Aboriginal land rights.
I recall in my student days, marching for aboriginal land rights with fellow college friends and aboriginal activists some decades ago. (Image attached taken by a friend, for the few of you who remember these heady days.) Land rights made progress in the years of the Whitlam Government (as many “rights” did) but suffered setbacks after his dismissal. Still despite that, Land rights legislation by various states thereafter recognised their occupation or at least acknowledged some of their claims. The Indigenous Land Corporation established in 1995 assisted aboriginals to acquire land which would be managed in accordance with traditional aboriginal sustainability. I, like many, assumed issues like this were being managed at least to some degree and that much of these specific struggles belonged in a far distant past not to be resurrected. The “apology” we made as a nation to the aboriginal people upon Rudd’s election to PM, was a point from which we could move forward in our relationships with them, not backwards (as we are now). There were still many injustices remaining but as slowly as government bureaucracy’s and white racism would allow, we were making progress. Then following the mismanagement of other matters under the Rudd Government became evident, the Australian population “punished” the Government for these and elected Abbott to power.
Abbott’s first lie (of many to follow) he used to deceive native Australians into voting for him. This unfullfilled promise became evident in his first week of power and it was a promise made to the “first people” publically. On the 10th of August in front of the aboriginal elders and participants of the Garma Festival he promised to spend his first week, if elected, with an Aboriginal Community. This was not the only promise to Aboriginal Australia he broke, as their were others to follow, such as his promised Constitutional recognition of Aboriginals. There has been no progress in the debate for constitutional recognition for 20 years since Howard raised it but repeatedly failed to deliver. Mind you, Gillard also failed to deliver on this same issue. So now three governments down the track and promises short on delivery, is all the indigenous Australians have. Meanwhile back at the campsite, Abbott did later spend a few days in an aboriginal encampment, but he had to cut it short to send troops off to war. While he could have done that without his presence, he is not one to miss an opportunity to promote himself and be seen acting on terrorism outside Australia (although as some might suggest “while generating it inside”). Certainly supporting indigenous Australians is not high on anyone’s agenda unless you are making promises you have no intent on fulfilling, in order to solicit votes.
Slash and Burn
It is not, although, that the Aboriginal community had skipped his attention completely. In fact he has paid them a lot of attention. There were his cuts to Indigenous Health Budget, Indigenous Legal Aid, Language Support, the Congress of Australia’s First People, Aboriginal Early Childhood Support & Learning Incorporated, and the Custody Notification Line. The last one is interesting because it probably “explains” why, as protection from “deaths in custody” issues have been reduced, and as family are not notified when aboriginal youth enter jail; that there is such a high rate of aboriginal suicides. Then there Like the bushland of old it has been a policy of slash and burn, stripping aboriginals of all cover, presumably except for their homes. But then there was the Northern Territories notorious “paperless arrest” rights for minor offenses in which no warrant is given, no right to bail offered and aborigines are the most jailed offenders under this scheme. Abbott suddenly stopped paying attention then. Across the state border, Western Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett slashed homes as well. Barnett’s decision to remove Aboriginals from their land forcibly, returns us to a fight, long thought diminished. The diminishment of entire communities shows little to no respect for the original Australians. Never did any of us envisage a reversal of so much ground covered decades before, nor that they would be implemented so quickly or so harshly. Of course, Tony Abbott quickly backed the West Australian Government’s plans to close nearly half of the state’s 274 remote communities with a dismissive comment of: “What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have.”
Australia for all it’s faults, racism and intolerance at times, would – we assumed – was once little more aggressive than that of the white redneck bogan grumblings at late night pub drinking sessions. Certainly not armed policemen on horse-back clearing people of the lands, they fought so long and so hard to retain for their communities. The State Liberal Governments with the backing of the Federal Government has had free reign to reduce the outback communities of Aboriginal people. I guess Tony will not have to rough it so much when he next stays for a couple of days in an aboriginal community so as to not lose face over a promise he has converted from, one of staying in his first week of office, to one where he stops in once a year. How magnanimous of him. With all else he has done, one might be forgiven for wondering, have we tumbled back to a time when white settlers and soldiers cleared land of Aboriginals at gun point? How backward have we become? Backward enough that we consider Aboriginal occupation of their land as nothing but a “lifestyle Choice”?