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Full compensation! Full Indigenous rights now!

Statement by the National Executive of the Socialist Alliance

On Wednesday, February 13, the Rudd Labor government will say "sorry" to the Indigenous peoples of Australia for the official theft of tens of thousands of babies and children: the Stolen Generations.

For many who suffered from this crime, this apology may bring the hope that official racism is finally ending -- 220 years after the initial invasion of Indigenous lands by the British colonial power.

However, the signs are that even this symbolic gesture of regret may be mealy-mouthed. According to Michael Mansell from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, "it is widely believed there will not be a reference to genocide and there will be a lot of emphasis on the good intentions of administrators, officials and missionaries".

But even a heartfelt and frank recognition of the crimes committed against the Stolen Generations, although welcome, will not mean official racism is dead.

Under the Howard government, from the dissolution of ATSIC to the Northern Territory intervention, racism intensified. In a period of economic boom, when huge strides could have been made in closing the gap in Indigenous health, education and employment, malign neglect remained the rule.

This shameful state of affairs will continue while those who rule in this country, presently wall-to-wall Labor governments, refuse to accept four principles:

* Justice for Indigenous Australia begins with a frank and full acknowledgement of the fact that white Australia has a black history, and a determination to make amends;

* Australia has been built through the dispossession of Indigenous people of their land;

* Real equality for Indigenous people requires both compensation for past injustices and a massive increase in funding for programs in health, housing and education; and

* The right of Aboriginal people to control their own affairs must be legally enshrined and placed at the heart of policy, as specified in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The apology is only a small step forward. In the words of Sam Watson, the Socialist Alliance's spokesperson on Indigenous rights:

"A key recommendation of the Bringing Them Home report was that compensation must be paid. In this day and age, it is basic justice that victims of violent crimes receive compensation through the courts. Without compensation, Rudd's apology won't buy a loaf of bread or a handful of dirt."

Achieving justice also requires full and immediate compensation for stolen wages; implementation of all the recommendations of the inquiries into black deaths in custody; compensation for the separation of Indigenous children from their families; new inquiries into suspicious Aboriginal deaths in custody; and a new investigation into the death of Redfern teenager TJ Hickey.

Some of these matters come under state and territory jurisdiction, but if there is one area where Rudd's "new federalism" could actually be used to good effect it is in helping enshrine Indigenous people's rights at all levels.

NT intervention

The most immediate issue facing Aboriginal Australia is the federal intervention into Northern Territory Indigenous communities. Howard used the Little Children are Sacred report as its pretext, yet six months later only a handful of actual charges have been laid. The intervention was decided without any consultation with Indigenous communities and involved the suspension of the Territory's land rights law and the permit system, as well as the forced quarantining of welfare payments.

The Socialist Alliance calls for the immediate restoration of the permit system and reinstatement of the NT land rights law and the Anti-Discrimination Act. It also supports the call coming from Aboriginal organisations for an immediate independent review controlled by the NT Indigenous communities to decide the future of the intervention, and for the Rudd government to commit to respecting the results of such a review.

Finally, the Socialist Alliance calls for an emergency mobilisation of resources to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia in health, housing, employment and education. At present rates of change the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will never reach that of the non-Indigenous population!

Two centuries of land theft and destruction of life, language, culture and basic human rights has inflicted terrible racial oppression on Indigenous people in Australia. The February 13 apology can be a purely symbolic event that changes nothing of that dreadful heritage, or it can coincide with the revival of the Indigenous movement to overturn it.

As always, the Socialist Alliance will support that movement to the hilt--such a movement is the only guarantee that Indigenous justice will ever be attained.

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