The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has written to Prime Minister Tony Abbott stating its complete opposition to the forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities.
The letter, sent on May 4 by Jeannie Rea, the national president and Terry Mason, the chair of the NTEU's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Committee, described the community closures as “a flagrant abuse of human rights, a contravention of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of which Australia is a signatory, and, in particular, a complete disregard for the culture and historic ties to land that Aboriginal people have held for millennia”.
The union also hit out at policies that have reinforced assimilation. “In 2015, it is deeply concerning that both state and federal governments have learned little from this legacy; more concerning is the apparent lack of care or concern and an apparent want to repeat the same mistakes.”
It goes on: “The cultural knowledge and intellectual property of the oldest living culture in the world remains under immediate threat. The forced removal of Aboriginal people from their homelands will do nothing to improve this situation. We do not want a circumstance where successive state and federal governments will be apologising decades down the track for loss of culture, forced removal and assimilation.”
The NTEU noted that the attempt to close down communities was taking place at the same time as attempts are being made to close down tent embassy activists around Australia.
The union categorically rejected the Abbott government's claim that the people in the threatened communities were making a “lifestyle choice”, noting that it had been challenged by conservative Aboriginal public figures as well.
The NTEU has called on the WA Premier Colin Barnett and the federal government to “provide the ongoing funding and fundamental services to these communities, so they may enjoy the infrastructure and services that other people in Australia take for granted”.
“We challenge your Government and the West Australian state government to formally recognise the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by investigating the potential for a treaty/treaties, rather than just assimilating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples into the Australian Constitution, a document of forced take-over that introduced concepts of assimilation, and considering it a 'job done'."
It ended stating that “The NTEU stands in solidarity with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Australia more broadly. Living on homelands is not a mere “lifestyle choice”; it is a responsibility that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have as custodians of country.
“Recognition of this reality by the Federal and State Governments is well overdue.”
[Sharlene Leroy-Dyer is the deputy chair of the NTEU Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Committee, NTEU NSW Division Aboriginal Representative and NTEU Newcastle Branch Aboriginal Representative. She is also a member of Socialist Alliance.]