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Sam Watson:New government, same old racism

Sam Watson, Socialist Alliance Indigenous Rights Spokesperson

28 May 2009

In his Sorry Speech, delivered on February 13, 2008, Kevin Rudd said "We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians."

More than a year later, the Rudd government has joined this list of successive governments, having not only failed to end Howard's racialist Northern Territory Emergency Response, but also expanding it and forcing Aboriginal housing agencies to sign away their land or miss out on much needed funding.

On Monday, May 25, Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, added insult to injury by opening Reconciliation Week with the announcement of the compulsory acquisition of Alice Springs town camps which are represented by Tangentyere Council. Macklin's move follows the Council's refusal to sign a 40 year lease deal and transfer control over housing in the town camps to Territory Housing.

When she was shadow spokesperson for Indigenous affairs, Macklin said "We do not want land tenure reform being made a condition of funding for basic services." Yet this is precisely what Macklin is now enforcing in Alice Springs, where she is threatening with compulsory acquisition unless Tangentyere Council signs away the land for 40 years.

Aboriginal people have been fighting for their land and housing in the town camps within the boundaries of the township for decades. Chronic underfunding has led to overcrowding and substandard services, which Macklin now uses as excuse for taking away any decision-making power from Tangentyere Council and the town camps it represents.

The ALP's attack on Aboriginal self-determination and land rights extends beyond Alice Springs and is nothing new.

Indeed, the Rudd government still continues Howard's "Partnership Agreements" which include leaseback agreements signing over land to the government for a minimum of 40 years before funding for new housing or maintenance and repairs of existing housing is released.

In January, 2009, Macklin wrote a letter to state governments instructing them not to use federal funds for Aboriginal housing unless the housing agencies sign leaseback agreements of at least 40 years duration.

Macklin is also defending the discriminatory compulsory income management scheme, which has forced many people into the larger centres, as the cards handed out are only valid at selected shops sometimes hundreds of kilometres away from the community.

On May 20, the Northern Territory government released its new policy titled "Working Futures – Remote Service Delivery". Under this policy, 20 remote communities are selected to become mainstream towns called "Territory Growth Towns" and receive $160 million priority funding for infrastructure such as schools and health services. The remaining 580 communities or outstations are to share $36 million annually.

People living in one of the 580 communities not selected would be forced to commute for access to services or move to one of the "Growth Towns". Yet, as Jon Altman wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald on May 26, "During the past 30 years, a growing body of research has indicated that life at outstations is better – in health out-comes, livelihood options and social cohesion, even housing conditions – than at larger townships, despite neglect."

The ALP's push to coerce all aspects of the lives of Australia's Aboriginals into Western mainstream reflects a capitalist view of human activity and signals a return to assimilation and the destruction of Aboriginal culture.

Socialist Alliance condemns Macklin's hypocrisy and stands in solidarity with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in the Northern Territory resisting the abolition of self-determination in Aboriginal housing. We demand that the Rudd government release much needed funding to Aboriginal housing agencies unconditionally and immediately, in Alice Springs and elsewhere, and that all remote Aboriginal communities be adequately funded and supported.

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