New government, same old racism

May 30, 2009

In his "Sorry" speech, delivered on February 13, 2008, PM Kevin Rudd said: "We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians."

More than a year later, the Rudd government has joined this list of successive governments. Rudd has not only failed to end Howard's racist Northern Territory Emergency Response, he's actually expanding it and forcing Aboriginal housing agencies to sign away their land or miss out on much needed funding.

On May 25 Indigenous affairs minister, Jenny Macklin, added insult to injury by opening Reconciliation Week with the announcement of the compulsory acquisition of Alice Springs town camps. The camps are currently run by the Aboriginal-controlled Tangentyere Council.

Macklin's move follows the council's refusal to sign a 40-year lease deal and transfer control of housing in the town camps to Territory Housing.

When she was shadow spokesperson for Indigenous affairs, Macklin said: "We do not want land tenure reform being made a condition of funding for basic services."

Yet this is precisely what she is now enforcing in Alice Springs.

Aboriginal people have been fighting for their land and housing in the town camps within the boundaries of the township for decades.

Chronic underfunding has led to overcrowding and substandard services. Now, Macklin uses this as an excuse for taking away any decision-making power from Tangentyere Council and the town camps it represents.

The ALP's attack on Aboriginal self-determination and land rights extends beyond Alice Springs.

The Rudd government still continues with Howard's "Partnership Agreements". These agreements include leaseback conditions that sign over land to the government for a minimum of 40 years. Unless Indigenous owners sign, funding for new housing or maintenance and repairs of existing housing is withheld.

In January 2009, Macklin wrote a letter to state governments instructing them not to use federal funds for Aboriginal housing unless the housing agencies sign leaseback agreements.

Macklin and Rudd have also defended the discriminatory compulsory income management scheme. The welfare cards handed out under the scheme are only valid at selected shops, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away from the community. This has forced many people to move into the larger towns against their will.

On May 20, the NT government released its new policy titled "Working Futures — Remote Service Delivery". Under this policy, 20 remote communities have been selected to become "Territory Growth Towns". These towns will receive $160 million priority funding for infrastructure such as schools and health services.

The remaining 580 communities or outstations are to share just $36 million a year.

People living in one of these 580 communities will be forced to travel for access to services or move to one of the "Growth Towns".

Yet, as Jon Altman wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 26: "During the past 30 years, a growing body of research has indicated that life at outstations is better — in health outcomes, livelihood options and social cohesion, even housing conditions — than at larger townships, despite neglect."

The ALP's push to coerce all aspects of the lives of Australia's Aboriginal people into the Western mainstream reflects a capitalist view of human activity. It signals a return to the repulsive government policies of assimilation and the destruction of Aboriginal culture.

The Socialist Alliance condemns Macklin's hypocrisy and stands in solidarity with our NT Aboriginal brothers and sisters who are resisting the abolition of self-determination in Aboriginal housing.

We demand the Rudd government release much-needed funding to Aboriginal housing agencies unconditionally and immediately, in Alice Springs and elsewhere. All remote Aboriginal communities must be adequately funded and supported.

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