Hamish Chitts, Brisbane
30 people came to the Queensland College of Art’s central lecture theatre on November 15th for Reconciliation, Promises and Lies - the third forum in a series of pre-election forums presented by the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA). Speaking on reconciliation were Les Malezer, Chair of FAIRA; Gary Highland, National Director of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) and prominent Land Rights campaigner and Michael Mansell.
“I don’t believe in Australian democracy,” Malezer said. “As an Aboriginal person I know that Australian democracy is only there to help a privileged few. Australia sends troops to Iraq, sends troops into Aboriginal communities - that’s not democratic.” Malezer stressed the importance of demanding and achieving justice before considering reconciliation and cited the recently adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a step towards justice. “Our right to self determination is a starting point,” he said. “Australians have to realise that Indigenous issues are global and not domestic issues.”
Highland denounced the Federal Government’s invasion of Northern Territory Aboriginal communities as “ a racist intervention”. He asked, “How does taking land stop child abuse?” Highland was also critical of the scrapping of Community Development Employment Projects (CDEPs) as part of Howard’s plan for Northern Territory communities. He said while CDEPs have been used as a source cheap labour and need to be looked at the Federal Government is only scrapping CDEPs to force participants onto welfare so the government can quarantine 50% of their income.
“They keep saying soon it will be better. But the situation is still deplorable as it was deplorable 100 years ago,” Mansell said. He pointed out that over the years there has been one common theme to government policy on Aboriginal people, “assimilate or perish”. This policy hasn’t work though and there needs to be another solution. “We need our own land, our own parliament,” demanded Mansell. He called for all crown land to be immediately returned to Aboriginal people, all money raised on that land to go to Aboriginal people. Mansell argued that this wouldn’t be anything new - with Australia encompassing 340 separate governments already including Norfolk Island that is part of Australia yet completely self determined. He asked, “Is there no room for one more?”
The next forum Voting for Aboriginal Self Determination will be at Brisbane City Hall on Thursday 22 November at 6:30pm.