Thursday, December 10, 2009

Speaking tour increases support for Ampilatwatja walk-off

By Hamish Chitts

During October, Richard Downs, an elder of the Alyawarra-speaking community from the Northern Territory township of Ampilatwatja (300km north-east of Alice Springs) toured major eastern Australian cities to raise support for a protest camp established 3km from the township. A group of 30 elders and leaders from Ampilatwatja had set up the camp after walking off their land on July 14 to protest against the racist Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) being perpetrated against their and other remote Aboriginal communities by the Rudd Labor government.

Downs’ tour has not only raised awareness about the suffering of Aboriginal people under the NTER, but it has drawn financial support from some unions allowing the Alyawarra to begin building a more permanent and sustainable community outside the bounds of the NTER. While the NTER was sold to people in 2007 by the Howard Coalition government and the federal ALP leadership as a “tough love” solution to an alleged wave of child abuse and the shortage of housing and other basic amenities in impoverished Aboriginal communities, in reality the NTER has done nothing but strip away what little control these communities had over their affairs.

Both the Howard and Rudd governments have used the NTER to bully the communities into signing their land over to the NT and federal governments with 40-90 year leases. Since the introduction of the NTER two years ago, neither the federal nor the NT government has built a single house in any community. The NTER and Northern Territory Housing management of Ampilatwatja has done nothing to fix sub-standard housing or broken septic systems that leak ankle-deep raw sewage into some houses and into a playground. In May the government shut down the community-run store.

At the time of the walk-off, Downs said in a media release: “The Federal Minister, departments and Government Business Managers (GBMs) have not shown any compassion, understanding or respect towards our leaders and my people. Our people are demoralized, hurt, embarrassed, outcaste on their own community. We no longer have any rights to exist as humans in our own country.”

In a letter to federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, Downs stated: “Under your GBM’s and intervention team’s poor management, my people and community is in disarray. Malfunctioning with dust, rubbish and poor housing with leaking sewage. People have no motivation, no self esteem, no direction. You took away our independent community store. What will you take away from us next?”

At an Aboriginal Rights Coalition public meeting in Brisbane on October 17, Downs spoke about the results of his visits to Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, which had raised the projected $20,000 required to sink a water bore at the campsite, with most of the money coming from supportive trade unions. Downs told the Brisbane meeting that unions were also helping to set up a water pump and a shower and toilet block that will run on solar power. There are also plans to begin erecting permanent buildings also running on renewable energy and the community has received offers from permaculturalists to establish self-managed food sources for the camp.

The walk-off and support from unions and non-Aboriginal people in the eastern states is drawing comparisons with an earlier milestone struggle for Aboriginal land rights. On August 22, 1966, 200 Aboriginal stockmen of the Gurindji people and their families walked off the Wave Hill pastoral station in the NT, owned by a British aristocrat Lord Vestey. Conversations between these stockmen and Dexter Daniels, the Australian Workers’ Union Aboriginal organiser, about their low wages and poor working conditions, had led to the walk-off.

Led by Vincent Lingiari, the stockmen set up camp in a river bed (Victoria River). The camp moved before the wet season of that year and in 1967 the Gurindji people settled some 30km from Wave Hill Station at Wattie Creek (Daguragu), in the heart of their traditional land, near a site of cultural significance. The Gurindji strike soon developed into a struggle to reclaim some of their land. Well-known writer and socialist Frank Hardy helped raise the Gurindji's cause through Communist Party and union contacts. The strike lasted from 1966 to 1975 and during this time Lingiari, Billy Bunter Jampijinpa and others toured Australia, with the support of unions, to address public meetings and build support for their cause.

What turned the tide for the Gurindji was their own determination to stand their ground. This impressed non-Aboriginal working people who in turn brought pressure to bear on capitalist politicians to act. In 1975, the Whitlam Labor government, under pressure from a growing Aboriginal land rights movement, finally negotiated with Vesteys to give the Gurindji back a portion of their land. Dagaragu would eventually become the first cattle station to be owned and managed by an Aboriginal community, today known as the Murramulla Gurindji Company.

Since the British invasion in 1788 to this day, the suffering of Aboriginal people has always been directly linked to the theft of their land. Even after the land was forcibly seized and secured by the military and police, the fact that Aboriginal people continue to assert their ownership of their lands continues to pose a problem to Australia's capitalist rulers. It is no coincidence that the latest government-run attempt to dispossess Aboriginal people of their land is concentrated in NT.

Before the NTER began, 45% of the NT’s land and 80% of its coastline was owned by Aboriginal communities. The NT also represents a stronghold of different Aboriginal cultures with Aboriginal people making up 75.6% of the population outside of major towns. Almost all speak an Aboriginal language as their first language.

Through their walk-off, the Alyawarra are providing an example of resistance to cultural genocide for other Aboriginal communities under the yoke of the NTER. They are also providing an example to all working-class people that resistance to the oppressive policies of capitalist governments is possible. To support the Alyawarra or for more information, visit

From Direct Action, Sydney, Australia

Monday, August 10, 2009

ALP strangles Aboriginal communities for land

By Hamish Chitts

Recent reports and revelations have conclusively shown that the Rudd Labor government is using the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) policy to dispossess Aboriginal people. Under the Australian government’s “emergency protection measures”, the situation for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory has become worse. The government and the corporate media then blame Aboriginal culture for the dire situation, rather than the government’s own systemic neglect of the provision of adequate services, and the resulting extreme poverty of Aboriginal communities.

Gap widening
At the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Darwin on July 2, Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin released a report titled Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage. The report, compiled every two years by the Productivity Commission, measures 50 economic and social indicators of disadvantage between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. The latest report found no improvement in 80% of the indicators for Aboriginal people. They live in greater poverty and have poorer housing, poorer education and poorer employment prospects. Aboriginal people die on average 17 years younger than non-Aboriginal Australians. Aboriginal children under four years die at three times the rate of other Australian children.

More Aboriginal people in the NT are being imprisoned. Aboriginal people are 13 times as likely to end up in jail as non-Indigenous people. The imprisonment rate for Indigenous women and men has increased by 46% and 27% respectively since 2000. These increased rates not only reflect a racist system in which police more readily target Aboriginal people, and judges more often impose prison sentences on Aboriginal people. It is also due to Aboriginal people in the NT being jailed for minor offences under new NTER laws that apply only to Aboriginal people living in town camps or remote communities.

Capitalist politicians and the corporate media have justified the racially targeted NTER laws by citing high rates of substance abuse, violence and child abuse. These are realities in many remote Aboriginal communities, but are not due to some cultural or genetic quirk. All around the world and in pockets of Australian cities, the same social problems at similar rates can be found among non-Aboriginal people. Contributing factors include poverty, a sense of hopelessness, the sexist values of capitalist society and higher than average rates of imprisonment, especially when any of these factors are combined with overcrowded housing.

In Darwin, NT Shelter executive officer Toni Vine-Bromley told ABC News on July 5, “Overcrowding creates conflict and family dysfunction and all those kind of problems. It also impacts on people’s health, their ability to study or get an education, or get food in the fridge and all those things that are really what you would just normally take for granted.”

The 2004-05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey estimated that 127,546 Aboriginal people aged 18 years and over lived in overcrowded households (one or more additional bedroom required). This accounted for 27% of all Aboriginal people aged 18 years and over. There were around 1 million other Australians living in overcrowded households in 2004-05, 5% of all other persons aged 18 years and over. Approximately 14% of Aboriginal people were living in households that required two or more additional bedrooms, compared to 1% of other people. The same survey found the NT had the highest proportion of Aboriginal people aged 18 years and over living in overcrowded households (65%).

Most experts studying Aboriginal disadvantage agree that the main problem in remote Aboriginal communities and town camps is overcrowded and inadequate housing. Yet the July 4 Australian revealed that not one of the hundreds of new houses promised in 2007 for remote communities has been built. NT Aboriginal affairs minister Alison Anderson revealed on July 23 that only 30% of the $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program would go to building houses. She told the Australian: “It was quite openly told to us that there will be 15 per cent administrative costs going to government, 40 per cent for the alliance (building) partners, and another 15 per cent for indirect costs, whatever that is, that leaves 30 per cent that will hit the ground.”

Moreover, the federal and NT governments have refused to offer new housing or services unless Aboriginal people sign 40- to 99-year leases handing their land to both governments. If there were genuine concern about Aboriginal poverty, these governments would fix housing in communities that governments have neglected for decades, without any demands. But the priority of these capitalist governments is the theft of Aboriginal land.

Refusal to consult

The July 6 National Indigenous Times reported on leaked documents revealing that Macklin was advised by her department against formally consulting with Aboriginal people over the compulsory acquisition of their land because it would be “too expensive”, would tie up too many resources and was unlikely to get the outcome the government wanted. The advice was “read, agreed and noted” by Macklin on March 26, just one week before the government endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Some of the documents focus on the NTER legislation and a much-publicised promise by Macklin to amend the laws to comply with the federal Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). The NTER legislation remains the only federal law exempt from the RDA, allowing a host of racially discriminatory government actions, including the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land. When the NTER began, the federal government said it was compulsorily acquiring the land to prevent any delay in the provision of housing. Macklin was also warned that if she brought the NTER legislation under the RDA, there was a “significant risk” the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land would not survive a court challenge.

The federal government is using the threat of acquisition without compensation to push Aboriginal communities to sign the leases. Those communities that were able to resist the pressure may be able to challenge compulsory acquisition of their land when the NTER laws are made no longer exempt from the RDA in either September or October. However, Macklin has been told by government solicitors that “some minor legislative amendments” to the NTER act will reduce the risk of court challenges.

The pro-capitalist Rudd government hasn’t built houses in remote Aboriginal communities in over two years with a budget of nearly $700 million. Compare this failure with socialist Cuba, a poor Third World country, and how it is meeting its housing problems. Last year hurricanes hit Holguin and Las Tunas, two of Cuba’s eastern provinces, destroying many houses. In Holguin, 53% of the more than 124,000 houses affected have been rehabilitated or reconstructed. In Las Tunas, hurricanes Ike and Paloma damaged more than 80,000 homes, of which 32,000 have been totally restored. Cuba can do this because it assigns resources according to social need, not according to the profitability of capitalist businesses.

From Direct Action Sydney, Australia

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Macklin seizes Alice Springs Aboriginal town camps

By Hamish Chitts

Whenever Australian capitalist politicians have talked about protection, welfare and reconciliation in relation to Aboriginal people they have actually meant dispossession, forced cultural assimilation and racial oppression. The capitalist class knows that much of its wealth has been gained at the expense of Aboriginal people through the takeover of their lands. The only way these rulers were able to take possession of the Australian continent was through a 200-year campaign of ethnic cleansing of its original inhabitants.

In the latest chapter in this saga of dispossession and racist oppression, federal Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin announced on May 24 that she would use the racist Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) legislation to compulsorily acquire control over 16 Alice Spring town camps. This move, made at the start of Reconciliation Week followed a decision of the Tangentyere Council, acting on behalf of town camp residents, to reject a 40-year lease deal that would have removed all Aboriginal control and management of camp housing and put decision-making and resources into the hands of Northern Territory and federal governments. While the NTER legislation expires in 2012, Macklin said the law nonetheless allowed her to make a permanent acquisition of the town camps. “It’s forever. It’s not a 40-year lease, it’s a compulsory acquisition”, she declared.
History of dispossession

In 1872 the Alice Springs Telegraph Station was established. This was the beginning of Aboriginal dispossession in the area, with the presence of the of the telegraph station attracting pastoralists who took land around the precious permanent water supplies. This invasion and theft of natural resources was resisted by the Aborigines and in 1881 the South Australian colonial authorities sent paramilitary police to quash the uprising. The troopers were already experienced in the bloody suppression of Aboriginal people in lands further south and by 1891 they had killed over 1000 Aborigines around Alice Springs. Faced with this onslaught, Aboriginal resistance in central Australia ceased to be an armed struggle, but their struggle against to dispossession has continued to this day.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Aborigines who had been dispossessed from the best hunting grounds began to gravitate to the developing township of Alice Springs. Denied residence within the township itself, they set up camps on its fringes. In 1940, the government forced most Aboriginal town camp dwellers to move to three permanent reserves — Hermannsburg, 150 kilometres west of Alice Springs; Jay Creek, 50km west; and Little Flower Mission at Arltunga, 110 km east of Alice Springs. Wartime labour shortages led the Australian government to establish a reserve for Aboriginal workers on the edge of Alice Springs at the old telegraph station. Despite a strong push to remove other camp dwellers from the town area, they persisted in residing around Alice Springs.

Throughout the 1960s the Alice Springs Town Management Board used police and welfare officers to look for health hazards, child neglect, drunkenness and general untidiness to evict individual town camp dwellers and to put pressure on all of them to leave. However, this pressure largely failed and the camps became important places not just for Aborigines who wanted to permanently live near Alice Springs but also for those who needed a place to stay when they had to access health, dental and other services that are only available in the town.

Tangentyere Council

A group called “Tunkatjira” was formed in 1974 by Aborigines to assist the town camps to gain land, shelter, public services, transport, firewood and garbage collection. Through decades of struggle, at times strengthened by the land rights campaign, this group, now known as Tangentyere Council, became the umbrella group for the 18 town camp associations around Alice Springs. The council manages public housing and waste management but, unlike the Alice Springs town council, is also responsible for aged care, community policing, employment and training services.

Tangentyere Council is an Aboriginal owned and controlled organisation governed by an executive of representatives from the 18 town camps. It employs around 170 people. The internal planning of the camps adheres to traditional customs — camp planning constraints include the need to provide areas for different family groups, temporary accommodation for people who have to leave houses following a death, the need for visitor camping, and sacred site protection.

There are 188 houses and 72 tin sheds in the camps, usually overcrowded due to gross underfunding of housing construction by successive federal and NT governments. The myth that Aboriginal community organisations receive more per capita government money than non-Aborigines is completely false. The money that they do receive has to maintain services like aged care which, in areas predominantly inhabited by non-Aboriginal Australians, is administered by separately funded state or federal government agencies.

As with all past attacks on Aboriginal communities, the Rudd government claims to be acting for Aborigines’ own “welfare”. Macklin’s media release on the compulsory acquisitions stated: “Anybody who has been to the Alice Springs town camps knows that action is drastically and urgently needed. Living conditions in the camps are appalling. Acute overcrowding and sub-standard housing combined with alcohol abuse, despair and hopelessness have led to desperate and dangerous consequences. The camps have been the sites of horrific crimes. For vulnerable women and children in the camps, the basic human right to a safe and healthy life is simply absent.” Macklin, however, deliberately failed to acknowledge is that these conditions are the result of decades of gross government underfunding of housing and other social services for NT Aborinigal communities, and more than 130 years of government-backed racist oppression.

The Alice Springs Aboriginal town camps have special purpose leases from the NT government. The federal government has been trying to force Tangentyere Council to sign a 40-year lease that would hand over control of the camps’ housing assets, extracting rent and managing tenants to the NT Department of Housing. Aboriginal community councils across the territory in NTER-prescribed areas are being pressured to sign leases with Canberra ranging from 40-90 years giving control of land use and housing to the federal or NT governments. If they do not sign, these communities will not receive urgently needed new housing and other infrastructure that most white Australians would take for granted.

Control over housing

Tangentyere Council proposed a community housing model on a three-year trial basis, but the federal government won’t allow Aboriginal control of housing. The Howard Coalition government offered Tangentyere Council $60 million for infrastructure upgrades if it accepted government control over the camps for 40 years. The Rudd Labor government upped this to $100 million and then to $125 million, but each time the council has refused. Tangentyere Council wants its Central Australian Affordable Housing Company to manage the new housing, including determining who would go to the front of waiting lists. “There’s no contest that the housing requires a major upgrade”, the council’s lawyer, Danny Gilbert, of Gilbert and Tobin, told the May 25 Australian. “They want their affordable housing company to be given the role. They’re prepared to sign an agreement that says if we fail, you can terminate the agreement.”

The Australian reported that the government “fears favouritism and nepotism under this counter-proposal and insists the camps’ housing be handled by government to avoid such problems”. This racist slander doesn’t even stand up to logic. The council did not refuse hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds because its leadership is corrupt and seeks personal power. It refused because the camp residents fear the high rate of evictions and predicted rent increases under NT government management. Many Aboriginal people who have been former tenants of Territory Housing have already experienced evictions, with the most common reasons being cooking kangaroo tail in their backyards or having relatives from remote communities visit them. Camp residents will have nowhere else to live if evicted from their homes by Territory Housing, which already has a three-year waiting list.

The federal government’s compulsory acquisition of the town camps is due to take effect on July 6. The May 25 Australian reported that Sydney lawyer George Newhouse, who is acting on behalf of town camp residents in a separate UN complaint against the NTER, claimed Macklin is facing legal challenges to her compulsory acquisition decision. The May 29 Sydney Morning Herald reported that PM Kevin Rudd had told reporters Labor intended to continue with the previous Howard government’s intervention into remote NT communities, despite promising to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act, which was suspended by the NTER legislation.

From Direct Action Sydney, Australia

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mona Mona people fight Qld government land grab

By Hamish Chitts

In the small community of Mona Mona, just north of Cairns, some 150 people met last December 9 with Linda Aplet, the director-general of the Queensland government’s Department of Communities. Aplet told the gathering that 1600 hectares of Mona Mona land would be reduced to a mere 100 ha, to be held in trust by Mona Mona people, while the bulk of the land would be made into a national park. The people of Mona Mona would no longer be able to live on their land and would be allowed to camp on the 100 ha only on weekends.

This decision was a complete surprise to residents, who angrily rejected this attempt as another in a long line of injustices visited upon them and their ancestors by the governments of Queensland and Australia. "We’re not going to be bullied any more. We’ve been bullied all our lives", responded Mona Mona Action Group chairperson Gerald Hobbler.

In far north Queensland in 1913, large numbers of predominantly Djabugay people were rounded up and forcibly taken to the Seventh Day Adventist-run Mona Mona Mission. Reserves and missions were set up throughout Queensland under the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (1897). This act was a response to some new colonial-settlers’ uneasiness at the outright slaughter being perpetrated by other white settlers and the Queensland Native Police against Aboriginal people to clear land for white settlers. Under the guise of protection, the act enabled the colonial authorities to remove Aboriginal people forcibly from land useful to the occupiers and place them in church- or government-run prisons. Until the 1970s, mission superintendents and their superiors had complete control over Aboriginal people’s lives, including where they lived, where they worked and who they could marry. At Mona Mona, the mission authorities used unpaid Aboriginal labour to cut and mill timber and farm the land.

In 1962, Mona Mona Mission was closed, and some of its residents were forcibly removed to Palm Island, which was used by the Queensland government as a penal colony for Aborigines who resisted the occupiers’ laws. From the late 1960s, some Djabugay people and former residents moved back to Mona Mona and built houses. Since that time, the people of Mona Mona have been completely neglected by the Queensland government, which for decades has failed to provide basic infrastructure like running water or electricity, not to mention assistance with housing.

On the Djabugay Community website, resident Judi Enoch said after the December 9 meeting: "I take offence to the fact that is suggested that we, Indigenous People, do not have the capacity to manage (our own) land. We have done this for generations. Mona Mona people are entitled to amenities like water, power, sewage and housing just as any other Australian. This is a social justice issue that these rights are being denied to us here in Mona Mona." The community has said it won’t shift and drafted a resolution declaring: "As a result of the Mona Mona meeting dated December 9th 2008 ... it is clear that the Mona Mona people will not move from Mona Mona and that we outrightly reject the carve-up of Mona Mona lands. Further negotiations are required with government to ensure the preservation of the approximately 1600 hectares of Mona Mona reserve for cultural, historical and residential purposes under a Mona Mona trusteeship."

On February 23, a meeting was held between the defiant Mona Mona Action Group and the Queensland government departments still keen to steal their land. Afterwards Glenis Grogan from the Mona Mona Action Group said of the government, "They came to the meeting to implement the decisions" made previously.

For more information or to offer support, visit the Facebook group Save the Town of Mona Mona or email
From Direct Action, Sydney, Australia