“It’s great to see the sense of coming together shown in your camp here,” Murri community leader Sam Watson told a gathering of about 40 people at the Occupy Brisbane camp at Post Office Square on October 29. Watson spoke at a special forum as Occupy Brisbane entered its third week at the square.
The work of the camp has continued to develop and expand, as up to 40 tents now occupy the park, and an “OccuLibrary” has been added to the “OccuPlay” childcare tent. General assemblies are held every evening to discuss issues facing the occupation.
Watson said: “The issue expressed in the slogan, ‘We are the 99%’, is a very important, global concern. It highlights the fact that the 1% dominate the wealth and power in society.
“For example, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has just been granted a $2 million bonus for laying off workers and cutting conditions. The 99% know what it’s like to battle the rising cost of living, rents, transport, power bills.
“In a country with one of the highest living standards in the world, many young people and families are homeless. It’s time to hold the multinational corporations to account for their actions, while ordinary people do it hard.”
Watson said: “Aboriginal people in our country do it toughest of all. In the latest death in custody, a young Aboriginal man from Mount Isa has died in a Brisbane prison cell, just last week.
“His pleas for help were ignored, and he tragically took his own life. All across this land, Aboriginal communities are fighting to protect their sacred sites against the big mining companies. Our elders are calling out for assistance.
“They have expressed support for the global Occupation movement. We have a long experience of occupying for justice. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, set up in Canberra in 1972. We will mark that anniversary with a major announcement to challenge the legality of white colonial occupation of our land.
“In addition, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody, whose findings were released in 1991. The commission made 339 recommendations, few of which have been implemented.
“While the commission did some good work, of the 99 deaths studied, at least 45 would have justified criminal charges against police or prison officers. Yet no charges were recommended.
“In 2011, the Aboriginal community has carried out a series of activities to highlight this critical issue. Meanwhile, there has been an increase in the arrest rate, incarceration rate and death rate of Black people in custody.
Watson also spoke of the 2004 death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee, “who was killed by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley on Palm Island. The campaign to bring Hurley properly to account is still running.
“Until we can force a cop or prison officer to be convicted and jailed for these crimes, Black deaths in custody will continue unchecked.”
During discussion, Watson ranged over many topics, especially relating to Aboriginal issues. He condemned the Northern Territory Intervention as a “retreat back to the old days of ration cards for Aboriginal people”. It is a “brutal form of social engineering,” he said, adding that it has not only continued from the days of the Howard government, but been extended under Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
In conclusion, he urged the protesters at Occupy Brisbane to “stay focussed on maintaining your camp. This international Occupy movement is not going away, but building up and getting stronger.”