Indigenous summit meets

Issue 
Conference organiser Sharon Firebrace.

The New Way Summit, held in Melbourne over July 1-4, brought together around 100 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from about Australia to discuss the issues confronting the struggle for Indigenous rights. A big focus of the summit was on the issues of genocide, sovereignty and treaty.

This was the third in a series of New Way Summits. The first one took place in Canberra in January.

The summit was successful in bringing together indigenous activists from Darwin, New South Wales, Queensland, regional Victoria and Melbourne, as well as non-Indigenous supporters.

Topics covered included Australia’s Black history, the Northern Territory intervention, deaths in custody, native title, trade unions and the Aboriginal movement, the experiences of Indigenous people in New Zealand and Venezuela, and the Aboriginal movement’s relationship with the left.

Garry Foley, a leading Indigenous activist since the 1970s and now a historian told the conference that “race has been at the centre of political debate in Australia since the 1830s. Especially during World War II, white Australians feared non-white people coming to Australia and doing what they did to Aboriginal people.

“Federation was all about preserving the white race — the White Australia policy and the Pacific Islander Removal Act.”

Foley emphasised the importance of Aboriginal resistance after the First Fleet arrived. He said that there is a “common thread through all the 20th century Aboriginal resistance organisations to the Tent Embassy.”

He said that neither the Whitlam Labor nor the Fraser Coalition governments were prepared to take on the state governments and implement land rights. Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke came to power in 1983 on a platform of introducing national land rights legislation, but this was dropped after a campaign by the mining companies and the WA Labor Premier Brian Burke.

“All we got at the end of the Hawke/Keating government was Native Title. Native Title is not land rights, it is not land ownership”, he said.

“It’s the same with reconciliation. It isn’t justice. The reconciliation process began as an act of parliament in the lead-up to bicentenary to guarantee peaceful bicentenary celebrations.”

Foley said that the anti-apartheid protests were important, leading up to the Tent Embassy. “At one of the anti-apartheid protests, Paul Coe took the microphone and challenged the non-Indigenous activists to not only challenge racism on the other side of the world but also to join the Aborigines and challenge racism in Australia. Then the non-Indigenous activists started supporting our demonstrations as well.

“If there’s to be a groundswell of support, you have to make a noise, you have to go out on the streets. But then you have to have unity. After Native Title, we became dispersed. We have to strive for that national unity again. We need unity and we need focus.”

Yorta Yorta woman Monica Morgan told the conference that the laws being used against indigenous people in the NT are similar to the laws being used against her people in the 1930s. The NT intervention was a guise to undo the Land Rights Act that Aboriginal people all over Australia fought for.

Former ATSIC chairperson Geoff Clark said that it was important to campaign against the NT intervention, but we also have to take up the issues of Aboriginal people in Victoria. He pointed to a World Health Organisation survey which showed that Victorian Indigenous communities ranked worst in the world for health outcomes.

Conference organiser Sharon Firebrace outlined the plans for developing an Aboriginal Genocide Centre.

The final day of the conference discussed action plans.