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Issue #1677      March 18, 2015

“Lifestyle choices” – the “gaff” that says it all

Prime Minister Abbott’s contemptuous statement that Aboriginal Australians were exercising a taxpayer-funded “lifestyle choice” by living in remote communities has outraged and disappointed many. Even hand-picked Indigenous affairs advisers, Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson, have weighed into the condemnation of the PM’s glib aside, made during an ABC Radio interview in Kalgoorlie last week.

Warren Mundine with the Prime Minister.

“That is a complete misconception of what it is and he’s wrong in that regard,” Mr Mundine said. “It’s not about a lifestyle, it’s not like retiring and moving for a sea change. It is about thousands of connection, their religious beliefs and the essence of who they are.”

Mr Pearson didn’t spare Abbott’s feelings, either. “For this debate to be conducted in such an off-the-cuff manner through policy thought bubbles is, I think, a disgraceful turn of events,” he said. The “debate” referred to is around the Barnett government’s closure of up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities in WA as a result of the removal of Commonwealth funding.

The WA experience is set to be replicated across the country because the PM’s comments weren’t a “thought bubble” or a “gaff” in the sense of being an error. They reveal a plan that has been a long time in development.

Abbott, the self-proclaimed Prime Minister for Indigenous Australians, has defended his comments saying that he is proud to have “run the country” from North-East Arnhem Land last year. Symbolism can’t hide the underlying agenda. Last July, he made another “gaff” saying that, prior to European occupation in 1788, Sydney and it surrounds were “bush” – empty land crying out for “settlement” and “development”.

Abbott’s latest comments reveal an impatience on the part of those wanting unfettered access to resources in remote areas of the country. Warren Mundine noted that removal to under-serviced townships already suffering high unemployment would exacerbate social problems and create new ones for displaced Aboriginal communities.

It would also make it hard to maintain their connection to the land; to defend their scant land rights. Mundine insists there are ways to preserve remote communities but the government is not interested. It wants a new terra nullius – a land without people so as to allow free rein for exploitation by transnational resource sector corporations.

A related initiative the federal government would like to progress is the development of northern Australia – a belt across the top of the country where “The focus is on building priority roads, developing water resources, attracting more investment and reducing red tape,” according to the PM. He was talking about a federal government blueprint for what is being described as the “next frontier” for economic development. The relevant document is due to be released by mid-year.

The Twiggy Forrests and Gina Rineharts of this world can hardly wait. It will be a land thrown open for plunder. Workers from all over the world will be flown in and flown out of this union-free territory. Land rights would be the first item of “red tape” to be torn up along with regulation and oversight of safety and environmental standards. “Awards”, stripped bare or otherwise, would be dim memory.

Abbott’s parliamentary colleagues rushed to his defence on this occasion. According to them, the media were being “unfair” to the PM for simply raising issues that should be discussed. They probably realise that, as plans for the future exploitation of the country reach their implementation phase, somebody will have to announce the next major phase of the total dispossession of the Aboriginal people. The duty falling to the rest of us is to stop these reactionary plans.

Next article – Concern for trapped workers

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