are nepotism, gossiping and harassment. When our organisations are under siege from lateral violence their effectiveness is diminished.

Organisations beset with lateral violence are riddled with cliques and underhanded deals. Community organisations are designed to represent their entire communities, not specific family groups or individuals to the exclusion of others:

Nepotism is a way for people seeing not as just in employment, you know, singling out a mob of people going to an AGM and writing a board member on, or going to a group of meetings and just... causing trouble you know. And that’s what really gets on your nerves... that some people think that because they are part of a group, a family group, that they can go and they are entitled to that.[127]

When lateral violence is played out like this it undermines trust in organisations. The organisations themselves become trapped into the cycle of lateral violence and are viewed as supporting one faction or family group instead of the entire community.

I remember visiting a town in Western Australia where I explained this situation to a person new to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs who quickly digested this information and then said:

Now let me get this right, the Government pays this one faction to keep all of these other factions away from this service.

This situation breeds further community resentment and unrest.

Research by VACCA found that 37% of respondents reported not feeling culturally safe or welcome in Koori organisations, a further 6% weren’t sure and 29% didn’t answer the question.[128] The researchers argue that lateral violence is a large part of these feelings of ambivalence.

Recent research conducted by the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) found that internal disputes constitute the third most prevalent ‘class’ of failure within Indigenous corporations.[129] Text Box 2.12 is a snapshot of case studies drawn from the research that indicate how conflict can cause corporate failure.

Text Box 2.12: Indigenous Corporate Failure Report
ORIC examined 93 cases of Indigenous corporate failure. The following case studies are examples of how internal conflict has contributed to the failure of the corporation.
Case study 10
A review of case study 10 revealed a totally crippled Indigenous corporation:
  • Members of the Governing Committee can no longer meet in the same room.
  • The manager has usurped the power of the Committee but is not capable of satisfactorily managing the corporation’s affairs.
  • A group of four members of the Committee, who despite having a majority, have been ostracised by the manager, who refuses to deal with them and has effectively banned them from the office.
  • Two Committee members are supported by the manager and they have attempted to create a Committee by invalidly ‘appointing’ further members and subsequently passing resolutions noting that the four excluded members are no longer on the Committee.
Case study 18
A review of case study 18 showed an organisation that was in turmoil because of divisive elements within the community:
  • There are two factions each claiming to represent the Governing Committee.
  • There is little possibility of these two groups reconciling their differences and working together for the good of the organisation.
  • The office of the organisation has been closed by one of the factions and the affairs of the organisation are effectively in limbo.
Case study 20
A review of case study 20 found a break down within the corporation that has led to paralysis:
  • There are two groups claiming to be the legitimate Governing Committee.
  • The dispute has become protracted involving solicitors and the police and there is little likelihood of the dispute being resolved at a local level.
  • It appears that neither Committee has a legitimate claim to manage the corporations affairs.
  • It is considered that acknowledgement of one Committee over the other will only open the gates to legal challenges by the other Committee, the outcome of which may only be resolved in a court of law.
Case study 22
A review of case study 22 found the corporation’s failure is associated with disputes within the community:
  • There is a complete communication breakdown within the Aboriginal community itself that has resulted in a sense of alienation between certain members of the corporation and factions within the community.
  • There have been allegations of threatening and intimidating behaviour.
  • The chairperson currently has an apprehended violence order against a community member.
  • The chairperson and administrator argue that the Committee acts in the broader interests of the Aboriginal community. A ‘vocal’ minority disagree suggesting it is rife with ‘nepotism, cronyism and poor governance’.[130]

I discuss the damage lateral violence is doing in our organisations in more detail in the accompanying Native Title Report 2011 where I specifically look at its impacts on Prescribed Bodies Corporate.

In addition to undermining the performance of our organisations, lateral violence as workplace bullying appears to be having negative impacts on employment retention.

(iv) Workplace bullying and employment retention

Bullying and harassment in the workplace is increasingly being recognised as having negative impacts on employment retention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.[131] This type of behaviour is lateral violence.

Workplace bullying is a challenge that is confronting Australia as a nation. It is estimated that between 2.5 and 5 million people will experience workplace harassment at some time during their career and that the costs of workplace bullying could be as much as $36 billion per year when the hidden and opportunity costs are considered.[132]

Workplace bullying appears to have a disproportionate effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers. A graphic example is the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers who have higher levels of burnout, absenteeism, chronic illness related to stress and lower retention rates.[133]

Josie Winsor argues that Aboriginal and Torres Strait health workers feel as though they are ‘caught in a vice getting pressure from all sides’.[134] Issues of powerlessness are played out within the profession as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers are constantly reminded that they are at the ‘bottom of the health system ladder’,[135] despite the fact that their work requires immense skill and dedication.

The identity issues surrounding lateral violence also affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers as they suffer criticism from their communities. Kathy Abbott, a respected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health worker, describes some of this criticism which includes snide comments like, ‘She’s walking around with them doctors, she must be one of them’,[136] highlighting the problems Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers have in being accepted in both the medical world and their own communities.

This tension around identity is not only a problem for health workers. I have heard similar issues raised by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have had success in many different areas. Another aspect of the cyclical nature of lateral violence is that people who are seen as successful are often the targets of lateral violence in their communities because they are seen as ‘coconuts’ or not ‘community’ enough. To avoid further victimisation, these individuals can disengage from their communities because it is not worth the risk of such hurt. Paradoxically, this leads to further questions about their community connections and ‘authenticity’ as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.

Further compounding this, Josie Winsor explains that lateral violence is not only damaging work environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, but also extends to their home life:

[T]he unusual situation of the Aboriginal health worker is that we work and live in the same community and the ‘horizontal violence’ is not only experienced within the workplace, but also in our personal lives.[137]

Of course, this does not just apply to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers but all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who work in their community:

These people don’t knock off work at five or even have a weekend off. They are often paid for a forty hour week but often or more likely work sixty or seventy. The pressures they face are phenomenal. They are often the people who are in a volunteer capacity on several committees; they do this out of hours on top of their normal job. They are often the people who get many calls ‘out of hours’... They are mediators in conflict, they are bearers of news when someone has passed away, they do eulogies, they are also mothers, fathers, uncles, aunties, and they are often the back bone of a community. In many cases they are also subjected to extreme incidents of lateral violence.[138]

Again, this affects not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who work in the community but indeed anyone who has a good understanding of how the system works and can offer support in times of crisis. When you add this to existing work commitments, you can see how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the workforce have immense burdens to carry.

Bearing this in mind, the burnout, stress and absenteeism are not surprising. Living and working in caustic environments further compounds trauma which deepens the cycle of lateral violence.

The Australian Public Service Commission’s 2009 Census Report has provided further anecdotal evidence of the negative impacts of bullying within the workplace.

  • Indigenous employees were twice as likely as non-Indigenous employees Australian Public Service (APS) wide to report that they had experienced discrimination, bullying and/or harassment in their agency in the last 12 months.
  • Just over one in four (27%) Indigenous employees reported that they had experienced bullying and/or harassment in the workplace in the last 12 months. This is an increase from 23% in 2005.
  • Those who have experienced harassment and/or bullying are almost twice as likely as those who haven’t to ‘signal their intention to leave the APS in the next three years’.[139]

In addition to this research, I have been informed on multiple occasions when discussing lateral violence that it is a key contributing factor that is driving our people out of the workforce or discouraging them from engaging with it.

The evidence base casually linking lateral violence to employment retention requires bolstering. However, the current available evidence would appear to support the idea that lateral violence is one inhibiting factor that is undermining the achievements of the COAG Closing the Gap target in relation to employment rates.

(b) Social and emotional impacts of lateral violence

Social and emotional wellbeing is the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders describe the ‘importance of connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community, and how these affect the individual’.[140] Lateral violence assaults individual and community wellbeing, so it seems common sense that there are also profound social and emotional wellbeing impacts.

Given that lateral violence is such a new area of inquiry in Australia, it is not surprising that research looking at the links between lateral violence and social and emotional wellbeing has not been done yet. Similarly, social and emotional wellbeing is a holistic way of looking at what helps and hinders individuals, so it would be counter productive to reduce the complexity of social and emotional wellbeing to the single factor of lateral violence.

However, based on the conversations that I have had with people and the emerging international literature around social and emotional wellbeing and cultural safety,[141] I think it would be remiss to ignore lateral violence as part of the complex mix of factors that impact negatively on social and emotional wellbeing. Just because we don’t have definitive data yet doesn’t mean that people aren’t suffering. An important step in combating lateral violence is that we openly acknowledge the harm it is inflicting in our communities.

While research has recently shown that 90% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders reported feeling ‘happy’ most/all/some of the time we cannot deny the severity of mental health problems in our communities.[142] The most recent Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report updates some of the key indicators of mental health and social and emotional wellbeing problems facing our communities. Text Box 2.13 provides a summary from this report.

Text Box 2.13: Social and Emotional Wellbeing Indicators
Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage 2011 reported that:
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders reported experiencing a high/very high level of psychological distress at two and a half times the rate for nonIndigenous people (32% compared to 12%).[143]
  • Between 2004–05 and 2008 the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experiencing a high/very high level of psychological distress increased from 27% to 32%, while the proportion of nonIndigenous people remained relatively stable, leading to an increase in the gap.[144]
  • From 2004–05 to 2008–09 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were hospitalised for mental and behavioural disorders at around 1.7 times the rate for non-Indigenous people.[145]
  • In 2005–2009, after taking into account the different age structures of the two populations, for those jurisdictions for which suicide death data are available, the suicide death rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was 2.5 times the rate for nonIndigenous people (figure 7.8.1).[146]
  • After adjusting for differences in the age structure of the two populations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were hospitalised for non-fatal intentional self-harm at two and a half times the rate for non-Indigenous people (3.5 per 1 000 compared to 1.4 per 1 000 in 2008-09).[147]

Research has shown that the experience of stressful life events, such as the death of a family member or illness or inability to get a job, has a detrimental effect on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) paints a picture of the toll that stressful life events have with:

  • 77% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders over 15 years of age reporting that they or their close family or friends have experienced at least one life stress event in the last 12 months
  • the most common types of stressors were death of a family member or close friends (39%), serious illness or disability (31%) and inability to get a job (22%)
  • 42% reported at least three stressors in the last 12 months
  • 35% of those who experienced at least one stressor also reported high/very high levels of psychological distress
  • levels of psychological distress were higher for those who had witnessed violence (54%) or been experienced abuse or violent crime (53%).[148]

Some of these life stress events are directly related to lateral violence. But the impact of dealing with this level of stress and subsequent psychological distress wears people down and can lead to feelings of powerlessness. This can also create the conditions for lateral violence.

The ways lateral violence affects social and emotional wellbeing are multilayered and of course vary in every individual based on their own strengths and risk factors. The impacts of lateral violence behaviours like bullying can lead to severe emotional distress and isolation. The experience of violence, be it emotional or physical, can lead to trauma for the victim.

However, what makes the social and emotional wellbeing impact of lateral violence subtly different from other experiences of bullying and violence is that it operates in a way that:

  • undermines cultural identity with attacks based on incorrect notions of ‘authenticity’
  • is a consequence of oppression and powerlessness
  • feeds on negative stereotypes that devalue pride in culture and individual self-worth.

Because of these historical, cultural and social dynamics at play, the impact of lateral violence manifests itself in a way that is beyond an individualised view of mental illness. There is no pill to cure the legacy of oppression which includes the damage of your own people attacking your identity or the hopelessness that comes from living in a world that doesn’t value your own culture and worth. As Chapters 3 and 4 will outline in greater detail, the cure must start with healing, empowerment and cultural security.

(c) Conflict leading to involvement in the criminal justice system

Like social and emotional wellbeing impacts, the research around lateral violence leading to involvement with the criminal justice system is still embryonic. There is much work that needs to be done in this area and we need to be very careful in how we approach it.

Again, I think it is probably a mistake to reduce the complexity of involvement with the criminal justice system, in particular, violent offending, down to the single cause of lateral violence. We know from a lot of evidence that substance abuse, lack of education and employment opportunities, experience of violence, abuse and other underlying factors can all contribute to violent offending.[149] Nonetheless, I think lateral violence is part of an explosive mix in some cases. Lateral violence helps explain how a history of dispossession, marginalisation and trauma can erupt against those who are closest to us.

(i) How does lateral violence lead to involvement with the criminal justice system?

As I travel around the country talking to people I am often given anecdotal evidence that suggests a link between lateral violence and involvement with the criminal justice system. For instance, in 2008 I attended the annual gathering of the Koori Courts in Melbourne attended by some 120 people made up of judges, magistrates, Elders and respected people and staff. Once I explained the concept of lateral violence I was told that it was the genesis of many of the cases of assault that came before their courts.

Although it is yet to be investigated in formal research, I would suggest that a great number of the physical assaults that are reported to police involving two or more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ are in fact manifestations of lateral violence. Lateral violence can also be a factor in family violence. Marcia Langton has argued that:

[T]he most at risk of lateral violence in its raw physical form are family members, and in the main, the most vulnerable members of the family: old people, women and children. Especially the children.[150]

When we hear about the long running feuds in communities that spill over into violence, this can be seen as a manifestation of lateral violence as well. For instance, you can look at the situation in Yuendumu where we have seen a very fractured and marginalised community embroiled in conflict and also see elements of lateral violence at work.

This sort of community tension leading to violence is not just an issue in remote communities. Long standing feuds between families and groups also take place in urban and rural areas. VACCA have conducted research around lateral violence and cultural safety where young people have reported being told by older family members to attack other community members as part of long held feuds.[151] This has led to involvement with the criminal justice system.

Whilst many of the instances of lateral violence leading to contact with the criminal justice system are, as I say above, anecdotal and need further investigation, what is not anecdotal is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander violent victimisation rates outlined below.

(ii) A statistical picture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander violent victimisation

The statistical picture of violent victimisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is both disturbing and incomplete. Despite limitations in data, we are able to confidently say that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are more likely to be victims of family violence and other violence where there is a relationship with the offender than non-Indigenous Australians. However, given that Indigenous status is not routinely recorded for victims or offenders, our interpretation of the data is based largely on the assumption that partners and family members of victims are also Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

There are also inherent issues with under reporting of violent crimes which I will discuss further below. However, Australian Institute of Criminology research has identified a relationship to the offender as a risk factor associated with increased victimisation, concluding that ‘most victims of violence suffer at the hands of those closest to them’.[152]

There is no single method of calculating the incidence of violence so a statistical analysis draws on a range of different sources.[153] One way of looking at the level of victimisation is in terms of hospitalisation. Nationally, in 2008-2009:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were hospitalised for family violence related assaults at 23 times the rate of non-Indigenous people.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were hospitalised as a result of assault by a family member other than their spouse or partner at 52 times the rate for non-Indigenous women.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males were hospitalised as a result of assault by their spouse or partner at 41.8 times the rate for non-Indigenous males.
  • In remote areas Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were hospitalised as a result of family violence at 35 times the rate of non-Indigenous people.[154]

Homicide is probably the most thoroughly researched area of violent victimisation. While it is a relatively uncommon crime, with 335 recorded homicides of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and 2 019 homicides of non-Indigenous people during the 10 year period from 1999-2009, the rate of homicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is 8.5 times the rate for non-Indigenous people.

Nationally, in 2008-2009:

  • the victim and offender were intimate partners in 60.9% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homicides compared to 24.2% of non-Indigenous homicides
  • there were no Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homicides where the victim and offender were strangers, whereas the victim and offender were strangers in 18% of non-Indigenous homicides
  • a domestic altercation was the motive for 66% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homicides and 34% of non-Indigenous homicides.[155]

Further research comparing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous homicides between 1999-2009, prepared by the Australian Institute of Criminology for this report, also shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are more likely to be killed by family members or intimate partners. Intimate partners were responsible for 46% of the Indigenous on Indigenous homicides recorded during this period, compared with 26% of non-Indigenous homicides.[156]

(iii) Non-disclosure of violence

Criminologists often refer to non-disclosure of violence as the ‘dark figure of crime’,[157] with crime statistics bringing to light only a fraction of the violent crimes committed. We know this is a particular problem in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities where a lack of trust in the criminal justice system and a lack of access to Police and other support services hampers disclosure.[158] However, I think that lateral violence also contributes to this non-disclosure, creating a situation where individuals and groups bully and intimidate victims to prevent them coming forward.

Let me explain how this plays out in communities. A survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community safety found:

[F]ear of further violence and ‘payback’, or culturally related violent retribution, were the most common reasons for women not reporting violent victimisation.[159]

It is not just fear for themselves that prevents women from disclosing but also the possibility that disclosure of violence or abuse will lead to violence between families or in the wider community. For example, the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands Commission Inquiry into sexual abuse found evidence of serious assaults, including a ‘mass brawl’[160] resulting from child abuse and sexual assault allegations.

Those in positions of power can prevent disclosure by socially, culturally and economically excluding victims and their families. Again, the APY Lands Inquiry heard evidence from a witness about the consequences of disclosure of crimes:

It’s to do with people in positions of power and judging by the closing of ranks and no-one being prepared to talk. A whole family can find themselves without food, house access etc because they are blocked by those in power and everyone keeps quiet.[161]

When crimes are not disclosed we have a culture of silence where victims remain voiceless and powerless. This undermines individual and community wellbeing and perpetuates toxic power structures which can fuel the cycle of lateral violence and violent offending.

2.4 Conclusion

This Chapter has introduced the concept of lateral violence, where it comes from and what it means for our communities. As the examples I have used show, lateral violence is a profound problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, although up until now, it has rarely been named for what it is.

Lateral violence draws power from being nameless and invisible. The first step to tackling lateral violence is naming it and exposing the ways it impacts our communities. This allows us to then take a stand and declare zero tolerance for this sort of abuse in our communities. This Chapter has been a first step in this process. It is now over to communities, governments and industry to take a hard look at their interactions to put a stop to lateral violence. This will lead to stronger, deeper relationships on all levels.

This Chapter has been focused on explaining the problem of lateral violence, its deep historical roots and related concepts that explain the contemporary experience of lateral violence. In many ways, this Chapter has painted a distressing picture, with few positive stories to tell. However, in the next two Chapters I will shift the conversation to the solutions, providing a human rights based framework to guide our response to lateral violence. We will see that there are already great projects underway that provide a strong sense of hope and purpose in dealing with lateral violence.

Chapter 3: Cultural Safety: A human rights-based approach to lateral violence

Chapter 4: Cultural safety and security: tools to address lateral violence

[1] M Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2010, Australian Human Rights Commission (2011), pp 19-26. At http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/sj_report/sjreport08/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[2] R Frankland and P Lewis, Presentation to Social Justice Unit staff, Australian Human Rights Commission, 14 March 2011.
[3] R Frankland and P Lewis, Presentation to Social Justice Unit staff, Australian Human Rights Commission, 14 March 2011.
[4] J Liddle in M Langton, ‘The end of “big men” politics’ (2008) 22 Griffith Review 11, pp 15-16. At http://griffithreview.com/edition-22-moneysexpower/the-end-of-big-men-politics (viewed 21 September 2011).
[5] R Frankland and P Lewis, Presentation to Social Justice Unit staff, Australian Human Rights Commission, 14 March 2011.
[6] World Health Organization, World report on violence and health (2002), p 5. At http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/chapters/en/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[7] World Health Organization, World report on violence and health (2002), p 5. At http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/chapters/en/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[8] T Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2008, Australian Human Rights Commission (2009), pp 147-197. At http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/sj_report/sjreport08/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[9] T Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2008, Australian Human Rights Commission (2009), p 177. At http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/sj_report/sjreport08/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[10] L Archibald, Final Report of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Volume III: Promising Healing Practices in Aboriginal Communities, Aboriginal Healing Foundation (2006), p 16. http://www.ahf.ca/downloads/final-report-vol-3.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[11] S Roberts, ‘Oppressed group behaviour: implications for nursing’ (1983) 5(4) Advances in Nursing Science 21.
[12] F Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1963).
[13] P Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970).
[14] S Carmichael and C Hamilton, Black Power (1967).
[15] K Lewin, Resolving Social Conflicts (1948).
[16] J Miller, Toward a New Psychology for Women (1976).
[17] P Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970).
[18] F Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1963).
[19] R Frankland in Creative Spirits, Bullying and Lateral Violence, http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people/bullying-and-lateral-violence.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[20] G Phillips, Healing Identity in contemporary Australia: what is a real/traditional/grassroots Aborigine (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Seminar Series, Canberra, 18 May 2009). At http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=9173079 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[21] S Gordon, K Hallahan and D Henry, Putting the Picture Together: Inquiry into Response by Government Agencies to Complaints of Family Violence and Child Abuse in Aboriginal Communities (2002), p 70. At http://www.strongfamilies.wa.gov.au/About/How_it_started/Gordon_inquiry (viewed 21 September 2011). Emphasis in original. In text referencing omitted.
[22] Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing them home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (1997), Part 2. At http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/bth_report/report/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[23] Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing them home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (1997). At http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/bth_report/report/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[24] A ‘quadroon’ was defined as ‘a person who is descended from the full blood original inhabitants of Australia or their full blood descendants but who is only one-fourth of the original full blood’: Native Title Administration Act 1936 (WA), s 2.
[25]Native Title Administration Act 1936 (WA), s 2.
[26] See R Broome, Aboriginal Australians: A history since 1788 (4th ed, 2010), p 197.
[27] Museum of Australian, Documenting a Democracy - Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld), http://foundingdocs.gov.au/item-sdid-54.html#significance (viewed 21 September 2011).
[28] Museum of Australian, Documenting a Democracy - Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld), http://foundingdocs.gov.au/item-sdid-54.html#significance (viewed 21 September 2011).
[29] D Tedmanson, ‘Isle of exception: sovereign power and Palm Island’ (2008) 4(2) Emerald: critical perspectives on international business 142, p 148.
[30] H McRae, G Nettheim, T Anthony, L Beacroft, S Brennan, M Davis and T Janke, Indigenous Legal Materials: Commentary and Materials (4th ed, 2009), p 26.

[31] The Protection Acts can be found at AIATSIS, To Remove and Protect, http://www1.aiatsis.gov.au/exhibitions/removeprotect/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[32] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, As a Matter of Fact (1998), p 60. At www.actdgp.asn.au/content/Document/as%20a%20matter%20of%20fact.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[33] N Pearson, ‘Individualism versus communalism’, The Australian, 6 August 2011. At http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/individualism-versus-communalism/story-e6frgd0x-1226109346928 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[34] N Pearson, ‘Individualism versus communalism’, The Australian, 6 August 2011. At http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/individualism-versus-communalism/story-e6frgd0x-1226109346928 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[35] M Langton, ‘The end of “big men” politics’ (2008) 22 Griffith Review 11, p 15. At http://griffithreview.com/edition-22-moneysexpower/the-end-of-big-men-politics (viewed 4 August 2011).
[36] H Kok, ‘Reducing Violence: Applying the Human Needs Theory to the Conflict in Chechnya’ (2007) 3(11) Review of International Law and Politics 89, p 90.
[37] J Burton in H Kok, ‘Reducing Violence: Applying the Human Needs Theory to the Conflict in Chechnya’ (2007) 3(11) Review of International Law and Politics 89, p 90.
[38] A Maslow, ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ (1943) 50(4) Psychological Review 370.
[39] A Odendaal, The Role of Identity in the Formation of Conflict Cycles: A Perspective from Human Needs Theory (Presentation to the UNITAR 2011 Training Programme to Enhance the Conflict Prevention and Peacemaking Capacities of Indigenous Peoples’ Representatives, Versoix, Switzerland, 19 July 2011).
[40] J Burton in H Kok, ‘Reducing Violence: Applying the Human Needs Theory to the Conflict in Chechnya’ (2007) 3(11) Review of International Law and Politics 89, p 90.
[41] S Maddison, ‘Voice and Diversity in Indigenous Politics’ (2009) 7 (11) Indigenous Law Bulletin 19, p 20.
[42] S Gorringe, J Ross and C Fforde, ‘Will the Real Aborigine Please Stand Up’: Strategies for breaking the stereotypes and changing the conversation, AIATSIS Research Discussion Paper 28 (2011), p 8. At www.aiatsis.gov.au/research/documents/AIATSISDiscussionPaper28.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[43] S Gorringe, J Ross and C Fforde, ‘Will the Real Aborigine Please Stand Up’: Strategies for breaking the stereotypes and changing the conversation, AIATSIS Research Discussion Paper 28 (2011), p 5. At www.aiatsis.gov.au/research/documents/AIATSISDiscussionPaper28.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[44] G Phillips, Healing Identity in contemporary Australia: what is a real/traditional/grassroots Aborigine (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Seminar Series, Canberra, 18 May 2009). At http://www.vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=9173079 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[45] N Pearson, ‘Individualism versus communalism’, The Australian, 6 August 2011. At http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/individualism-versus-communalism/story-e6frgd0x-1226109346928 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[46] N Pearson, ‘Individualism versus communalism’, The Australian, 6 August 2011. At http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/individualism-versus-communalism/story-e6frgd0x-1226109346928 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[47] N Pearson, ‘Individualism versus communalism’, The Australian, 6 August 2011. At http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/individualism-versus-communalism/story-e6frgd0x-1226109346928 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[48] N Pearson, ‘Individualism versus communalism’, The Australian, 6 August 2011. At http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/individualism-versus-communalism/story-e6frgd0x-1226109346928 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[49] Y Paradies, R Harris and I Anderson, The Impact of Racism on Indigenous Health in Australia and Aoeteoroa: Towards a Research Agenda, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, Discussion Paper 4 (2008), p 4. At www.lowitja.org.au/files/crcah_docs/Racism-Report.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[50] S Gorringe, J Ross and C Fforde, ‘Will the Real Aborigine Please Stand Up’: Strategies for breaking the stereotypes and changing the conversation, AIATSIS Research Discussion Paper 28 (2011), p 7. At www.aiatsis.gov.au/research/documents/AIATSISDiscussionPaper28.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[51] C Lawrence, Us and Them: Breaking Down the Barriers (Paper presented at Fulbright Conference: Healthy People Prosperous Country, July 11, 2008).
[52] R Frankland, M Bamblett, P Lewis and R Trotter, This is “Forever Business”: A Framework for Maintaining and Restoring Cultural Safety in Aboriginal Victoria, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (2010), p 19.
[53] S Maddison, ‘Voice and Diversity in Indigenous Politics’ (2009) 7 (11) Indigenous Law Bulletin 19, p 20.
[54] S Maddison, ‘Voice and Diversity in Indigenous Politics’ (2009) 7 (11) Indigenous Law Bulletin 19, p 20.
[55] J Huggins, ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ in M Grossman (ed), Blacklines: Contemporary Critical Writings by Indigenous Australians (2003) 60, p 65.
[56] T Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2008, Australian Human Rights Commission (2009), Chapter 4. At http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/sj_report/sjreport08/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[57] G Phillips in T Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Social Justice Report 2008, Australian Human Rights Commission (2009), p 153-154. At http://www.humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/sj_report/sjreport08/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[58] K Windshuttle in D Tedmanson, ‘Isle of exception: sovereign power and Palm Island’ (2008) 4(2) Emerald: critical perspectives on international business 142, p 151.
[59] Palm Island was re-gazetted in 1938 and 1941, each time adding surrounding islands within the Palm Island group: Queensland Government State Archives, Agency Details: Palm Island Aboriginal Settlement, http://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/search/AgencyDetails.aspx?AgencyId=76 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[60]The Aboriginal Preservation and Protection Act 1939 (Qld), and The Torres Strait Islands Affairs Act 1939 (Qld) provided the subsequent legislative framework, with new Protection Acts being passed in 1965 and 1971, which were also closely moulded on the original 1897 legislation: see
Museum of Australian, Documenting a Democracy - Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld), http://foundingdocs.gov.au/item-sdid-54.html#significance (viewed 21 September 2011).
[61] M Copland in J Watson, Palm Island: Through a Long Lens (2010), p 38.
[62] J Watson, Palm Island: Through a Long Lens (2010), p 78.
[63] M Copland in J Watson, Palm Island: Through a Long Lens (2010), p 38.
[64] See M Kennedy, Born a Half Caste (1990).
[65] D King and M Vick, ‘Keeping ‘Em Down: Education on Palm Island Under Queensland’s Aboriginal Acts’ (1994) 23(1) History of Education Review 1, p 7.
[66] D King and M Vick, ‘Keeping ‘Em Down: Education on Palm Island Under Queensland’s Aboriginal Acts’ (1994) 23(1) History of Education Review 1, p 7.
[67] E Scott in J Watson, Palm Island: Through a Long Lens (2010), p 121.
[68] C Edmondson in J Watson, Palm Island: Through a Long Lens (2010), p 78.
[69] People were relocated from all over Queensland including from the Kandju, Kuku Yalanji, Yidangi, Kongkanji, Birri Gubba and Kokoimudji peoples from across the north-east and the Kalkadoon of the north-west of Queensland.
[70] J Watson, Palm Island: Through a Long Lens (2010), p 40.
[71] C Taylor, ‘This Fiction, It Don’t Go Away’: Narrative as an Index to Palm Island’s Past and Present’ (2009) 16(1) Queensland Review 35, p 36.
[72] D King and M Vick, Keeping ‘Em Down: Education on Palm Island Under Queensland’s Aboriginal Acts’ (1994) 23(1) History of Education Review 1, p 8.
[73] D King and M Vick, ‘Keeping ‘Em Down: Education on Palm Island Under Queensland’s Aboriginal Acts’ (1994) 23(1) History of Education Review 1, p 7.
[74] J Watson, Palm Island: Through a Long Lens (2010), p 40.
[75] Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council, Palm Island History, http://www.piac.com.au/community_info/history/palm_island_history.php (viewed 21 September 2011).
[76] J Watson, Palm Island: Through a Long Lens (2010), pp 48- 49.
[77] D King and M Vick, ‘Keeping ‘Em Down: Education on Palm Island Under Queensland’s Aboriginal Acts’ (1994) 23(1) History of Education Review 1, p 6.
[78] D Tedmanson, ‘Isle of exception: sovereign power and Palm Island’ (2008) 4(2) Emerald: critical perspectives on international business 142, p 151.
[79] J Watson, Palm Island: Through a Long Lens, (2010), pp 157-158.
[80] D Tedmanson, ‘Isle of exception: sovereign power and Palm Island’ (2008) 4(2) Emerald: critical perspectives on international business 142, p 155.
[81] D Tedmanson, ‘Isle of exception: sovereign power and Palm Island’ (2008) 4(2) Emerald: critical perspectives on international business 142, pp 152, 160.
[82] R Frankland, M Bamblett, P Lewis and R Trotter, This is ‘Forever Business: A Framework for Maintaining and Restoring Cultural Safety in Aboriginal Victoria, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (2010), p 108.
[83] S Gorringe, J Ross and C Fforde, ‘Will the Real Aborigine Please Stand Up’: Strategies for breaking the stereotypes and changing the conversation, AIATSIS Research Discussion Paper 28 (2011), p 9. At www.aiatsis.gov.au/research/documents/AIATSISDiscussionPaper28.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[84] R Frankland, M Bamblett, P Lewis and R Trotter, This is ‘Forever Business: A Framework for Maintaining and Restoring Cultural Safety in Aboriginal Victoria (2010), p 108.
[85] Department of Finance and Deregulation, Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure (2010), p 247. At http://www.finance.gov.au/foi/disclosure-log/2011/docs/foi_10-27_strategic_review_indigenous_expenditure.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[86] M Langton, ‘Trapped in the Aboriginal reality show’ 19 Griffith Review 143, pp 145, 161. At http://griffithreview.com/edition-19-re-imagining-australia/trapped-in-the-aboriginal-reality-show (viewed 21 September 2011).
[87] N Pearson, Our Right to Take Responsibility (Paper for Institute of Public Administration Australia (Victoria) Seminar Gold Leadership Forum, Melbourne, 20 October 2002), p 5. At www.vic.ipaa.org.au/document/item/106 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[88] N Pearson, Our Right to Take Responsibility (Paper for Institute of Public Administration Australia (Victoria) Seminar Gold Leadership Forum, Melbourne, 20 October 2002), p 5. At www.vic.ipaa.org.au/document/item/106 (viewed 21 September 2011).
[89] M Langton, ‘Trapped in the Aboriginal reality show’ 19 Griffith Review 143, p 162. At http://griffithreview.com/edition-19-re-imagining-australia/trapped-in-the-aboriginal-reality-show (viewed 21 September 2011).
[90] S Gorringe, J Ross and C Fforde, ‘Will the Real Aborigine Please Stand Up’: Strategies for breaking the stereotypes and changing the conversation, AIATSIS Research Discussion Paper 28 (2011), p 7. At www.aiatsis.gov.au/research/documents/AIATSISDiscussionPaper28.pdf (viewed 21 August 2011).
[91] M Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Towards a reconciled Australia (Speech delivered at the National Press Club, Canberra, 3 November 2010). At http://www.humanrights.gov.au/about/media/speeches/social_justice/2010/20101103_npc.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[92] P Anderson and R Wild, Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle ‘Little Children are Sacred’, Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse (2007), p 57. At http://www.inquirysaac.nt.gov.au/ (viewed 21 September 2011).
[93] P Anderson and R Wild, Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle ‘Little Children are Sacred’, Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse (2007), p 13. At http://www.inquirysaac.nt.gov.au/ (viewed 21 September 2011). Emphasis in original.
[94] Department of Finance and Deregulation, Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure (2010), p 11. At http://www.finance.gov.au/foi/disclosure-log/2011/docs/foi_10-27_strategic_review_indigenous_expenditure.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[95] See Department of Finance and Deregulation, Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure (2010), p 300. At http://www.finance.gov.au/foi/disclosure-log/2011/docs/foi_10-27_strategic_review_indigenous_expenditure.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[96] J Dwyer, K O’Donnell, J Lavoie, U Marlina and P Sullivan, The Overburden Report: Contracting for Indigenous Health Services, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health (2009), p 53. At http://www.lowitja.org.au/files/crcah_docs/Overburden%20update%20FINAL.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[97] Department of Finance and Deregulation, Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure (2010), p 300. At http://www.finance.gov.au/foi/disclosure-log/2011/docs/foi_10-27_strategic_review_indigenous_expenditure.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[98] R Frankland, M Bamblett, P Lewis and R Trotter, This is ‘Forever Business: A Framework for Maintaining and Restoring Cultural Safety in Aboriginal Victoria, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (2010), p 79.
[99] R Frankland, M Bamblett, P Lewis and R Trotter, This is ‘Forever Business: A Framework for Maintaining and Restoring Cultural Safety in Aboriginal Victoria, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (2010), p 79.
[100] R Frankland, M Bamblett, P Lewis and R Trotter, This is ‘Forever Business: A Framework for Maintaining and Restoring Cultural Safety in Aboriginal Victoria, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (2010), p 50.
[101] Reach Out, What is Bullying?, http://au.reachout.com/find/articles/bullying-what-it-is (viewed 21 September 2011).
[102] Australian Human Rights Commission, Cyber bullying, Human Rights and bystanders, at http://www.humanrights.gov.au/bullying/cyberbullying/index.html (viewed 21 September 2011).
[103] D Boyd, ‘Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications’ in Z Papacharissi (ed), Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites (2010) 39.
[104] D Cross, T Shaw, L Hearn, M Epstein, H Monks, L Lester and L Thomas, Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University (2009), p 42. At http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/NationalSafeSchools/Pages/research.aspx (viewed 11 August 2011).
[105] E Deemal-Hall, Phone communication with the Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 11 July 2011.
[106] E Deemal-Hall, Phone communication with the Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 11 July 2011.
[107] T Mace, Phone communication with Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 14 July 2011
[108] E Deemal-Hall, Phone communication with the Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 11 July 2011.
[109] E Deemal-Hall, Phone communication with the Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 11 July 2011.
[110] N Davies, Phone communication with Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 27 July 2011.
[111] J Coffin, A Larson, D Cross, ‘Bullying in an Aboriginal Context’ (2010) 39 The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 77.
[112] N Davies, Phone communication with Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 27 July 2011.
[113] T Mace, Phone communication with Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 14 July 2011.
[114] E Deemal-Hall, e-mail communication with Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 12 July 2011.
[115] S Zubrick, S Silburn, D Lawrence, F Mitrou, R Dalby, E Blair, J Griffin, H Milroy, J De Maio, A Cox and J Li, The Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey Volume Two: The Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal Children and Young People, Curtin University (2005), pp 247-251. At http://www.ichr.uwa.edu.au/waachs/publications/volume_two (viewed 21 September 2011).
[116] J Coffin, A Larson and D Cross, ‘Bullying in the Aboriginal Context’ (2010) 39 (1) The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 77, p 80.
[117] J Coffin, A Larson and D Cross, ‘Bullying in the Aboriginal Context’ (2010) 39(1) The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 77, p 80.
[118] J Coffin, ‘Making Them Stop it: What Aboriginal Children and Youth in Australia Are Saying About Bullying’ (2011) 6(1) First Peoples Child and Family Review 83, p 90.
[119] J Coffin, A Larson and D Cross, ‘Bullying in the Aboriginal Context’ (2010) 39(1) The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 77, p 82.
[120] J Coffin, ‘Making Them Stop it: What Aboriginal Children and Youth in Australia Are Saying About Bullying’ (2011) 6(1) First Peoples Child and Family Review 83, p 95.
[121] J Coffin, ‘Making Them Stop it: What Aboriginal Children and Youth in Australia Are Saying About Bullying’ (2011) 6(1) First Peoples Child and Family Review 83, p 94.
[122] J Coffin, ‘Making Them Stop it: What Aboriginal Children and Youth in Australia Are Saying About Bullying’ (2011) 6(1) First Peoples Child and Family Review 83, p 93.
[123] J Coffin, Phone Communication with Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 8 August 2011.
[124] J Coffin, Phone Communication with Social Justice Commissioner’s Office, 8 August 2011.
[125] J Coffin, A Larson and D Cross, ‘Bullying in the Aboriginal Context’ (2010) 39(1) The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 77, p 82.
[126] J Coffin, A Larson and D Cross, ‘Bullying in the Aboriginal Context’ (2010) 39(1) The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 77, p 82.
[127]The silence ward – understanding lateral violence (Produced by Golden Seahorse Productions for the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, funded by the Koori Justice Unit, Department of Justice, Victoria, 2010), 14:14.
[128] R Frankland, M Bamblett, P Lewis and R Trotter, This is ‘Forever Business: A Framework for Maintaining and Restoring Cultural Safety in Aboriginal Victoria, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (2010), p 66.
[129] Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, Analysing key characteristics in Indigenous corporate failure: Research Paper (2010), p 46. At http://www.oric.gov.au/html/publications/other/Analysing-key-characteristics-in-Indigenous-corporate%20failure_v-2-2.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[130] Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, Analysing key characteristics in Indigenous corporate failure: Research paper (2010), pp 38, 48-49, 64. At http://www.oric.gov.au/html/publications/other/Analysing-key-characteristics-in-Indigenous-corporate%20failure_v-2-2.pdf (viewed 21 September 2011).
[131] See J Winsor ‘Workplace bullying’ (2001) 25(3) Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal 4.
[132] Australian Human Rights Commission, Good practice, good business: Eliminating discrimination and harassment form your workplace: Workplace bullying, www.humanrights.gov.au/employers/ (viewed 21 September 2011).
[133] B Flick, ‘Aboriginal Health Workers; Slaves or Miracle Workers?’ (1995) 19(3) Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal 10.
[134] J Winsor ‘Workplace bullying’ (2001) 25(3) Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal 4, p 6.
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