Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Say ‘NO’ to Howard’s NT land grab!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Howard’s police-military operation in the Northern Territory against remote Aboriginal communities has been met with growing scepticism. One recent opinion poll, found 58 percent of people thought Howard was only acting because of the federal election, while only 25 percent accepted that the prime minister genuinely cared about the plight of Aboriginal children.

The results suggest ordinary people are drawing the conclusion that Howard’s belated pretense of concern about the abuse of indigenous children is yet another political stunt.

Recent research commissioned by the AMA revealed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is currently under-funded to the tune of $450 million annually. Yet Howard wants us to believe that the issues facing indigenous communities are not social and are in fact about law and order!

The ‘open ended campaign’ which includes a costly military-police deployment and the prohibition of alcohol, will do nothing to improve the chronic housing crisis and under provision of basic health amenities.

At the centre of this plan, the federal government will abolish permits to access Aboriginal land and will compulsorily acquire Aboriginal townships, under five year leases. Scrapping the permit system will open the way for the big mining companies to further their interests in the area.

The agenda is to eradicate community title and promote private ownership. The intervention is the latest in a series of aggressive federal government moves to coerce local Aboriginal councils into giving up control of their land in return for promises for funding for housing, and repairs, which is currently in crisis.

The Howard government will override the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act and the 1976 Land Rights Act, which granted land tenure to Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. The government has claimed that it had to take over Aboriginal lands so it would not ‘waste time’ negotiating with councils to make repairs, and to provide services and infrastructure.

The real motivation for the ‘national emergency’ is a blatant land grab. Communal ownership makes it difficult for the government to give mining companies carte blanche to explore and mine wherever they like. Currently, miners need to enter into negotiations with indigenous communities.

Already, 60 per cent of minerals operations in Australia occur adjacent to indigenous communities. A combination of economic conditions and higher uranium prices have increased interest in Australian uranium internationally. It was recently estimated that there was $60 billion worth of uranium in the ground in the north. Australia, holds 40% of all world uranium deposits.

The Labor Party is continuing to back the Howard government’s takeover plan. Labor’s indigenous affairs spokesperson Jenny Macklin has also endorsed the proposal to extend the welfare cut-off measures nationally to all families. Parents whose children miss school or are identified by state child protection agencies as being at risk will have half their welfare and family benefits ‘quarantined’.

The representatives of capitalism in the two major parties have absolutely no interest in seriously assisting Aboriginal communities. These interventions are clearly setting precedents against land rights, welfare rights and basic democratic freedoms. The military-police deployment in the Northern Territory is being used as a testing ground and if successful similar plans to wind back rights will be implemented against other oppressed layers of society.

The Socialist Party stands totally opposed to Howard’s latest attacks on indigenous communities. We call for police and army officers to withdraw from Aboriginal communities immediately. What is required is money for health, education and social services. We support full land rights and a democratically-planned strategy based on the interests of the poor and working class to overcome the deep social problems of indigenous Australia. We also fight to take the main pillars of the economy into public ownership, under democratic working class planning and control. Only this will put an end to the abject poverty we currently see in indigenous communities.

By SP reporters


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