Aboriginal leaders are right to be outraged by the Howard Government’s blatant ideological assault on the right to self-determination. At the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Policy Conference last March, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Philip Ruddock announced a five-point plan which essentially blames Indigenous people for their own oppression. Ruddock lambastes Aboriginal organisations for adopting a collectivist approach and fighting for rights. Instead, the government plans to focus on individuals and families.
Before the British invasion, Australia’s Aboriginal nations were communal and had a deep connection to the land. When Indigenous leaders advocate self-government based on traditional culture and law, they are advocating community control of land and resources. The Howard Government’s individual rights agenda aims to erode this traditional view by “helping” Aboriginal people to assimilate. It wants to replace community housing grants with individual home ownership and promote individual entrepreneurship, not community projects.
The Canberra buzz phrase, “practical reconciliation,” is a cynical con. The government funds basic services which every Australian should receive and then promotes this as a special effort to end Indigenous disadvantage! The reconciliation movement mobilised millions of people, demanding justice for Indigenous Australians. While many saw reconciliation as little more than a vague feel-good concept, there is wide support for solutions based on land, sovereignty and a treaty. It is this sentiment which the Howard Government wants to bury. Let’s expose the racist agenda underpinning its policy and turn the outrage expressed by Indigenous leaders into multi-racial grassroots action!