In recent weeks police in Perth have repeatedly attacked the Nyoongar Tent Embassy on Matagarup (Heirisson Island). Large numbers of officers have been used along with horses and dogs. Four people have been arrested on trumped up charges in an attempt to try and weaken the protest.
The Barnett Government has ordered the police to remove the protesters. At the moment the Tent Embassy is the most vocal and visible form of opposition to the government’s attempt to take land from the Nyoongar people in South Western Australia.
Resources and mining companies, and other developers, have for a long time demanded access to land in the South West of Western Australia. This land is rich in natural resources. In order to facilitate the needs of big business Barnett has proposed extinguishing Native Title arrangements as part of a $1 billion deal.
This ‘offer’ equates to roughly $29,000 per person (approximately 35,000 Nyoongar people over 10 years). Clearly $29,000 per person will not be enough to end the poverty and provide enough jobs and services for people in order to close the wealth gap and bring an end to the discrimination that Indigenous people face.
If the Barnett government was serious about providing funding for jobs and services for the Nyoongar community they would not be linking the deal to the extinguishment of Native Title arrangements. As has been explained by Tent Embassy activists this deal equates to just another land grab and swindle.
It is the equivalent of being offered $14,500 now, and $14,500 plus interest in 10 years time for a house and property worth $535,000! (the median price for a house in WA). This dodgy deal would correctly make most people feel cheated and angry. This mood in part is what is being expressed at the Nyoongar Tent Embassy.
The resources and mining companies are raking in huge profits at the expense of ordinary people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Ordinary people, be they black or white, are struggling to make ends meet while the rich continue to get richer. This trend has to be stopped and a campaign to defeat the Barnett government deal is the first step.
The initial plans of the Tent Embassy to explain the deal to the 35,000 Nyoongar people is a good start. Further to this we demand that all Nyoongar people should have the right to vote on the deal. We can not have a situation whereby the South West Land and Sea Council (SWLSC) vote undemocratically on behalf of the entire Nyoongar community.
Side by side with a campaign to defeat this dodgy deal we need to also fight to ensure that Indigenous communities are properly resourced and have the power to decide how those resources are allocated. We argue for full land rights and for collective ownership and democratic control of Indigenous land.
If resources were owned and controlled by the majority we could then plan to build housing and community services in a democratic way. In contrast to Barnett’s sham deal this would create real jobs and drastically improve the living standards of the Nyoongar community and others alike.
By Mick Suter