Aboriginal activist: 'We must continue to mobilise'

Issue 

The defeat of the Howard government in the November 24 federal election was "a great victory for the Australian working class", Sam Watson, leading Aboriginal activist and Queensland Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance, told Green Left Weekly. "John Howard has been cast out, senior ministers defeated, and many Coalition seats now made marginal. This represents a realignment of working-class forces in the country", Watson added.

"It also represents a win for the strong and successful campaign by the trade union movement against Howard's hated Work Choices laws", he said. "The unions were ably supported by groups like Socialist Alliance, which was able to attack the ruling class on wider issues, such as the rights of Aborigines and refugees, health, education, and civil liberties.

"There was a great deal at stake on November 24. The future of the country was in the balance. If Howard had won again, it would have been a disaster for all workers and oppressed people. But we can't let it rest at this point. We need to ensure that the Rudd government delivers on its promises, where they are positive. And we need to pressure the new Labor government to go much further.

"We know that Kevin Rudd is soft on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, soft on climate change, and on Aboriginal issues. We, the working class of Australia, must continue to mobilise and confront the government to ensure that the journey which has been started is kept going to the end.

"This election has shifted the political goalposts to a new level. Ironically, the opinion polls tend to indicate that few voters actually changed their minds during the course of this year — despite the millions of dollars spent on TV advertising, the leaders jetting around the country, and so on, during the campaign.

"Ordinary people were open to engaging with smaller parties like SA, which was the experience reported to me by people around Queensland. Members of SA can be pleased with the campaign, and look forward to new challenges at the local, state and national level."

On the question of Aboriginal rights, he said: "The most forward-thinking party was Socialist Alliance — the only one to talk about deaths in custody, opposition to the Northern Territory invasion and a treaty with the Aboriginal people. SA took up positions that many middle-of-the-road Aboriginal leaders went along with the Howard government on.

"The new Rudd government must understand that the living conditions of most Aboriginal people are totally unacceptable today. The key issues of under-resourcing of Aboriginal services must be fixed urgently. At all times, the government must work with Aboriginal people and communities, not intervening against them.

"The entire Australian economy and society is based on Aboriginal land. It is time to give back some of what was plundered from Aboriginal soil.

"SA always strongly opposed the Howard government's conduct of Aboriginal affairs. As Aboriginal people, we cannot afford any longer to be guided by self-proclaimed Aboriginal leaders like Noel Pearson, who sat at the feet of John Howard and his ilk.

"The only way forward is for the new government to co-operatively engage with legitimate Aboriginal leaders and communities. The key issues for us are jobs, housing, proper education, health-care, clean drinking water, and adequate infrastructure. We need genuine, new pathways forward for our children.

"We urgently need a new national Aboriginal representative body. Most importantly, such a body needs to based on the full empowerment of the Aboriginal people."