Thalia Anthony: ‘Colonialism continues in Alice Springs’

February 8, 2023
Protester holds sign reading 'We are the grand children of the ancestors you couldn't kill'
An Invasion Day rally in Sydney on January 26. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Professor Thalia Anthony addressed meeting on February 5 on “Colonisation and the struggle of Australian First Nations people”. It was sponsored by the Eureka Australian Workers Movement at the Greek Socrates Club.

Anthony, a senior law lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, discussed colonisation through a Marxist framework.

She said “colonisation is steeped in the profit motivation of capital”. Many of the available articles detailed the atrocities that took place, the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and their exploitation at the hands of colonisers.

Communal land was expropriated and became private property. The Terra Nullius doctrine in Australia meant that First Nations peoples were not recognised.

Marx noted that British colonists looted the colonies for the wealth that was used to kick-start capitalism. Anthony described how Marx observed the contrast between societies that lived in harmony with the land, against the destructive and rapacious land claims by colonialists.

Colonists also undermined social relations among First Nations people, by removing them from their land, families, culture, language and their means of communal production.

Anthony noted that this undermining continues today, disguised by co-optation, such as giving up land rights in exchange for housing. This is facilitated by the state, church, bureaucracy and media.

In Australia, the church and bureaucracy play a notorious role in the Stolen Generations story. The media plays a harmful role by peddling racism, Anthony said, pointing to a recent example of right-wing media running a story of a nurse, who did not treat children or even work there, claiming there were paedophile rings in Alice Springs.

Anthony said reforms, such as those proposed by decolonisation movements, do not go far enough. There is also a danger that the colonisers will be replaced by Indigenous capitalists, thus perpetuating the same inequalities.

She cited philosopher Frantz Fanon who said that post-WWII independence of African colonies had led to the “Africanization of the ruling class”, and urging anti-colonial struggles. He wrote: “Capitalism must die, for Indigenous people to be free.”

Turning to the present day, Anthony observed that “segregation these days is not in camps, it is in prisons”.

There are 40,000 people in prison: 31% of whom are First Nations people, despite making up only 3% of the population. Record numbers of First Nations children were removed from their families last year.

The 2007 Northern Territory Intervention, under the John Howard government, was particularly disastrous, she said. Its insistence that English be the primary language revealed the intention to control, rather than help, First Nations people.

She said it was an exercise in colonialism that, with the subsequent expansion of mining in the Northern Territory, ensured the colonisers’ economic interests prevailed.

Anthony indicated that the Alice Springs “crisis” is a partial media beat-up to accompany calls to renew the Intervention, as the sunset clauses from that period loom.

Howard dismantled the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), along with many other First Nations initiatives. ATSIC was a critic of the colonial stance of government.

But, since then, the situation in remote communities has worsened, Anthony said. There is an acute housing shortage, with cases of up to 16 people being forced to share a tiny house. Food is vastly more expensive in remote communities compared to Alice Springs. Poverty is rife, and since the demise of ATSIC, there are fewer jobs.

Anthony urged more work be done to unite a class perspective with First Nations’ struggles. Learning from Indigenous peoples’ communal modes of organising is also important.

Regarding a treaty, she said it was best to start with local communities. This would mean their culture and law being respected by state agencies, such as the police. A community-by-community approach to treaty would eventually lead to a national approach, she suggested.

Anthony acknowledged there were serious problems with the Voice to Parliament, such as it becoming yet another means of co-option. However, if the referendum fails, it would be a victory for the racists, she said.

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