Jabiluka campaign debates perspectives and plans national day of action

Wednesday, November 18, 1998 - 11:00

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Jabiluka campaign debates perspectives and plans national day of action

By Pip Hinman

Discussion around a controversial set of new perspectives proposed for the anti-Jabiluka mine campaign by the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) is continuing in campaign groups around the country.

Most Jabiluka Action Groups (JAGs) have not yet decided whether to adopt GAC's proposal to shift the campaign focus away from organising opposition to the Jabiluka mine to being "support groups" for the Mirrar, the traditional owners of the land where the mine is located.

This change was motivated by GAC spokesperson Jacqui Katona at a meeting with JAG representatives from around the country on November 2 in Melbourne.

The GAC issued a document on "New Directions" which states that JAGs should restructure to ensure that "their activities primarily focus on directly supporting the Mirrar fight for survival. In this way the JAG groups are requested to adopt a project-driven Aboriginal human rights focus." (Emphasis in the original.)

While some activists are opposed to such an approach, arguing that it would narrow the campaign and consequently limit its chances of stopping the mine, others are unsure of what position to take.

Some said that they have joined the campaign both to support the Mirrar's struggle for land rights and to stop uranium mining, and they don't want to and don't know how to choose one issue over the other. Others expressed disappointment that after almost two years of campaigning against the mine, their efforts were being dismissed.

It seems that many activists would like to find a compromise position that includes keeping the campaign broadly focused — promoting opposition to uranium mining, environmental protection and support for indigenous peoples' land rights — while also providing some practical support for the Mirrar people.

Members of the International Socialist Organisation have argued in Melbourne and Sydney JAGs that adopting GAC's New Directions document would not fundamentally affect JAG's campaigns. This is contradicted by a revised version of the New Directions document and a letter Katona sent to Melbourne JAG activists.

The revised document states unambiguously: "It is correct to conceptualise Jabiluka Action Groups as Mirrar Support Groups rather than Anti-Uranium Mining, pro-Kakadu or even Anti-Jabiluka Mine Groups". Those activists who disagree are urged by GAC to leave the JAG groups.

The Katona letter, dated November 1 and titled "New Policy Focus and Melbourne JAG 3CR Radio Program", begins by stating: "As you will all be aware, Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Mirrar people have sought the cooperation of all JAGs around Australia in changing the specific focus of our national campaign. This new policy requires that we focus on issues of human rights, self-determination and survival of the Mirrar people."

Specific projects which the GAC recommends that JAGs take on as their main activity include: international United Nations' agency research; international NGO liaison; hydrology research; geology research; legal research; and a health and medical advisory team.

Some activists in Sydney have pointed out that while they understand and support the Mirrar people's request for material assistance and professional advice — and want to draw up a special appeal leaflet advertising this request — they do not believe that adopting the new focus will help stop the Jabiluka mine or achieve land rights for the Mirrar people.

According to Dr Jim Green, a researcher whose work has focused on opposing the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, the strength of the anti-Jabiluka mine campaign has been its broad, inclusive nature.

"Sydney JAG has always welcomed anyone who opposes the mine, for whatever reason. Only such a broad and inclusive campaign, committed to grassroots democracy, has any hope of defeating the Howard government and ERA.

"The crucial task right now is to motivate that 70% or so of the population, who, at this moment, are passive opponents of the mine, to become active in the campaign. The Gundjehmi's New Directions document asks people who disagree with the new focus to leave the JAGs. This is a recipe for severely weakening the campaign", Green told Green Left Weekly.

In the discussion on the new perspectives in Adelaide JAG, Aboriginal activist Kevin Buzzacott, who is leading the Arabunna people's campaign against the Roxby uranium mine, stated that he was in favour of linking the struggle by Aboriginal peoples for land rights with the struggle against uranium mining, saying this had been a strength of the campaign against Roxby.

Adding further controversy to the New Directions discussion in JAG is the request by Katona to Melbourne JAG to discontinue its show on Australia's most respected progressive community radio station, 3CR.

On November 10, activists were presented with a letter, to be discussed at the next meeting, which urged Melbourne JAG to abide by the new policy focus and "immediately terminate any relationships (radio program and/or membership etc) with 3CR forthwith".

This was in response to a request from Aboriginal activist Gary Foley, who has been involved in a dispute with 3CR. As part of the New Directions, Katona has appointed Foley as the local JAG adviser and liaison person "to assist the process of self-education and change of focus that we now seek".

Melbourne JAG activist and Democratic Socialist Party member Rurijk Davidson told Green Left Weekly that it was pity that the argument between Foley and 3CR had now spilled over into the JAG group.

"This is one example of the potential problems with the Gundjehmi's New Directions document. It puts JAG in a difficult position, given the amount of support 3CR has given to the anti-Jabiluka campaign so far, with a number of different shows raising the issues and lots of free air-time."

The JAG group in Wollongong, the ENuFF (Everyone for a Nuclear Free Future) group in Hobart and the Lismore-based Campaign for Nuclear Free Future, all of which have been campaigning against the Jabiluka mine, disagreed with the new focus proposed by the GAC.

Justin Randall from Wollongong JAG told Green Left Weekly, "The group overwhelmingly decided to keep its broad focus on opposing the Jabiluka mine and supporting Aboriginal self-determination and opposition to the nuclear industry".

Despite the debate, plans are well under way in most JAGs to make December 6 a national day of action on Jabiluka and the Mirrar's land and human rights.

In Melbourne, the main these of the rally and march is "No mandate for Jabiluka", with the additional demands: no uranium mining, no theft of Aboriginal land and no destruction of Kakadu. The rally will assemble at 4pm at the State Library after the Friends of the Earth conference on uranium mining.

Preparations include a "surprise action" on November 19 at 1pm, beginning at Flinders Street station, city and suburban stalls and paste-ups. Resistance, the socialist youth organisation, is holding a "radioactive waste spill" at Flinders Street station on November 27 at 4pm.

The Adelaide rally will start at 1pm at Victoria Square. The Sydney rally begins at Hyde Park North at 2pm.

[To get involved in JAG groups, see pages 26-27 for details of meeting times and places.]

From GLW issue 341