At the time of writing the Australian government is undoing the Northern Territory Land Rights act, the Racial Discrimination act and passing new laws for the Northern Territory. Amongst these laws is the removal of the permit system that requires outsiders from Aboriginal communities to get permission from Aboriginal councils to pass through or visit Aboriginal land. There is also the power for the government to resume and take control of Aboriginal land.
These laws are justified as part of the governments crackdown on child abuse in Aboriginal communities, however the N.T. Police, as well as Aboriginal authorities say that the removal of the permit system will hinder their efforts to police Aboriginal communities, in particular to restrict sly-grogging (illegal sale of alcohol, especially in “dry” communities.
There has been much comment in the media and around the blogosphere criticising these laws as no more than a land grab by the government. There is still no coherent plan to deal with child abuse in the governments new laws, its half a billion dollar price tag or the military and police officers who have already been deployed in this intervention. It seems to have no relevance to strategies to tackle child abuse. Even the writers of the N.T. “Little Children are Sacred” report that, theoretically, justified the intervention, have said they are disgusted by the intervention and dissasociated themselves from it.
The truth is this latest attack on indigenous rights and interests is the next obvious step in the governments roll-back of all the Aboriginal gains of the twentieth century.
Firstly Native title was changed from an affirmation of land rights to become the legal mechanism by which land rights are extinguished.
Then there was the Late Charles Perkins’ dream for indigenous self determination in indigenous policy, a dream that manifested in ATSIC but was then demolished by this present government.
The recent acquittal of a Queensland police officer of manslaughter charges for the 2004 death in the Palm Island watch house, and the fact that deaths in custody continue at all, is testament to how seriously the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was taken. There are higher rates of imprisonment and deaths in custody today than during the period examined by the Royal commission.
The campaign around the 1967 referendum – and its success – began a twenty five year struggle by Aboriginal Australia that achieved considerable success and political momentum, culminating in the Bicentennial protests in 1988.
All the gains of last century have now been undone by the Howard Government, while Kevin Rudd’s opposition has sat back silently and let it happen.
There is no hope of repealing these laws if the A.L.P. Wins government at the election, they have given in-principle support to the whole thing.
Before 1967 Aboriginal people were voiceless and marginalised, and bit by bit crawled their way to the centre of the national agenda and forced change. Today Aboriginal people are also voiceless and marginalised and the struggle must start again.