Australia: Rightwing government attacks Aboriginal rights under cloak of deep social problems

Draconian legislation and severe welfare cuts planned

The following statement (slightly edited) was produced by the Socialist Party (CWI in Australia), on 29 June 2007, in response to Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s recent attacks on Aboriginal communities and his government plans to introduce draconian legislation.

Rightwing government attacks Aboriginal rights under cloak of deep social problems

The Howard government’s "national emergency" plan to "ban alcohol and pornography" in Aboriginal communities will not go one ounce of the way towards addressing the massive social problems faced by Aboriginal people.

Howard announced the bans after an inquiry found child sex abuse in several indigenous communities in Australia’s Northern Territory. The inquiry also suggested that an injection of funds go into health and social services in Aboriginal communities but Howard decided to ignore this part of the report.

Instead, the rightwing Liberal prime minister announced a raft of other measures, including, in effect, occupying large sections of land and imposing a virtual martial law. Alcohol will be banned for six months, pornography will be made illegal, Aboriginal children will be forcibly medically examined, and welfare payments will only be paid if children attend school.

He will also move to half-welfare payments, in general, with the remaining portions being transferred to food and clothing vouchers. Other aspects of the plan include forcing people into work on a "work for the dole" programme. Police officers and army troops will take over Aboriginal camps to ensure these measures are adhered to.

The fact that there will be a military presence in Aboriginal communities to back up the police force is almost unparalleled in Australian history. It is now not only the case that Australian troops are used in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan but they will also be used to occupy Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory! This naked use of power shows the true role of the state. Howard is prepared to go to extreme lengths to push through his neo-liberal agenda and the use of the military on this occasion is just one aspect of that.

Howard’s plan is in effect a massive land grab. He will override several pieces of legislation to take over land, employing ’five year leases’. At the same time, the existing permit system, which allows indigenous communities to restrict access to their lands, will be scrapped. This is important from the point of view of the big business interests that Howard represents. Big mining companies, in particular, have a keen interest in seeing Aboriginal land rights slowly eroded.

Racist attack

It is not the case that Howard has a new found compassion for the plight of Aboriginal people, as the land grabs show. Furthermore, Howard is attempting to use Aboriginal people as a political football. In the short term, he sees this as a way to grab votes ahead of the federal [national] election, later this year. This plan is nothing less than a racist attack on the most exploited section of people in Australian society.

The roots to the problems facing Aboriginal people are social. Australia is ranked as one of the ’worst wealthy nations’ at improving the health of indigenous people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, on average, die nearly 20 years younger than other Australians, and infant mortality is three times higher.

Most Australian people are sickened at the problems that Aboriginal people are forced to face and most support measures to address these problems, including genuine child protection and welfare measures. But Howard is attempting to divert the blame for the disastrous situation facing indigenous peoples away from successive state and federal governments. It is a myth that millions of dollars were pumped into Aboriginal welfare, as claimed by Australia’s rightwing. In fact, a recent report stated that only 70 cents is spent per head on the health of indigenous people for every A$1 spent on the rest of the population.

Howard’s new attacks on democratic rights, on welfare recipients and on land rights should be opposed by all working people in Australia. This is just the thin edge of the wedge; if Howard is allowed to get away with this in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory similar attacks will soon be waged against other vulnerable sections of the working class.

The capitalist system and its representatives in the major parties have no interest in seriously assisting Aboriginal communities. They have a view that says indigenous people are a ’burden’ on the system, as many do not conform to the ’norms’ of capitalist society. They would much rather that Aboriginal people were ’assimilated’ (i.e. forced) into ’white society’, so they could more effectively exploit them as workers and sell their land and natural resources.

Outrageously, Kevin Rudd, the leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), announced that the Labor Party fully supports Howard’s plan. At every turn, Labor continues to prove that it is no friend of working people and Aboriginal people. Rudd parrots Prime Minister Howard on almost every issue and if a Labor government is elected later this year the differences of those in power will be more of style than of substance. A Kevin Rudd Labor government will be as incapable as Howard at addressing Aboriginal issues.

In contrast, the Socialist Party (CWI in Australia) stands totally opposed to this new round of attacks on Aboriginal people. We will fight to strengthen the links between the workers’ movement and aboriginal people, as the best way to combat all of the neo-liberal attacks Howard is waging against indigenous and non-indigenous people.

The SP calls for:

  • Police and army officers out of Aboriginal communities now!
  • Full welfare rights for all indigenous people – No to "work for the dole"
  • Money for health, education and social services – not more police
  • Full land rights and a democratically-planned strategy based on the interests of the poor and working class to overcome the deep social problems of indigenous Australia
  • Take the main pillars of the economy into public ownership, under democratic working class planning and control, to end poverty, joblessness and need, for all

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July 2007