Friday, August 28, 2009

Entrenched racism

In the run-up to the 2007 election, then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard decided to repeat his successful racial wedge tactics with Aborigines as the victims, declaring a "state of emergency" in Northern Australia, taking over townships, and suspending anti-discrimination laws so it could subject aborigines to authoritarian and paternalist controls on the basis of race. Now, James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of indigenous people, has pointed out the obvious: that this was fundamentally discriminatory. And he didn't mince his words in saying so:

“There is entrenched racism in Australia,” Anaya told reporters in the capital, Canberra, after visiting several Aboriginal townships in the past week. “These measures overtly discriminate against Aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self determination and stigmatize already stigmatized communities.”
The Australian has more:
Compulsory income management and blanket bans on alcohol and pornography were "overtly discriminatory" and further stigmatised already stigmatised communities, he said.

"People who have a demonstrated capacity to manage their income are included.

"It's inappropriate to their circumstances but is also, as expressed by them, demeaning."

The indigenous rights expert was also scathing of federal Labor's insistence that housing funds would only flow if indigenous communities signed over their land.

"It's a mistake to assume that indigenous peoples ... aren't capable of taking care of their homes," Prof Anaya said.

"Indigenous control can be appropriate to indigenous peoples' development, to their aspirations, to indeed being in control of their lives like all others."

As for compensation for indigenous people taken from their families by government agencies, the UN rapporteur was unequivocal: "There should be reparations," he said.

That's a pretty stunning condemnation of a government we all expect to behave better. It will be interesting to see how the Rudd government, which has moved a long way from Howard's position, responds.