Redfern's historic "Block" will be the site of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition's (ARC) first national conference, to be held on May 23-25. The Socialist Alliance gives full support to this initiative, a valuable occasion for Aboriginal people and their supporters from around Australia to share experiences and chart the way forward for Indigenous rights.
Indigenous rights is probably the area of politics most marked by the contradictory approach of the Rudd government in its first five months in office.
One the one hand it has made some important gestures, starting with the February 13 apology to the Stolen Generations and signing up to "close the gap" in Indigenous health, education and housing.
On the other, PM Kevin Rudd and Aboriginal affairs minister Jenny Macklin are now the face of the continuing racist intervention in the Northern Territory. The painful impact of this intervention, which is causing a new wave of dispossession as people leave "intervened" communities for centres like Darwin and Mount Isa, is finally beginning to emerge despite mainstream media indifference.
The ARC conference will bring home the real story of the intervention, which a Bagot town camp leader described as "invasion all over again. We are being told where to shop, what to eat, how to act and how to live". Welfare quarantining, the abolition of the Community Development Employment Program, the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal lands and taking over of services have forced thousands of people from their communities.
There will be a strong NT presence, including Barbara Shaw from Alice Springs, who is presently part of a delegation to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The conference takes place in the aftermath of the Australia 2020 summit, where the Indigenous stream completely dodged such key issues as Aboriginal sovereignty and Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs, leaving many participants highly dissatisfied with the "consensus" that emerged.
This national conference therefore offers the opportunity for Indigenous Australia to begin a "2020 summit process" of its own — developing an agenda for Aboriginal rights that is at once an agenda for struggle and a list of demands on the government.
The conference will start with a forum commemorating 70 years since the 1938 "Day of Mourning" protest. Speakers will include Larissa Behrendt, law professor at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at Sydney's University of Technology, Mutitjulu elder Vince Forrester, Pat Eatock, long-time activist and secretary of the first Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Heather Goodall, specialist in Aboriginal history, Sam Watson, an activist in Brisbane's Murri community and Indigenous rights spokesperson for the Socialist Alliance, and Barbara Shaw.
The rest of the conference will deal with themes such as resisting the new paternalism, and unions and Aboriginal rights, with a final session dedicated to charting the way forward for the movement.
The Socialist Alliance recognises the conference as an important step forward in the rebuilding of an independent Indigenous rights movement in Australia, a job which is really just beginning after years of dispersion and disappointment under the Howard government.
By building on such actions as the campaign for justice for Mulrunji in Queensland and the February 12 Canberra convergence, Aboriginal Australia is again on the road to reasserting its political voice.
The Socialist Alliance wholeheartedly supports that process, and will make sure we do everything we can to help it advance.
[Dick Nichols is the National Coordinator of the Socialist Alliance]