Sam Watson for Senate: 'We will not compromise our principles'


Sam Watson is a Murri leader and the Socialist Alliance Senate candidate for Queensland in the upcoming federal election. He told Green Left Weekly's Jim McIlroy about the main issues facing Aboriginal people in the lead-up to the election.

* * *

The 2010 federal election is an opportunity for the Aboriginal community to pass judgment on the Rudd Labor government's policies on Indigenous affairs.

In 2007, the Coalition government of John Howard was thrown out of office because of popular opposition to its policies on many issues. It is unlikely that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is in real danger of losing power, but there still needs to be a protest vote right across the Aboriginal community against the racist policies of the federal Labor government.

Aboriginal people will make this election a referendum on the Rudd government. Three years on from the fall of the extremely conservative Howard government, things have not changed for Indigenous people. If anything, they have got worse.

Howard's Northern Territory intervention has continued under Rudd. The NT Lands Rights Act has been overridden. The Anti-Discrimination Act has been effectively overturned.

Aboriginal unemployment, lack of education, and poor housing are at record levels. Aboriginal health is worse than Fourth World standard. Our people continue to suffer one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world.

When you apply a measuring stick to the Rudd government on Aboriginal policies, it fails badly. At least with the Howard regime there was no attempt to conceal its racism. The Coalition was proud of it.

The Rudd Labor government rode to power promising so much, but has delivered so little. Aboriginal and other voters need to punish Rudd and remind the government that they rely on the ordinary people for their survival.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to get politically active, to get involved in the campaigns for their rights, and to register and get out on election day.

The lessons of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody are still being ignored. Of the 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission, few have been implemented. The rate of arrests, detention and deaths in custody of Aboriginal people remains at shocking levels.

In the last five weeks in Queensland, there have been five deaths in custody, of which three were Indigenous.

Governments are privatising prisons and police watch houses to the detriment of all prisoners. This exposes vulnerable people to even greater risk of harm.

These questions of Aboriginal rights will be major issues for Socialist Alliance in the lead-up to the federal election later this year.

As custodians of the land and seashore, Indigenous people have a great concern about the natural environment. We are very alarmed about the threat of climate change, particularly here in Queensland with the danger of destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.

Aboriginal people can make an impact in the federal elections if they put up candidates, especially in the Senate. The Indigenous community is ready to embrace alternative parties like the Greens and Socialist Alliance.

As Socialist Alliance, nobody owns us. Our spirit is not in hock to the multinational corporations, as the major parties are. We will not compromise our principles, but will stand up for the rights of Aboriginal people, asylum seekers and ordinary working people.