A racist attack on native title

Issue 

Editorial: A racist attack on native title

A racist attack on native title

In his much-featured and analysed criticism of the blatantly racist lies being spread by Pauline Hanson on May 8, PM John Howard said that Hanson was "wrong" to suggest that Aboriginal people are not disadvantaged. Similarly, he labelled her "wrong" for scapegoating migrants from Asia and Aboriginal people for Australia's economic and social woes.

Commentators have asked why these few of Hanson's malicious claims were not rejected by Howard before now. The answer is that Hanson's overt racism is being used by Howard and his Coalition partners to wipe out the native title rights of indigenous Australians, while appearing "moderate".

The Howard government's elusive 10-point plan will extinguish native title in all but name. While presented as helping "battlers" on the land, it is really intended to benefit big lease holders by eliminating state control over the activities they can carry out under the label of "primary production activities".

Howard proposes to confirm the extinguishment of native title on all exclusive land tenures; extinguish native title on current and former pastoral leases and other agricultural leases not conferring exclusive possession; and to pay compensation from the public purse for the Queensland government's compulsory acquisition of pastoral lease land on which native title exists, so that it can be given to the pastoral lease holders as freehold or its equivalent.

This large-scale privatisation of land will come at great cost to Aboriginal people and the Australian environment. Howard's thinly concealed extinguishment-by-stealth largely destroys the opportunities created by the 1992 Mabo decision for indigenous Australians to have a say in developments on their traditional lands, and in NSW and Queensland to have any access to those lands for traditional pursuits.

Worse, as Pat Dodson, head of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, has pointed out: "We've got a turning back of what people achieved in the 1967 referendum".

May 27 will be the 30th anniversary of the referendum in which 92% of Australians voted to amend the constitution and give citizenship rights to indigenous Australians. Howard's promises to secure the interests of pastoralists at the expense of Aboriginal people smack of pre-1967 thinking, when Aboriginal Australians had no legal rights.

The environmental cost of the massive privatisation of pastoral leases has been highlighted by conservation organisations. The Australian Conservation Foundation has pointed to the negative consequences of upgrading leases, including the removal of controls on sustainable land use and the cost of purchasing pastoral land for national parks. CSIRO estimates put land clearing at two to three times higher rates on freehold land than on pastoral lease land.

Dodson is right to say that the government is "back to the 1830s in terms of political thinking here" — in human rights and environmental terms.

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