The Greens and the Australian Labor Party signed an agreement on September 1 to form a minority government on certain conditions, one of which was support for amendments to the constitution to recognise Aboriginal people. The government has agreed to hold a referendum on the issue. The proposal has sparked debate among Aboriginal activists about its usefulness for the Aboriginal rights struggle.
Despite several symbolic gestures by state and national governments, no real plan has been put forward to reduce chronic inequality in Aboriginal Australia. As part of a deal to set up a minority government, the federal ALP has agreed to a referendum to change the constitution so that it recognises Aboriginal people. On September 8, the NSW parliament passed legislation doing the same for the NSW constitution.
Journalist Jeff McMullen used his speech at the September 8 Building Bridges forum at Parramatta Town Hall to condemn ongoing government support for the NT intervention. He told the 50-strong forum: “The Northern Territory Intervention has been the most damaging policy inflicted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people since the policies of the Stolen Generation.
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) slammed the policies of the Northern Territory intervention in a report released on August 27. The report said that despite Australia seeing itself as a country without racism, laws such as the NT intervention showed that racism had become “embedded” in Australian life. The committee said the NT intervention “continued to discriminate on the basis of race as well as the use of so called special measures by [Australia]”.
Barb Shaw, a well-known Aboriginal activist from Alice Springs’ town camps who has campaigned tirelessly against the Northern Territory intervention, doubled the Greens’ vote in the huge NT seat of Lingiari. The result damages the government’s claim that Aboriginal people support the intervention. The intervention imposes a series of discriminatory measures against Aboriginal people in remote communities. It was launched by the Howard Coalition government in August 2007 and has been extended under Labor.
On August 13, nine leading British medical experts wrote an open letter to the Times calling for an inquiry into the alleged suicide of whistleblower Dr David Kelly in July 2003. The 59-year-old scientist, the world’s leading expert in biological and chemical weapons, died shortly after being exposed as the source of a leak to the BBC suggesting that the British government had deliberately “sexed up” military intelligence about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
Amnesty International has launched a campaign to revoke the Northern Territory intervention that discriminates against Indigenous communities, as the Australian government tries to justify its continuation to the United Nations (UN). On August 5, Amnesty said: “Over three years, the Northern Territory Emergency Response has taken away many rights from Aboriginal communities.” It urged people to email the leaders of Australia’s major political parties to “demand that, regardless of the election outcome, the Australian Government must respect the rights of Indigenous people”.
More 150 people turned out in Darwin on August 3 for the launch of the Australian Greens Northern Territory Senate campaign. The Greens are running two Aboriginal candidates: country music performer and Arrente man Warren H. Williams and Aboriginal rights activist Barbara Shaw A big part of their campaign is opposition to the NT intervention, launched in 2007 in response to allegations of child abuse and neglect in remote Aboriginal communities.
On July 22, Socialist Alliance Senate candidate Soubhi Iskander condemned the Australia First Party's leaflets attacking immigrants from Africa. The leaflets were letterboxed in the western Sydney suburb of Seven Hills. Iskander is a refugee from Sudan and lives in Seven Hills. “This is a call to incite racist violence against communities of colour", Iskander said. “Blaming Africans for the social problems in Sydney's west that are the result of a lack of employment, affordable housing and public transportation is wrong.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s high-handed attempts to impose a “regional asylum seeker processing centre” on East Timor have angered Timorese politicians and activists. Despite Gillard’s talk about finding a regional solution to a regional problem, the “problem” of “unauthorised boat arrivals” in Australia is one of perception. The Liberal-National opposition and the Murdoch tabloids have devoted considerable energy to creating anxiety in sections of the Australian community about the country being swamped by “boat people”.