Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Why Howard is no friend of Indigenous people

It is hard to imagine that exactly 40 years after Vincent Lingiari led Aboriginal workers at Wave Hill Station to walk off in protest against work and pay conditions, leading to the campaign to have their traditional land returned, that Australia could be taking another giant step backwards in Indigenous Rights today.

The Senate has passed the changes to the Land Rights Act. ABC News online reports:
Attempts by Labor and the Greens to have amendments, including the provision of 99-year leases on Aboriginal land and a reduction in powers for land councils removed from the Bill, failed.

In that iconic 1975 moment, Gough Whitlam poured sand into Vincent Lingiari's hands to symbolise handing back control and rights of the land of Wave Hill Station to the Aboriginal people. The next year, the government passed the breakthrough Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

30 years later, the Howard's government has put another nail in the coffin of land rights with this Bill.

The opposition are claiming that the whole debate of the bill is disrespecful to Aboriginal people, because so little consultation – especially with the traditional owners – was held. Of course, if the Government had consulted fully and openly, they would have been told outright that their changes to land rights law was wrong.

This legislation is really disrespectful because it undermines sovereignty and land rights of Aboriginal people affected by the Bill.

The Howard government started dismantling any possible advances to the rights and livelihoods of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as soon as they came in power: they de-railed the potential for healing between Indigenous Australia, and white and non-white non-Indigenous Australia through the Reconciliation movement, refused to acknowledge the true extent of and say sorry to the Stolen Generations, and used Wik to water down Native Title and protect their pastoral mates' leases.

Some people then saw these moves as eventually honing in on undermining land rights, but I'm sure they would be just as shocked today.

Yes, this is a grubby land grab. Yes, it is outrageous. But this is no aberration. Unfortunately, is totally in keeping with Howard's anti-Indigenous agenda of the last 10 years. And all of us will bear the costs.

[Image from Wikipedia: PM Gough Whitlam pouring sand into Vincent Lingiari's hands to symbolise the handing back of Aboriginal land at Wave Hill.]

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At August 18, 2006 11:33 am, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

I thought I'd post this morning's ABC Online News report about the commemorations of the Wave Hill Station walk-off to happen this month as footnote to my story:

"Wave Hill commemoration open to all
posted Friday, August 18, 2006. 6:36am (AEST)

Unions NT is encouraging people to attend this weekend's Wave Hill Walk Off celebrations in Kalkaringi and Daguragu.

In August 1966, Vincent Lingiari led a walk off of Indigenous workers, also known as the Gurindji strike, seeking equal pay with white workers and land rights.

Jamey Robertson, from Unions NT, says many union members will attend this weekend's commemorations, including the Indigenous persons committee of the ACTU.

He says the Wave Hill Walk Off is one of the most famous industrial disputes in Australian history.

"We really would urge everybody around the Northern Territory to come and join us, notify the people at Kalkaringi of course that your coming and get your permit, but turn up there," he said.

"This will be a place of history, this will be a place that we'll never forget being there, so I urge everyone to come and join us."
Moment captured

The photographer who took the image of then prime minister Gough Whitlam pouring dirt into the hand of the late Mr Lingiari says he did not realise the importance of the picture until years later.

Mervyn Bishop, who took the photo during the 1975 Gurindji land hand back, says he did not expect the image to become as well-known as it did.

"I'd known a little bit about the walk off but, at the time, I thought well right I know the job," he said.

"Maybe I didn't realise that it would get to the heights of recognition and fame that it has and I'm really pleased to have done that."


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