The Howard governments “national emergency” plan to ban alcohol and pornography in Aboriginal communities will not go one ounce of the way towards addressing the massive social problems faced by Aboriginal people.
Howard announced the bans after an inquiry found child sex abuse in several indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. The inquiry also suggested that an injection of funds go into health and social services in Aboriginal communities but Howard has decided to ignore this part of the report.
Instead he has announced a raft of other measures including in effect occupying large sections of land and imposing a virtual martial law. Alcohol will be banned for six months, pornography will be made illegal, Aboriginal children will be forcibly medically examined, and welfare payments will only be paid if children attend school.
He will also move to half welfare payments in general with the remaining portions being transferred to food and clothing vouchers. Other aspects of the plan include forcing people into work through a “work for the dole” program. Police officers and army troops will take over camps to ensure these measures are adhered to.
The fact that we will have a military presence in Aboriginal communities to back up the police force is almost unparalleled in Australian history. It is now not only the case that Australian troops are used in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan but they will also be used to occupy Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory! This naked use of power shows the true role of the state. Howard is prepared to go to extreme lengths to push through his neo-liberal agenda and the use of the military on this occasion is just one aspect of that.
Howard’s plan is in effect a massive land grab. He will override several pieces of legislation in order to take over land through five year leases. At the same time, the existing permit system, which allows indigenous communities to restrict access to their lands, will be scrapped. This is important from the point of view of the big business interests that Howard represents. Big mining companies in particular have a keen interest in seeing Aboriginal land rights slowly eroded.
It is not the case that Howard has a new found compassion for the plight of Aboriginal people; instead he is attempting to use Aboriginal people as a political football. In the short term he sees this as a way to grab votes ahead of federal election later this year. This plan is nothing more than a racist attack on the most exploited section of people in Australian society.
The roots to the problems facing Aboriginal people are social. Australia is ranked as one of the worst wealthy nations at improving the health of indigenous people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders on average die nearly 20 years younger than other Australians, and infant mortality is three times higher.
Most Australian people are sickened at the problems that Aboriginal people are forced to face and in fact most support measures to address these problems, but Howard is attempting to divert the blame away from successive state and federal governments. It is a total myth that millions of dollars have been pumped into Aboriginal welfare. In fact a recent report stated that only 70 cents is spent per head on the health of indigenous people for every $1 spent on the rest of the population.
These attacks on democratic rights, on welfare recipients and on land rights should be opposed by all working people. This is just the thin edge of the wedge, if Howard is allowed to get away with this in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory similar attacks will soon be waged against other vulnerable sections of the working class.
The capitalist system and its representatives in the major parties have no interest in seriously assisting Aboriginal communities. They have a view that says indigenous people are a burden on the system as many don’t conform to the ‘norms’ of capitalist society. They would much rather that Aboriginal people were assimilated into white society then they could more effectively exploit them as workers and dig up their land to sell off their natural resources.
Disgustingly Kevin Rudd has announced that the Labor Party fully supports Howard’s plan. At every turn Labor continues to prove that it is no friend of ordinary people. Rudd parrots Howard on almost every issue and if a Labor government is elected later this year the differences will be more of style than of substance. A Rudd Labor government will be as incapable as Howard at addressing Aboriginal issues.
In contrast the Socialist Party stands totally opposed to this new round of attacks on Aboriginal people. We will fight to strengthen the links between the workers movement and aboriginal people as the best way to combat all of the neo-liberal attacks Howard is waging against indigenous and non-indigenous people.