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Issue #1647      July 16, 2014


The long battle for Indigenous equality

Seven years ago the late Peter Symon, general secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, wrote: “People and organisations from all over the world wonder how so many Indigenous people in Australia continue to live in appalling Third World conditions in such a rich and prosperous society.”

Matters have not improved since then. Recent studies have revealed that almost one in three children who contact homelessness agencies now are Indigenous, even though Indigenous children only represent 5.5 percent of the entire Australian child population.

Medical services in remote areas are inadequate to meet the needs of Indigenous residents. Indigenous children are nearly eight times as likely to be hospitalised with injuries as non-Indigenous children. Their injury death rate is twice as high.

Many Aboriginal people are desperately in need of legal assistance. Indigenous children are 17 times as likely to be under youth justice supervision as non-Indigenous children. Yet the Abbott government cut funding for the Aboriginal Legal Service by 4.5 percent in January and now wants to cut funding for the NSW/ACT Prisoner ThroughCare program, which helps Aboriginal prisoners before and after release from jail – and helps them stay out.

The government refuses to recognise that soaring crime rates and social breakdown result from demoralising poverty and inadequate basic services. Abbott even subscribes to the colonial fiction that Australia was “terra nullius”, a land with no human occupants, ready to be taken over and exploited, prior to white occupation.

In a recent stumbling defence of foreign investment in Australia he declared: “… our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled Great South Land.” Labor Senator Nova Peris described the statement as highly offensive, dismissive of Aboriginal people, incorrect and destructive of bipartisan efforts to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution. She commented bitterly: “British settlement was not an investment, it was occupation. The comments from the Prime Minister have not just offended Aboriginal people but many people around the country.”

And now it seems some Indigenous leaders can’t wait to help implement corporate plans for big new developments on Aboriginal land. Three years ago Abbott’s advisor on Aboriginal affairs, Warren Mundine, was the part-owner of Indigenous Investment Management Pty Ltd (IIM). That company was hired by Rewards Minerals to convince the Western Desert Lands Aboriginal Corporation to drop its opposition to a Rewards mine at Lake Disappointment, a sacred site for the Martu people in the Pilbara.

Mundine now claims that Indigenous people are still impoverished because of environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society, which helped Aboriginal people defeat proposed new developments on Indigenous land, like the James Price Point gas hub scheme in the Kimberleys and the Muckaty Station nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory. These schemes were supported by some leaders of the local Indigenous land councils. However, they were defeated because of opposition from the Traditional Owners, who asked the Wilderness Society to become involved.

Wilderness Society Spokesman Lyndon Schneiders commented: “… problems facing Aboriginal people … include poor health and education services, poor community infrastructure, few sustainable and long-term economic opportunities, underdeveloped skill bases and poor community governance – but not … the environmental movement.”

There have been some wonderful victories in the Indigenous people’s struggle for genuine reconciliation, land rights, better living conditions, preservation of their culture and recognition of their human rights. But as Peter Symon observed, although Australian governments have produced policies that appear dedicated to addressing these issues they have still failed to achieve progress in this area because that “would threaten the corporate stranglehold of this country’s vast land and resources.”

Environment groups do not pose a threat to the interests of Indigenous people, nor for that matter do communists or others who have supported the Indigenous people’s struggle for equality.

The real threat comes from corporate capitalism.

Next article – Statement: Historic breakthrough

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