Land rights and 'extremism'


Land rights and 'extremism'

There is nothing that frightens the racists and the moneybags more than a victory — even a partial victory — for the Aboriginal people. Even the half-hearted acknowledgment that Australia's indigenous people may have some rights over some lands in their country has sent racists such as Marshall Perron and Jeff Kennett into a frenzy. Not content with trying to frighten ordinary people about their "backyards", they bray their ignorant comments about Aboriginal culture with the aim of whipping up racist sentiment. Millionaire miners like Hugh Morgan have followed suit.

Such crude racist comments may divert attention from more subtle attacks on the Aboriginal people's campaign for land rights. These are the views, echoed even in statements by representatives of otherwise supportive bodies such as the Australian Council of Churches, that many "Mabo-style" land claims have "gone too far". "Extremist" claims are blamed for alienating "potential non-Aboriginal support".

Land claims should be more modest in their scope, goes the argument. Instead, there should be more emphasis on solving the horrible problems of economic, educational and health deprivation.

The question, however, is: What are the origins of the disastrous economic, educational, health, housing and other social conditions of Aboriginal people? Why are so many Aboriginal people jailed for offences that non-Aboriginals are rarely jailed for? Why do so many young Aboriginals die in prison? Of course, one aspect of the answer is lack of funding for measures to solve these problems. But more fundamental is that Aboriginal people have had their rights taken from them. This started as soon as European colonisation began and continues today.

It is ludicrous to accuse Aborigines of "extremist" land claims in the context of the land grab of the 18th century. The struggle for land rights has always been an integral part of the Aboriginal struggle to regain all their rights, to

actually gain some power in Australian society.

Aborigines' efforts to win land rights deserve the support and solidarity of the rest of the community. Whatever their intention, criticisms of land claims as "extremist" in the name of not alienating "moderate" opinion only help the racists who want to overturn even the modest gain of Mabo.