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No racist laws! Susan Austin speech to indigenous support rally in Hobart

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This is a transcript of Susan Austin's (Socialist Alliance candidate for Denison) -speech to a indigenous support rally of 250 in Hobart today

“There’s no crime that John Howard won’t stoop to to preserve his miserable racist government”, Socialist Alliance Indigenous rights spokesperson and Qld Murri leader Sam Watson has said.

“It’s convenient for Howard and the tough-love-sloganeering Noel Pearson to blame everything on the welfare system”, Watson said. “But it is the absence of any system to actually end the racist oppression, economic marginalisation and poverty of Indigenous communities that is the cause for these problems.

In the lead up to this year’s federal elections, Howard is getting desperate. What has helped him get through in the past – around election time he whips up racism and tries to turn these prejudices into votes. We still remember the Tampa incident when Howard stirred up racism and fear, and turned a boatload of desperate refugees away, saying that he decides who comes into this country. This time it is aboriginal people who are the victims of his pathetic political game. Already people are venting all their ignorant opinions on talk-back radio and letters to the editor, saying what they think needs to happen to fix up the mess that indigenous communities are in. Howard and Rudd, both Liberal and Labor, are encouraging this paternalistic, insulting, we-know-what‘s- best-for-you attitude. They want to be seen to be doing something to resolve the problems with child abuse and alcoholism in indigenous communities, while at the same time, cutting as much money as they can from the welfare bill. So there are real problems in these communities. But will a military and police occupation solve it? Of course not, it will make it worse, there are already reports of some women running away to the sandhills with their kids for fear of having them taken away – the history of kids being stolen from families supposedly ‘for their own good’ is too recent to be forgotten.

Will taking away the communities collective ownership of their land solve it? Of course not, Howard’s plan shifts the overall control of communities away from Aboriginal land councils to the federal government, which will be given five-year leases of the townships, taking native title backwards 40 years.

Will taking away people’s welfare payments solve it? Of course not, it will lead to more poverty and disempowerment. People who live on welfare payments will know what I am talking about when I say it is hard enough to make ends meet with the little amount of money the government coughs up, imagine trying to live on 50% of this? Imagine having to argue with a white bureaucracy about what is and isn’t essential on your shopping list, what you can or can’t spend your dollars on, or having your payment reduced because your kids attendance at school is being monitored all the time.

Will banning alcohol and pornography help? What sort of apartheid system are we seeing here, where it’s fine for a white person to have a beer or a glass of wine with a meal, but it’s illegal for an aboriginal person? That a white man can look through a porno mag but a black man can’t? What about the idea of consulting communities, who are best positioned to know what they need in order to be able to deal with these problems. What about issues of unemployment and discrimination that lie behind the surface, and have done so for a long time. I can’t see any massive program of well-paid jobs being proposed. Instead, we have a punitive approach to investigating and convicting as many aboriginal people as possible.

How enraging to be flooding communities with police when only one day before this plan was announced, a white police officer, senior sergeant Chris Hurley, walked free from a Townsville court after an all-white jury decided he was not guilty of assault and manslaughter. This is despite the fact that at one stage he admitted that he caused the death of an aboriginal man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, in 2004 in the Palm Island watchhouse, and despite the coroner finding evidence that it seemed like Mulrinji’s injuries, including a liver that was split in two, were due to more than just a ‘complicated fall’. If the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody had been adhered to, then Mulrinji, who was arrested for the trivial offences of public drunkenness and swearing, shouldn’t have been taken to the jail at all. Hardly any of these recommendations have been implemented since they were handed down in 1991, and since then, I have heard that over 200 aboriginal people have died in custody. Hurley was the first police officer in Qld to be tried over a death in custody, and even though he has been let off, despite all the evidence suggesting it was manslaughter, the campaign for justice continues. 250 people marched in Brisbane on Friday, and there were solidarity demonstrations in Sydney and Melbourne. We received a positive response on Saturday at the markets with our petition for justice for Mulrinji. The Queensland Police Union are still wild at the thought that one of their members could have been brought to account for their racist criminal actions, and are paying for pathetic radio ads trying to defend themselves on the issue. And just yesterday, the news reported that an investigation is under way after a man, believed to be an Aborigine, died in police custody in north Queensland. Police said the middle-aged man was being transported to the Mareeba watchhouse for questioning when he was found dead in a police vehicle. How can aboriginal people anywhere trust such a police force?


Will compulsory health checks of all children help? What a disgusting measure to force parents into handing their kids over for inspections for signs of abuse by people that they don’t know, and if problems are found, then what? What real health services are being proposed? One doctor is on the front page of yesterday’s Mercury being given a pat on the back for planning to devote two weeks to an aboriginal community. Two weeks! What is that going to achieve exactly? The Howard government has recently dismissed the modest appeal by Oxfam and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation for spending on Aboriginal Health to be increased by a measly $450 million a year. There has been report after report highlighting the health crisis in aboriginal communities, yet the government has consistently refused to do anything about it. We are living in a country where the original inhabitants, aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, have a life expectancy 17 years less than white Australians. 17 years less! Infant mortality is three times higher. These are third world health statistics, and the government has done nothing. Now they are trying to encourage doctors to volunteer, for a couple of weeks at a time! And in the context of an all-out assault on aboriginal rights!

A properly funded program of positive discrimination for Indigenous people in education and training and a real Indigenous job creation campaign could have started to solve the problems of Aboriginal communities’ hopelessness years ago. Real land rights, a government apology, and aboriginal community control and also fundamental.

The Socialist Alliance will be putting forward such a program at the federal elections. In the meantime we’ll continue to do everything we can to build community resistance to Coalition and Labor racism and indifference.

I’ll be standing for the Socialist Alliance in Denison in these elections, calling for real self-determination and justice for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We need to kick Howard out for sure, but the Labor party has a lot to answer for in not challenging these racist onslaughts. We need a real alternative. And what’s more, we need to keep up the fight. Most Australians want equality for indigenous people, as we saw by the massive show of support during the reconciliation walks in 2000, but we need to counter the myths and lies that the government and the ALP and the shock-jocks are relying on, by spreading real information and we need to build solidarity and mobilize people to defeat these racist laws.

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