Native title movement makes gains in Illawarra

February 25, 1998


Native title movement makes gains in Illawarra

By Simon Frew

WOLLONGONG — Native title has become one of the most important issues since the Wik decision. Illawarra Residents for Native Title (IRNT) was formed last year to combat Howard's 10-point plan. It has organised a rally and participated in another since its inception, and is now organising the "Sea of Hands" in Wollongong on Sunday, March 22, at Glennifer Brae in Wollongong's Botanical Gardens.

Dr Margaret Perrott, a member of IRNT and the Democratic Socialist Party, spoke to Green Left Weekly about how to build the native title movement. "We need to build a broad, democratic and involving movement, separate from political bias toward one or the other of the major parties — unlike what we have seen with many of the ANTaR groups around the country, which are closely aligned to the ALP."

IRNT is affiliated to ANTaR, but has been independent, Perrott says. "This needs to continue. Native title has been eroded by both Labor and Liberal governments, and this is likely to continue when the bill goes back to the Senate in March.

"Native title should not only be defended in its current lightweight form, but it should be extended to include Aboriginal people who have no chance of obtaining native title under the current process", Perrott said.

The first rally IRNT organised drew around 400 people. This was "fairly successful", says, but "the speakers were mostly 'big names'. The group didn't have faith in the issue mobilising people, so relied on celebrities and the media to attract a crowd rather than building the event broadly throughout the community, in workplaces and schools.

"IRNT also participated in International Human Rights Day in December, organised by the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance, playing a valuable role in building the rally, and brought a substantial contingent to it."

Perrott told Green Left Weekly that the next event in the ongoing campaign for native title is the "Sea of Hands". "It will be a chance to mobilise broad layers of people around the native title issue in the Wollongong area.

"The event needs to involve as many people as possible in the decision-making process and in building it, and it needs to have a strong political content. The best way to build this event is to have a broad, open and democratic organisation that encourages the participation of as many new activists as possible."

The issue of native title has links with other struggles, Perrott says. "It has received great support from the women's movement with International Women's Day this year focusing on native title.

"The Mirrar people, who are the traditional owners of the area of Kakadu that includes the Jabiluka site and the Ranger mine, are opposed to the new uranium mine because they have seen the damage that Ranger has caused. The anti-uranium movement, and native title movement need to work together to stop the Jabiluka uranium mine and to fight for native title.

"Only through working together, building broad, inclusive rallies together, and organising a broad resistance to both Liberal and Labor, will both movements gain the strength to win."

There will be a public forum on native title at the University of Wollongong at lunchtime on March 11. The meeting aims to set up a native title club on campus. Meetings of IRNT are held fortnightly at the Aboriginal Community Centre, 22 Kenny St, Wollongong. To get involved phone (02) 4226 2010.

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