Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

Huge potential to build Aboriginal rights movement

The struggle for Aboriginal rights and freedom has entered a militant new phase. The massive turnout across the country for protests against the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in Western Australia demonstrates the huge potential of this growing movement.

On April 10 in Melbourne around 5000 people occupied the intersection at Flinders Street station for hours in protest against the closures. The ruling class response to the protests was predictable. Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle called protestors ‘self-indulgent’, while the Herald Sun branded the rally a ‘selfish rabble.’

While the forced community closures are the main focus of the recent rallies it is clear that people are also showing up in large numbers against Aboriginal oppression and dispossession more generally. Government attacks and Aboriginal resistance struggles all around the country over recent weeks prove the problem is not limited to one issue but is thoroughly systemic.

The brave Aboriginal residents of the Block in Redfern fighting for affordable housing endured the catastrophic storm that lashed Sydney in April. Protest leader Aunty Jenny Munro pointed out that the storm highlights the need to fight homelessness with public housing: ‘Redfern was famous for catering for our community, wherever they came from there was a bed, a feed and a friendly face here.’ But rather than community need, commercial interests now dominate the future of the Block.

In Canberra on April 25 a group of Aboriginal people marched under a ‘Lest we forget the Frontier Wars’ banner. They hoped to draw attention to the tens of thousands of Aboriginal lives lost in the brutal wars of colonisation. Australian Federal Police stopped the march and attempted to arrest protest leader Uncle Vince. The Government pours millions of dollars into ANZAC commemorations, but does clearly not want the Aboriginal victims of the Frontier Wars remembered in the same way.

In Alice Springs racists are forming vigilante groups threatening violence against Aboriginal people. Two groups – the ‘Concerned Residents Council’ and the ‘Alice Springs Volunteer Force’ – now patrol the town. These self-described ‘paramilitary forces’ target Aboriginal youth, who they describe as housebreakers and car thieves. Aboriginal residents of Alice Springs – who are no strangers to vigilante violence – have said they fear the situation will quickly get worse if these groups are not stopped.

The explosion of activism around the question of Aboriginal oppression has opened up an opportunity to struggle around all these questions and more. The forced closures, the desperate need for public housing, the genuine recognition of injustice past and present, combating organised racist groups, deaths in custody and re-emerging struggles for equal pay are just some the battles facing us today.

The common link between all these struggles is the profit-driven capitalist system, which puts big business greed before community need, lies about the true reasons behind Aboriginal disadvantage, and pits ordinary Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people against each other in a fight over scraps.

The best way to cut across these attempts to divide and rule us is to adopt a programme of class unity whereby Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people fight together for jobs, homes and services for all. It will also enable us to more successfully counter the growth of racist groups like Reclaim Australia, who in future will try to appeal to people on the basis of their economic fears.

The larger fight for land rights and self-determination, however, will not be won within the profit-driven system of private ownership. Aboriginal self-determination and the end of the destruction of land for profit will only be possible in a society based on genuine democracy and collective ownership – a socialist society.

By Chris Dite