Just a little over five years ago, Australia witnessed its largest ever protests. A quarter of a million Sydneysiders marched across the Harbour Bridge, and hundreds of thousands of people turned out all around the country to participate in the walks for reconciliation. These were hopeful mass mobilisations of people wanting a new era for Aboriginal rights. But instead of a period where the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians narrowed and Aboriginal culture received full recognition and respect befitting the continent’s first nations, things have gone rapidly backwards.
The Howard Government is the most racist since the White Australia policy ended. Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Amanda Vanstone, distinguished herself with calls to remove Aboriginal people from remote communities which she described as “cultural museums.” This same Minister has introduced paternalistic “shared responsibility” agreements, forcing Indigenous communities to accept certain rules of behaviour, reminiscent of the mission days, in return for basic services. She also presided over a program where welfare benefits to Aboriginal parents can be cut if they don’t make their children to go to school.
For all the government’s talk of “practical reconciliation,” indicators of Indigenous disadvantage are worsening. The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people employed in the Australian Public Service has declined for the third successive year in a row — retrenching 100 Indigenous staff following the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission sure didn’t help this shameful statistic! Aboriginal Australians have twice the unemployment rate as the rest of the population. The national rate of imprisonment for Indigenous people increased 7% in the last year. Life expectancy is 20 years less and infant mortality three times higher than that of other Australians.
This is a national emergency which requires immediate action. Indigenous people are calling for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians alike to mobilise around the Commonwealth Games to demand an end to the genocide, recognition of sovereignty and the negotiation of a treaty with each of the many Indigenous nations. These demands are long overdue. Don’t sit out the March 2006 Stolenwealth Games — there’s a war to end and treaty to be won!