In Green Left Weekly #861, Solidarity’s Paddy Gibson addressed a debate that from time to time comes up among activists opposing the NT intervention: whether an assimilationist agenda or mining interests are behind the intervention.
I don’t believe there is a dichotomy here. In fact, Solidarity’s own analysis of the reasons for the neoliberal assault on Aboriginal communities, if combined with an analysis of Australian capitalism, hints at the fact that assimilation would indeed work in favour of big business — including big mining companies. It would seem naive to think mining interests don’t benefit from assimilation.
Gibson wrote: “Draconian intervention measures have attempted to wipe out the material basis of the collective life of Aboriginal people in the NT.”
But he offered no analysis of why the government might want to destroy the “collective life of Aboriginal people”. Who stands to gain from the breakdown of Aboriginal culture, the weakening of Aboriginal people’s connection to their land, the exodus of Aboriginal people from remote communities to “hub towns”?
“But mining companies gain no greater rights through the ‘hub towns’ policy or the intervention”, Gibson wrote. While it’s true we can’t crudely point to disproportionate increases in mining leases/exploration as a result of the intervention, mining companies stand to gain immensely from the assimilation of Aboriginal people into hub towns and the “real economy” (and their disconnection from their land and culture).
Why else the push for mainstreaming and assimilation? Is it just an abstract, irrational dislike of Aboriginal culture? Or does it have its roots in the political forces and economic interests driving Australian capitalism? Whose interests is the government serving when establishing Aboriginal policy?
Gibson said, “We can agree on the question of assimilation”, but, without offering an explanation of the interests behind assimilation, he said: “To portray the intervention as a land grab for mining both disorients the movement against the intervention and underestimates the savagery of what is taking place.”
Among anti-intervention activists, there are differing theories about the motivations behind the intervention, and about its potential long-term benefits for big business (at Aboriginal peoples’ expense) and, fortunately, these differing views have not disoriented or distracted the movement.
To my memory, there have been no major disagreements over the next steps for the movement (building links with the unions, for example), or even demands of the movement: “Land rights not leases” has been a central — and undisputed — demand since the beginning.
To suggest the movement must counterpoise assimilation to land grab and agree that the first is correct and the second incorrect, would, in fact, risk disorienting and narrowing the movement.