For 'reconciliation', read 'surrender'
Visiting Uluru on January 13, Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer performed what amounts to an allegory for the government's plan to achieve "reconciliation" with Aboriginal people by the centenary of federation.
On a purely symbolic matter, Fischer could be accommodating, telling the media that he thinks tourists should respect the wishes of Uluru's traditional owners, who ask that they not climb the rock. The words cost the government nothing, while perhaps creating an aura of respect for Aboriginal culture and beliefs.
The symbolism then provided cover for the government's reactionary intentions on matters of substance, as Fischer renewed his attacks on Aboriginal land councils. The Northern Land Council and Central Land Council, he said, should be broken up.
That, in a nutshell, is the government's policy: provide occasional token concessions on matters that have little practical impact, and take back every real gain that Aboriginal people have won in recent decades.
The gains the Howard government has consistently been most eager to roll back are those associated with land rights — as evidenced by the lengths it went to in order to provide "bucket loads of extinguishment" of native title, and by its ongoing attacks on land councils. For the government, the profits of the mining companies automatically come before any consideration of Aboriginal rights. Tim Fischer would happily drill the holes for dynamiting Uluru if a mining company decided there was bauxite or uranium under it.
The decision to abolish Abstudy [see page 29] is another attack that reveals the government's real attitude. The decision is all the more vicious for the fact that it will save the government only relatively trivial sums of money.
The move can only increase the educational disadvantages suffered by Aboriginal young people, disadvantages which are already a "national disgrace", according to the Australian Education Union.
"The percentage of indigenous students who ... remain to year 12 is estimated to be 33%, compared to the overall average retention rate of 76%", points out AEU federal president Sharan Burrow.
The savaging of Abstudy is not only a deliberate appeal to Pauline Hanson's racist constituency; it is also consistent with the government's refusal to acknowledge two centuries of oppression — a refusal expressed openly in John Howard's attacks on "political correctness" and "the black armband view" of Australian history.
What Aboriginal people need is land rights and a broad program of affirmative action to begin reversing the effects of past discrimination and oppression, but that might interfere with the profits of Australian big business.
That is the fundamental contradiction of the government's "reconciliation" plans. Reconciliation is a process in which people in conflict settle their differences. While talking about reconciliation, the Howard government is continuing the conflict one-sidedly by attacking the rights and well-being of Aboriginal people. "Reconciliation", in the government's language, means only that Aboriginal people and their supporters should give up the struggle for human rights and justice.