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Issue #1865      April 17, 2019

Editorial

Cruel and brutal cover

For at least 40,000 years Indigenous people lived on this continent, owning, caring for and being sustained by the land. With their deep knowledge of nature and respect for the environment in which they lived, they developed a successful economy and a rich spiritual and cultural life.

In 1788 the British invaded this land and used military force to begin the land grab which continues to this day. The Indigenous people fought back to protect their lands. Indigenous people suffered murder on a huge scale, death through new diseases and poverty, and the destruction of much of their traditional society.

Despite having to fight a war for the land, the British declared this continent terra nullius – that the land was empty and belonged to no-one when they colonised it.

For over 200 years the lie of terra nullius was the cruel and brutal cover for the mass murder; for the refusal to recognise Australia’s Indigenous people; for the forced removal of children from their families; for the inhuman exploitation of the labour of Indigenous people; for the racist treatment and apartheid Indigenous people have been subjected to. Terra nullius was the justification for the denial of Land Rights.

But the Indigenous people have survived and their struggle for land and justice has never ceased.

In June 1992, the High Court of Australia recognised the concept of Native Title, stating it had existed before settlement and had continued after colonisation. However, it said Native Title was extinguished whenever land had been sold or set aside for some other purpose.

The Howard government’s amendments to the Native Title Act which followed the High Court decision, opened the way for another massive land grab by miners and pastoralists – as their leases were converted (de facto) to freehold.

This may bring “certainty” to miners and pastoralists, the certainty of knowing their ill-gotten wealth and profits are secure. But for Indigenous people it is, as Northern Land Council chairman at the time Galarrwuy Yunupingu said, “The final drink from the poisonous water hole”.

Even though Native Title opens the way for only a small number of Indigenous people to make land claims, it should none-the-less be protected from efforts to destroy it.

The High Court’s extremely narrow interpretation of Native Title in effect cuts off most Indigenous people from making legitimate claims to land.

Indigenous people should not be forced to accept the racist legal fiction that land they have been forcibly prevented from maintaining a “continuing association” with is therefore the property of the colonisers for all time.

In addition to Native Title for the few, there should be land rights for all Aborigines.

Land rights mean recognition of Indigenous prior ownership of all the continent of Australia. There must be legislation to return land to its traditional owners on the basis of traditional ownership, religious association, long occupancy and / or need, including full rights to minerals and other natural resources.

The CPA supports:

  • Communal and inalienable land rights for Indigenous communities.
  • An immediate review of the effectiveness of the Native Title legislation with a view to strengthening the powers of Indigenous communities.
  • The ongoing campaign for the restoration of unpaid wages to Indigenous peoples as a result of previous protection policies.
  • The establishment of a Federal Ombudsman with sole responsibility for investigating complaints by Indigenous people of their treatment by the criminal justice system of the states, territories and Australian governments.
  • The abolition of the current celebration of Australia Day and its replacement by a more meaningful, respectful and relevant national day that can be celebrated by all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
  • The introduction of compulsory Indigenous Studies programs in teacher training courses and in the school curriculum and, where practical and applicable, the introduction of Indigenous language programs in schools.

Next article – People with disability – We must be able to tell our stories

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