Doomadgee crisis a product of racist system

December 1, 1999

Doomadgee crisis a product of racist system

By Bill Mason

BRISBANE — On November 21, 12 nurses and doctors withdrew their services from a hospital in the Doomadgee Aboriginal community, in the Gulf region of north Queensland. The incident is a symptom of an ongoing social crisis in Aboriginal communities, caused by the denial of genuine land rights and economic justice.

While some medical staff blamed threats of violence for their withdrawal of services, ATSIC regional councillor Murrandoo Yanner accused some staff of unprofessional conduct, and alleged that the approach of white staff to Aboriginal patients was offensive and lacking in cultural awareness. "Their whole attitude is wrong", Yanner said on November 22.

Doomadgee's entire adult community held a two-hour meeting on that day and recommended that alcohol be banned from the community. They resolved to invite the health workers to return, guaranteeing them "maximum" security and safety. However, the meeting also demanded changes in the way health staff interacted with the local community.

Premier Peter Beattie's absurd charge that Yanner was guilty of "reverse racism" underlines the failure of the Queensland Labor government to take genuine action against racist structures.

On November 24, 200 members of the Doomadgee Aboriginal community refused to allow mines minister and local MP Tony McGrady to leave the airport runway, an action which asserted their right to control their own affairs and to run their own organisations.

A year ago, two sons of murdered South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko visited the Doomadgee community. They described the living conditions there as "barbaric". The poorest street dweller in South Africa's black township of Soweto, they said, had a better life than an Aborigine in Doomadgee.

The dispute should provoke a full review of conditions at remote Aboriginal communities, and strong state and federal government action to provide genuine economic and social justice for Aboriginal people.

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