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Issue #1665      November 19, 2014


Terra nullius never went away

“As we look around this glorious city, as we see the extraordinary development, it’s hard to think that back in 1788 it was nothing but bush … Everything would have seemed so extraordinarily basic and raw …,,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told an international gathering in Sydney on November 14. He repeated the same words again at a post-APEC International Business breakfast on November 17. Terra nullius is back on the agenda, not that it ever really went away. Australia is open for business, for big business and this government is proudly clearing the way, in particular, for mining companies.

Consistent with Abbott’s terra nullius outlook, the government is cutting its funding of essential services for remote Aboriginal communities. Responsibility is being handed over to the states, with a one-up payment to compensate the states for the additional cost of providing services. West Australian Premier Colin Barnett, who is cut from the same cloth as the PM, responded to the deal by flagging the closure of up to 150 remote Indigenous communities and the forced removal of more than 12,000 people from their land. Initially Barnett blamed the federal government’s decision to cease funding of power, water and other services to remote communities beyond the next two years. Barnett said his hands were tied.

Past experiences of forced removal off country have proved disastrous. Towns, already short of housing, have not been able to cope with the influx of people. The result is more fringe dwellers, social problems, suicides and incarceration. Western Australia already has the highest rate of incarceration of Indigenous people, around 20 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians. In fact Barnett hypocritically admitted that it “will cause great distress to Aboriginal people who will move, it will cause issues in regional towns as Aboriginal people move into them.”

Barnett tried to argue it was necessary pointing to “high rates of suicide, poor education, poor health, no jobs ... it’s a huge economic, social and health issue.” He then played the “viability” card, blaming the Indigenous communities for their economic and social problems.

“They [the smaller remote communities] are not viable and the social outcomes, the abuse and neglect of young children, is a disgrace to this state ... this is the biggest social issue this state faces.”

It certainly is a disgrace to the state and federal governments and to the big mining corporations. Not a single suggestion about addressing the causes of the social issues. No way does the WA Coalition government intend spending a cent of the royalties from minerals extracted from Aboriginal land on essential services that the rest of the Australian people take for granted. The federal government has closed the Community Development Employment Projects program, there is no serious job creation program; education and skills development are either not appropriate or unavailable. It is no accident that successive state and federal governments have deprived Indigenous communities of services, housing, job opportunities and the programs and incarcerated people on almost any excuse. Under such conditions, communities are set to “fail”, providing the excuse to force them off their land.

“How can you even contemplate removing people from their land when it is the very essence of their being?” CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Services Western Australia (ALSWA), Noongar man, Dennis Eggington exclaimed. “If our people were pastoralists living in remote WA, we would be supported, accommodated and rewarded for our efforts. Yet, because we are Aboriginal people who perhaps don’t share the same materialistic values as our non-Indigenous counterparts, we are seen as not being ‘viable’ and we should be ‘removed’ – there’s that term again.” These profits are from the land of Indigenous people. That is why funding is being cut, that is why the state and federal governments want to remove its Indigenous owners.

“Western Australia is more concerned about profits than people,” Eggington said. There is no right to veto under the Native Title Act, but Traditional Owners have been able to take on the mining corporations and gain considerable public support and see projects delayed or even suspended. The mining companies want to be given carte blanche to plunder Indigenous land. We are talking about criminal neglect, theft, racism and assimilation. The closure of remote communities is nothing short of a land grab for mining corporations.

Next article – Stop deportation of Afghan asylum seekers

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