Evicting Indigenous Australians from their homelands is a declaration of war

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun Jun 14 11:02:16 BST 2015

The British-American coup that ended Australian independence

Thursday 23 October 2014 
<http://www.theguardian.com/profile/johnpilger>John Pilger
In 1975 prime minister Gough Whitlam, who has 
died this week, dared to try to assert his 
country’s autonomy. The CIA and MI6 made sure he paid the price
Across the media and political establishment in 
Australia, a silence has descended on the memory 
of the great, reforming prime minister 
Whitlam. His achievements are recognised, if 
grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. 
But a critical reason for his extraordinary 
political demise will, they hope, be buried with him.
Australia briefly became an independent state 
during the Whitlam years, 1972-75. An American 
commentator wrote that no country had “reversed 
its posture in international affairs so totally 
without going through a domestic revolution”. 
Whitlam ended his nation’s colonial servility. He 
abolished royal patronage, moved Australia 
towards the Non-Aligned Movement, supported 
“zones of peace” and opposed nuclear weapons testing....................

Evicting Indigenous Australians from their homelands is a declaration of war

Australia occasionally interrupts its ‘normal’ 
mistreatment of Aboriginal people to deliver a 
frontal assault, like the closure of Western Australia’s homelands
A woman protests the eviction of Indigenous Australians from re
Pilger   Wednesday 22 April 2015

Australia has again declared war on its 
Indigenous people, reminiscent of the brutality 
that brought universal condemnation on apartheid 
South Africa. Aboriginal people are to be driven 
from homelands where their communities have lived 
for thousands of years. In 
Australia, where mining companies make billion 
dollar profits exploiting Aboriginal land, the 
state government says it can no longer afford to “support” the homelands.

Vulnerable populations, already denied the basic 
services most Australians take for granted, are 
on notice of dispossession without consultation, 
and eviction at gunpoint. Aboriginal leaders have 
warned of “a new generation of displaced people” and “cultural genocide”.

The prime minister, Tony Abbott, has revived this 
assault on a people who represent Australia’s 
singular uniqueness. Soon after coming to office, 
the federal government cut $534m in Indigenous 
social programs, including $160m from the 
Indigenous health budget and $13.4m from Indigenous legal aid.

In the 2014 report 
Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators, the 
devastation is clear. The number of Aboriginal 
people hospitalised for self-harm has leapt, as 
have suicides among those as young as 11. The 
indicators show a people impoverished, 
traumatised and abandoned. Read the classic work 
of apartheid South Africa, The Discarded People 
by Cosmas Desmond, who told me he could write a similar account of Australia.

In announcing that the Australian government 
would no longer honour the longstanding 
commitment to Aboriginal homelands, Abbott 
sneered, “It’s not the job of the taxpayers to 
subsidise lifestyle choices.” The weapon used by 
Abbott and his redneck state and territorial 
counterparts is dispossession by propaganda, 
coercion and blackmail. The minister for 
Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion, has been 
of threatening to stop providing basic services 
unless Aboriginal communities in the Northern 
Territory sign 99-year leases. According to 
Scullion, “this is about what communities want”. 
In fact, there has been no real consultation – 
only the time-honoured co-option of a few.

Both Coalition and Labor governments have already 
withdrawn the national jobs program and the 
community development employment projects from 
the homelands, ending opportunities for 
employment, and prohibited investment in 
infrastructure: housing, generators, sanitation. The saving is peanuts.

The homelands are seen as a threat to white power.

The reason is an extreme doctrine that evokes the 
punitive campaigns of the early 20th century 
“chief protector of Aborigines”, such as the 
fanatic AO Neville who decreed that the first 
Australians “assimilate” to extinction. 
Influenced by the same eugenics movement that 
the Nazis, Queensland’s “protection acts” were a 
model for South African apartheid. Today, the 
same dogma and racism are threaded through 
anthropology, politics, the bureaucracy and the 
media. “We are civilised, they are not,” wrote 
the acclaimed Australian historian Russel Ward 
two generations ago. The spirit is unchanged.

Having reported on Aboriginal communities since 
the 1960s, I have watched a seasonal routine 
whereby the Australian elite interrupts its 
“normal” mistreatment and neglect of the people 
of the First Nations, and attacks them outright. 
This happens when an election approaches, or a 
prime minister’s ratings are low. Kicking the 
blackfella is deemed popular, although grabbing 
minerals-rich land by stealth serves a more 
prosaic purpose; and driving people into the 
fringe slums of “economic hub towns” satisfies 
the social engineering urges of racists.

The last frontal attack was the 2007 Northern 
Territory Intervention, when John Howard sent the 
army into Aboriginal communities to “rescue 
children” who, claimed his minister for 
Aboriginal affairs, Mal Brough, were being abused 
by paedophile gangs in “unthinkable numbers”.

It was a shameful episode in which the media 
played a vital role. In 2006, the national TV 
current affairs program, the ABC’s Lateline, 
broadcast a 
interview with a man whose face was concealed. 
Described as a “youth worker” who had lived in 
the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu, he made a 
series of lurid, unsubstantiated allegations. 
Subsequently exposed as a senior government 
official who reported directly to the minister, 
his claims were discredited by the Australian 
Crime Commission, the Northern Territory police 
and a damning report by child medical 
specialists. The community received no apology.

The intervention allowed the federal government 
to destroy many of the vestiges of 
self-determination in the Northern Territory, the 
only part of Australia where Aboriginal people 
had won federally-legislated land rights. Here, 
they had administered their homelands in ways 
that allowed the dignity of self-determination 
and connection to land and culture and, as 
Amnesty International reported, a 40% lower mortality rate.

It is this “traditional life” that is anathema to 
a parasitic white industry of civil servants, 
contractors, lawyers and consultants that 
controls and often profits from Aboriginal 
Australia, if indirectly through the “free 
market” corporate structures imposed on 
Indigenous organisations. The homelands are seen 
as a threat to white power, for even in poverty 
they express a communalism at odds with the 
neo-conservatism that rules Australia.

The current political attack was launched in the 
richest state, Western Australia. Last October, 
the state premier, Colin Barnett, announced that 
his state could not afford $90m for basic 
municipal services to 
homelands: water, power, sanitation, schools, 
road maintenance, rubbish collection. It was the 
equivalent of informing the white suburbs of 
Perth that their lawn sprinklers would no longer 
sprinkle and their toilets no longer flush; and 
they had to move; and if they refused, the police would evict them.

Where would the dispossessed go? Where would they 
live? In six years, Barnett’s government has 
built few houses for Indigenous people in remote 
areas. In the Kimberley region, Indigenous 
– aside from natural disaster and civil strife – 
is one of the highest in the world, in a state 
renowned for its conspicuous wealth, golf courses 
and prisons overflowing with impoverished black 
people. Western Australia jails Aboriginal males 
at more than eight times the rate of apartheid 
South Africa. It has one of the highest 
incarceration rates of juveniles in the world, 
almost all of them Indigenous. In 2013, the 
former prisons minister, Margaret Quirk, told me 
that the state was “racking and stacking” 
Aboriginal prisoners. When I asked what she 
meant, she said, “It’s warehousing.”

In March, Barnett changed his story. There was 
“emerging evidence”, he said, “of appalling 
mistreatment of little kids” in the homelands. 
What evidence? 
that gonorrhoea had been found in children 
younger than 14, then conceded he did not know if 
these were in the homelands. His police 
commissioner, Karl O’Callaghan, chimed in that 
child sexual abuse was “rife”. He quoted a 
15-year-old study by the Australian Institute of 
Family Studies. What he failed to say was that 
highlighted “neglect” – in other words, poverty – 
as the most prevalent type of maltreatment. 
Sexual abuse accounted for less than 10%.

Where would the dispossessed go? Where would they live?

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a 
federal agency, recently released a 
on the “fatal burden” of third world disease and 
trauma borne by Indigenous people “resulting in 
almost 100,000 years of life lost due to 
premature death”. This “fatal burden” is the 
product of extreme poverty imposed in Western 
Australia, as in the rest of Australia, by the denial of human rights.

In Barnett’s vast rich Western Australia, barely 
a fraction of mining, oil and gas revenue has 
benefited communities for which his government 
has a duty of care. In the town of Roeburne, in 
the midst of the booming minerals-rich Pilbara, 
80% of the Indigenous children suffer from an ear 
infection called 
media that causes deafness.

In 2011, Barnett’s government displayed a 
brutality in the community of Oombulgurri which 
the other homelands can expect. “First, the 
government closed the services,” 
Tammy Solonec of Amnesty International:

It closed the shop, so people could not buy food 
and essentials. It closed the clinic, so the sick 
and the elderly had to move, and the school, so 
families with children had to leave, or face 
having their children taken away from them. The 
police station was the last service to close, 
then eventually the electricity and water were 
turned off. Finally, the 10 residents who 
resolutely stayed to the end were forcibly 
evicted [leaving behind] personal possessions. 
[Then] the bulldozers rolled into Oombulgurri. 
The WA government has literally dug a hole and in 
it buried the rubble of people’s homes and personal belongings.

In South Australia, the state and federal 
governments launched a similar attack on the 60 
remote Indigenous communities. South Australia 
has a long-established Aboriginal Lands Trust, so 
people were able to defend their rights – up to a 
point. On 12 April, the federal government 
over five years. That such a miserly sum is 
considered enough to fund services in the great 
expanse of the state’s homelands is a measure of 
the value placed on Indigenous lives by white 
politicians who unhesitatingly spend $28bn 
annually on armaments and the military. Haydn 
Bromley, chair of the Aboriginal Lands Trust told 
me, “The $15m doesn’t include most of the 
homelands, and it will only cover bare essentials 
– power, water. Community development? Infrastructure? Forget it.”

The current distraction from these national dirty 
secrets is the approaching “celebrations” of the 
centenary of an Edwardian military disaster at 
Gallipoli in 1915. In recent years, governments 
in Canberra have promoted this imperial waste of 
life as an historical deity to mask the 
militarism that underpins Australia’s role as 
America’s “deputy sheriff” in the Pacific.

In bookshops, “Australian non-fiction” shelves 
are full of opportunistic tomes about wartime 
derring-do, heroes and jingoism. Suddenly, 
Aboriginal people who fought for the white man 
are fashionable – whereas Aboriginal people who 
fought against the white man in defence of their 
own country, Australia, are deeply unfashionable. 
Indeed, they are officially non-people. The 
Australian War Memorial refuses even to recognise 
their remarkable resistance to the British 
invasion. In a country littered with Anzac 
memorials, not one official memorial stands for 
the thousands of native Australians who fought 
and fell defending their homeland.

This “great Australian silence”, as the 
anthropologist WH Stanner termed it, is 
ubiquitous. In Sydney, the Art Gallery of New 
South Wales currently has an exhibition, The 
Photograph and Australia, in which the timeline 
of this ancient land begins, incredibly, with Captain Cook.

The same silence covers another enduring, epic 
resistance. Extraordinary demonstrations of 
Indigenous women protesting the removal of their 
children and grandchildren by the state, some of 
them at gunpoint, are ignored by journalists and 
patronised by politicians. More Indigenous 
children are being wrenched from their homes and 
communities today than during the worst years of 
the Stolen Generation. A record 
are presently detained “in care”; many are given 
to white families and will never return to their 
communities. Abbott’s cuts to the Aboriginal 
legal services have meant the suspension of 
critical help for this new stolen generation.

Last year, the West Australian police minister, 
Liza Harvey, attended a screening in Perth of my 
film, Utopia, which documented the racism and 
thuggery of police towards black Australians, and 
the multiple deaths of young Aboriginal men in custody. The minister cried.

On her watch, 50 City of Perth armed police 
raided an Indigenous homeless camp at Matagarup, 
and drove off mostly elderly women and young 
mothers with children. The people in the camp 
described themselves as “refugees ... seeking 
safety in our own country”. They called for the 
help of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.

Australian politicians are nervous of the United 
Nations, and Abbott’s abuse of the UN is a cover 
for this. The closure of Indigenous homelands 
breaches Article 5 of the International 
Convention for the Elimination of Racial 
Discrimination (Icerd). Australia is committed to 
“provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, 
and redress for ... any action which has the aim 
of dispossessing [Indigenous people] of their 
lands, territories or resources”. The Covenant on 
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is blunt. 
“Forced evictions” are against the law.

An international momentum is building. In 2013, 
Pope Francis 
out for “Indigenous peoples ... who are increasingly isolated and abandoned”.

It was South Africa’s defiance of such a basic 
principle of human rights that ignited the 
international opprobrium and campaign that 
brought down apartheid. Australia beware.


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