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Genocide in Australia

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Genocide in Australia

Indeed, in response to the High Court’s Wik decision, the Coalition
government under John Howard has introduced amendments to the Native
Title Act (known as the 10-point plan), which aim to extinguish native
title in all but name, perpetuating the cycle of dispossession and
alienation. In what has been described (not only by socialists and
Aborigines themselves) as “the biggest land grab since 1788”, Howard’s
legislation takes from the Aborigines to give to the richest
pastoralists in the land. At the time of writing, the Senate has
rejected this legislation for the second time, setting the scene for a
double dissolution and a general election.

Howard derides what he calls the “black armband view of history” – that
is, a history which tells the truth about what happened to the
Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and how Australia’s wealth was
built on the theft of their land. He does so for both pragmatic and
ideological reasons: to advantage his rich mates and make Australia safe
for the mining companies, pastoral interests and capitalism generally,
and to justify his assault on the gains Indigenous people have made in
recent years, meagre as they are.

The Howard government has also given the go-ahead to Energy Resources
Australia’s Jabiluka uranium mine, situated on the traditional lands of
the Mirrar people in the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, in
direct contravention of the wishes of the traditional owners. Once
again, the rights of Indigenous people have been trampled over in the
rush to make profits.

The government therefore wants to sweep the Stolen Generations report
under the table. A crucial aspect of its strategy to enrich the miners
and pastoralists is to deny any spiritual or traditional connection with
the land as the basis for a native title claim – and this is the only
kind of claim many of the stolen generations can make.

They must not be allowed to get away with it. In the past, Indigenous
people have won rights through struggles – such as the freedom rides,
the Gurindji strike and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – in which they and
their supporters took to the streets to gain popular support. Today, we
need that kind of fight again.

Opinion polls, the numbers who attend demonstrations in support of
Indigenous rights and the establishment of organisations like Defenders
of Native Title and the Jabiluka Action Groups show that there is
widespread support for justice for Indigenous Australians. That support
needs to be mobilised into a powerful movement that can stop Howard and
turn the tide against the rising racism that he has fostered.

This pamphlet looks at some of the issues raised by the Stolen
Generations report – and in particular addresses the criticisms and
disclaimers emanating from the Howard government and its supporters in
big business – not to mention Pauline Hanson and her racist One Nation
organisation. In order to build the kind of movement described above, we
need to be able to counter Howard’s arguments with the real facts.
Hopefully this pamphlet is a small contribution to building such a
movement.

In 1949, Millicent was four years old. That’s when she and five of her
siblings were taken from their parents and placed in institutions. She
never saw any of them again, apart from one brother who was subsequently
removed to another institution.

The authorities told Millicent that her parents didn’t want her, when
actually they prevented them from visiting her. After a horrific
childhood consisting largely of domestic servitude, beatings and
religious indoctrination, Millicent was sent into unpaid domestic
service, where she was raped, bashed and slashed with a razor for
resisting. On reporting the rape, she was beaten for lying. The
resulting pregnancy earned her yet more beatings. Millicent was
overjoyed to have a baby – someone she could love – but her joy was
shortlived. They took her baby away and told her the infant had died – a
lie only revealed when the two were reunited many years later.

The immense human tragedy of the stolen generations is made up of
thousands of stories like Millicent’s.

The practice of forcible removal of Indigenous children from their
families has a long and dishonourable history, dating back to the very
beginning of European settlement in Australia. The early settlers often
simply kidnapped children to work for them, as personal or domestic
servants, or on the land. They were effectively enslaved: paid no wages
and supplied with only the barest necessities of food, shelter and
clothing. In the north of Australia, this type of thing was happening up
to the early twentieth century.

While settlers stole children purely for personal gain, governments and
churches came up with a range of ideological justifications for the
practice of systematically removing children from their families. These
justifications, though on occasion presented as in some sense
“benevolent”, led to the same outcome for their Aboriginal and Islander
victims – lives of misery and physical, cultural and spiritual
deprivation.

The motivation of the missionaries and governments also reflect a deep
underlying racism. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were seen as
backward and barbaric, incapable of determining their own future and
therefore without rights. They had to be “civilised”, their languages,
culture and way of life destroyed, so that they could take their place –
a subordinate one, naturally – in European society. Crucially, they were
to be inculcated with European values and work habits so that they would
be fit for service to the colonial settlers.

You didn’t have to scratch the surface very far to find the real
motivations behind seemingly “altruistic” actions. In 1814, for example,
Governor Macquarie funded a school for Aboriginal children. Within a few
years, however, it became obvious to Indigenous families that the real
purpose of the school was to distance the children from their families
and communities. This was an essential step in the process of separating
Indigenous people from their land, which was necessary to free the land
for capitalist exploitation.

Meanwhile, colonial authorities were doing nothing to curb the brutal
activities of the settlers. It was the British government, embarrassed
by reports of frequent massacres and atrocities, which moved to appoint
a Select Committee into the condition of the Aboriginal people. But the
result of this, far from providing any relief for Indigenous people, was
the establishment of legal mechanisms to control the Indigenous
population, restrict their movements and rights and remove their
children. All this went on in the name of “protection”.

Along with “protection” went segregation. Many Aborigines, thrown off
their land, deprived of the means of subsistence and forced into
dependence on government handouts, drifted to the towns and set up
camps. The inevitable poverty, malnutrition and disease in the camps
made them an embarrassment to the settlers and the colonial governments.
So it was planned to remove Indigenous people to reserves in areas the
Europeans didn’t want, segregating them from the white population and
restricting their movement. By 1911, the Northern Territory and every
State except Tasmania had some form of “protectionist legislation”,
giving the government-appointed Protection Board or Chief Protector
virtually total control over every aspect of Aborigines’ lives, and,
crucially, legal guardianship of all the children. The sham of
“protection” was indicated by the fact that the enforcement of
protectionist legislation was carried out by “protectors” who were
usually police officers.

The exception, Tasmania, simply removed all its Aboriginal inhabitants
to Cape Barren Island and thereafter claimed it had no Aboriginal
population, just a few “half-castes”.

Throughout the nineteenth century, massacres, disease and malnutrition
took a heavy toll, leading to a serious decline in the full descent
Indigenous population. However, the mixed descent population was
increasing, due no doubt to the widespread practice of the rape of
Aboriginal women and girls by white settlers. These developments led to
a somewhat different approach from the authorities. In social Darwinist
“survival of the fittest” terms, the Aborigines and Torres Strait
Islanders were “doomed races”, destined to extinction because they
couldn’t compete with a more “advanced” society. The task of government
and missionaries was therefore to “smooth the dying pillow”. Indigenous
people of mixed descent, however, were to be absorbed into European
society and forced to join the workforce. This policy of “merging” would
both save the government money and provide cheap labour for the
developing capitalist economy, and it made the removal of children an
even more vital part of the process, to keep full descent and mixed
descent Aborigines apart.

Definitions of “Aboriginality” were arbitrarily changed to fit
government policy and facilitate the break-up of families and
communities. Across the country, there were some 67 definitions of
“Aboriginality”, enshrined in over 700 pieces of legislation. People
were defined as “full blood” or “half caste” and there were further
offensive divisions such as “quadroon” and “octoroon”.

The first national discussion of the “Aboriginal problem” took place in
1937, at a Commonwealth State Native Welfare Conference. It was here
that the notion of “merging” became the policy of “assimilation”, which
formed the basis for government action right up to the 1970s. The
difference between “merging” and “assimilation” was largely one of
degree: an intensification and extension of control over the Indigenous
population. Though couched in seemingly high-minded phrases about
enabling mixed descent Aborigines to “take their place in the white
community on an equal footing with the whites” and “improving their
lot”, the authorities began from the implicit notion that there was
nothing of value in Aboriginal culture. Aboriginality was to be
destroyed by removing “half-caste” children from their communities,
their language and their cultural heritage. Assimilation was not a sharp
break from what had gone before, simply a refinement.

Moreover, the practices which occurred under assimilation were racist
through and through. To return to Millicent’s story: the reason given
for taking the children was that “the authorities decided us kids could
pass as whitefellas”. But at the notorious Sister Kate’s Home in Western
Australia where Millicent spent her childhood, she got a very different
message:

“They said it was very degrading to belong to an Aboriginal family and
that I should be ashamed of myself, I was inferior to whitefellas. They
tried to make us act like white kids, but at the same time we had to
give up our seat for a whitefella because an Aboriginal never sits down
when a white person is present.”

All States had child welfare legislation which allowed children – black
or white – to be taken from their parents if the children were deemed to
be “neglected”, “uncontrollable” or “destitute”. Prior to 1937, however,
most States preferred to use the protectionist legislation when taking
Indigenous children, because that way they didn’t have to justify
anything before a court. The authority of the Chief Protector or the
Board was sufficient.

But even after 1940, when child welfare legislation was used instead,
“proof of neglect” could easily be dispensed with. In many cases,
“Aboriginality” was sufficient “proof”, and the poverty in which
Aborigines were forced to live made them targets because it could be
argued the children were “destitute”. Girls who ran away from situations
of sexual abuse or got pregnant were labelled “uncontrollable”. The
separations were carried out with extreme brutality, traumatising the
children and their parents for life.

“Early one morning in 1952 the manager from Burnt Bridge Mission came to
our home with a policeman. I could hear him saying to Mum, ‘I am taking
the two girls and placing them in Cootamundra Home.’ My father was
saying, ‘What right have you?’ The manager said he can do what he likes,
they said my father had a bad character (I presume they said this as my
father associated with Aboriginal people). They would not let us kiss
our father goodbye, I will never forget the sad look on his face…That
was the last time I saw my father, he died within two years after…Next
morning we were in court. I remember the judge saying, ‘These girls
don’t look neglected to me’. The manager was saying all sorts of things.
He wanted us placed in Cootamundra Home. So we were sent away…”

Children were routinely taken from their mothers at birth. Her consent
was sometimes waived, sometimes forced from her with threats, or she was
simply told the child died.

“My mother told us that the eldest daughter was a twin…And in those
days, if Aboriginals had twins or triplets, they’d take the babies away.
Mum swore black and blue that boy [the twin] was alive. But they told
her that he had died. I only found out a couple of years ago – that boy,
the nursing sister took him. A lot of babies were not recorded.”

Often, too, the parents and children were tricked:

“I was at the post office with my Mum and Auntie [and cousin]. They put
us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome…But when
we’d gone [about ten miles] they stopped and threw the mothers out of
the car. We jumped on our mothers’ backs, crying, trying not to be left
behind. But the policeman pulled us off and threw us back in the car.
They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were
chasing the car, running and crying after us…When we got to Broome they
put me and my cousin in the Broome lock-up. We were only ten years old.
We were in the lock-up for two days waiting for the boat to Perth.”

Children who were left temporarily in “homes” or even hospitals simply
disappeared.

“A mother [single teenager] had a child in a home, and went out to
provide some sort of basis for rearing the child…when the mother came
back, they told her that the child had died. And 25 years later we have
a request from a person to find his mother…(she) now has gone through
the grieving of the person dying and now coming to terms with his
resurrection.”

Siblings who were stolen were often placed separately, or even when
placed together, their identities and kinship were not revealed. The
inquiry gives the example of one witness who, in a seeming act of
gratuitous cruelty, was “introduced to his brother on the day that
brother was departing the institution for a foster placement.” At a
conference following the release of the report in Melbourne in 1997, an
Aboriginal speaker recalled how he, along with an older boy, was
summoned one day to the office of the institution in Ballarat where the
two of them had lived for several years, introduced to an Aboriginal
woman and told she was their mother.

And you didn’t have to be stolen to experience the effects of the
practice:

“Every morning our people would crush charcoal and mix that with animal
fat and smother that all over us, so that when the police came they
could only see black children…We were told always to be on the alert
and, if white people came, to run into the bush or run and stand behind
the trees as stiff as a poker…and hide…And if the Aboriginal group was
taken unawares, they would stuff us into flour bags and pretend we
weren’t there. We were told…if we sneezed…we’d be taken off and away
from the area…During the raids on the camps it was not unusual for
people to be shot – …in the arm or the leg. You can understand the
terror that we lived in…”

The pace of removals increased through the 1950s and 1960s. Despite the
difficulty in establishing precise numbers (partly because of lack – or
falsification – of documentation, partly because many removals were
illegal even under the various racist laws in operation) the inquiry
concluded that between 1910 and 1970, between one in three and one in
ten children were forcibly removed, and “[I]n that time not one
Indigenous family has escaped the effects…”.

One of the most heart-rending aspects of the report is reading about the
Indigenous parents who blamed themselves for the loss of their children.
The NSW branch of Link-Up (an organisation which works to reunite
separated families) reported to the inquiry:

“…we found that Aboriginal women were unwilling and unable to speak
about the immense pain, grief and anguish that losing their children had
caused them…We see that they judge themselves harshly, never forgiving
themselves for losing their children – no matter that they were part of
ongoing systematic removal of Aboriginal children…They were made to feel
failures; unworthy of loving and caring for their own children; they
were denied participation in the future of their community.”

The accounts of those who observed this pain show clearly how the lives
of the parents, and the wider Indigenous community, were shattered.

“I remember my Aunty, it was her daughter that got taken. She used to
carry these letters around with her. They were reference letters from
the whitefellas in town…[saying that] she was a good, respectable
woman…She judged herself and she felt the community judged her for
letting the welfare get her child…She carried those letters with her,
folded up, as proof, until the day she died.”

Such accounts also show how the practice of stealing their children is
at the root of many problems experienced by Indigenous people today,
particularly substance abuse.

“My parents were continually trying to get us back. Eventually they gave
up and started drinking. They separated. My father ended up in jail. He
died before my mother. On her death bed she called his name and all us
kids. She died with a broken heart.”

Non-Indigenous families who adopted children were also lied to – told
that mothers who were searching for their child were dead, or had
refused to take responsibility for them. Some of these families told the
inquiry they are wracked with guilt and regret that they were
unknowingly complicit in such barbarism.

“We would never have deprived any mother of her child, or any child of
its mother…The doctor told me how this child’s mother was very young
[she was actually 20]…plus the baby was never wanted right from the
start. If this was true, why did she take her poor frail baby home…? He
would not feed. She took him back [to the hospital] and it was the last
she saw of him. She said they would not give him back…”

“In 1960 my wife and I applied to adopt an Aboriginal baby, after
reading in the newspapers that these babies were remaining in
institutionalised care…Later that year we were offered a baby who had
been cared for since birth in a Church run Babies Home…We were told, and
truly believed, that his mother was dead and his father unknown…”

Despite the love of his adoptive family, this child, Ken, grew up
feeling isolated and alienated, subjected to constant racism, and
several times attempted suicide.

“…When Ken was eighteen he found his natural family, three sisters and a
brother. His mother was no longer living. She died some years earlier
when Ken was four. Because of the long timespan, strong bonds with his
family members could not be established.”

Although supposed neglect provided the justification for removing
children from their parents, many children never experienced such
terrible conditions and abuse until they were taken away.

“And for them to say she [mother] neglected us! I was neglected when I
was in this government joint down there. I didn’t end up 15 days in a
hospital bed [with bronchitis] when I was with me mum and dad.”

“These are people telling you to be Christian and they treat you less
than a bloody animal. One boy, his leg was that gangrene we could smell
him all down the dormitories before they finally got him treated
properly.”

The luckier ones were adopted; others went to foster families, sometimes
a succession of them. But even those who were fortunate enough to be
placed with loving families felt and regretted the effects of separation
(see the discussion of “benefits” below). Often too, the adoptions or
fostering arrangements didn’t work out. Possibly the most notorious case
of this was that of James (Russell) Savage, who was not only removed
from his family, but from the country when his adoptive family moved to
the USA. Like most stolen children, Russell had severe problems growing
up, and ended up thrown out on the streets at the age of twelve. Worse
was to come: several years ago, after getting involved with drugs and
alcohol like so many other stolen children, he ended up in jail for life
on murder and rape charges, narrowly escaping the death penalty. The
scandal surrounding this case put a spotlight on the whole practice of
stealing Indigenous children.

In keeping with the objectives of the assimilation policy, many children
were not told of their Indigenous background. Children were bullied into
adopting white ways of living and thinking, only to suffer abuse and
denigration at home and school for the darkness of their skin. Others
were taught racist attitudes towards Indigenous people only to find –
often because of constant taunting about their complexion – that they
themselves belonged to the people towards whom they felt disgust. The
denigration of all things Aboriginal was one of the most common
experiences reported to the inquiry.

“During this placement [with a foster family], I was acutely aware of my
colour, and I knew I was different from the other members of their
family. At no stage was I ever told of my Aboriginality…When I’d
say…‘why am I a different colour?’ they would laugh at me and tell me to
drink plenty of milk, ‘and then you will look more like us.’ The other
sons would call me names such as ‘their little Abo’ and tease me. At the
time I didn’t know what this meant, but it did really hurt…”

“We were told our mother was an alcoholic and that she was a prostitute
and she didn’t care about us. They [foster family] used to warn us that
when we got older we’d have to watch it because we’d turn into sluts and
alcoholics, so we had to be very careful. If you were white you didn’t
have that dirtiness in you. It was in our breed, in us to be like that.”

But generally speaking, those who fared the worst were those – the vast
majority – who were put into mostly Church-run institutions, such as
Sister Kate’s Home, Kinchela Boys’ Home, Cootamundra Girls’ Home and so
on. The experiences from these institutions remain like a nightmare.
Many inmates remember the constant hunger:

“There was no food, nothing. We was all huddled up in a room…like a
little puppy-dog…on the floor… Sometimes at night time we’d cry with
hunger, no food…We had to scrounge in the town dump, eating old bread,
smashing tomato sauce bottles, licking them. Half of the time the food
we got was from the rubbish dump.”

On top of that, there were cruel punishments for the slightest
“offence”:

“I remember once, I must have been 8 or 9, and I was locked in the old
morgue. The adults who worked there would tell us of the things that
happened in there, so you can imagine what I went through. I screamed
all night, but no-one came to get me.”

“I’ve seen girls naked, strapped to chairs and whipped. We’ve all been
through the locking up period, locked in dark rooms. I had a problem of
fainting when I was growing up and I got belted every time I
fainted…I’ve seen my sister dragged by the hair into those block rooms
and belted because she’s trying to protect me.”

The infamous A. O. Neville (WA Chief Protector 1915-40) wrote a book in
1947 in which he listed some of the punishments meted out by his staff –
tarring and feathering, chaining girls to table legs (this was done by
“an ex-Missionary, and a good man too” whom Neville clearly regrets
having to dismiss), shaving heads and so on.

But some stories were even more horrendous:

“Cootamundra…was very strict and cruel…Mum remembered once a girl who
did not move too quick. She was tied to the old bell post and belted
continuously. She died that night, still tied to the post, no girl ever
knew what happened to the body or where she was buried”.

A key aspect of the assimilation project was to prevent the children
speaking their own language. No effort was spared on this, because it
was one of the most effective ways to permanently separate the children
from their parents and communities.

“Y’know, I can remember we just used to talk lingo. [In the Home] they
used to tell us not to talk that language, that it’s the devil’s
language. And they’d wash our mouths with soap. We sorta had to sit down
with the Bible language all the time. So it sorta wiped out all our
language that we knew.”

This meant that even when children and parents were subsequently
reunited, they often couldn’t speak to each other except through an
interpreter.

The accounts given to the Stolen Generations inquiry also abound with
examples of sexual abuse of both girls and boys, which fits with the
revelations about sexual abuse in churches and institutions everywhere
(though the report notes that for girls in particular, “the risk of
sexual assault in a foster placement was far greater than in any
other”). Almost one in ten boys and just over one in ten girls reported
that they were sexually abused in a children’s institution, while one in
ten boys and three in ten girls reported the same for foster placements.

“There was tampering with the boys…the people would come in to work with
the children, they would grab the boys’ penises, play around with them
and kiss them and things like this…It was seen to be the white man’s way
of lookin’ after you. It never happened with an Aboriginal.”

Girls who reported sexual assaults were told to stop telling lies and
often beaten.

“…my foster father molested me. He would masturbate in front of me,
touch my private parts and get me to touch his. I remember once having a
bath with my clothes on ’cause I was too scared to take them off. I was
scared of the dark ’cause my foster father would often come at night. I
was scared to go to the outside toilet as he would often stop me on the
way back…So I would often wet the bed…I once attempted to tell the local
Priest at the Catholic Church and he told me to say ten Hail Mary’s for
telling lies. So I thought this was how ‘normal’ non-Aboriginal families
were. I was taken to various doctors who diagnosed me as
‘uncontrollable’ or ‘lacking in intelligence’.

A young Koori woman, with the help of an employer, tried to have a
former employer who had raped her charged with the offence. Although two
medical examinations confirmed the rape, the Protection Board officials
to whom the matter was reported first accused the victim of being a
“sexual maniac” and then had her committed to Parramatta Mental Hospital
where she remained for 21 years.

A total of 777 people and organisations from all over Australia provided
evidence or submissions to the inquiry. This chapter provides only some
samples of the experience of the stolen generations and their
communities. The total picture is a devastating account of racism and
the attempted destruction of an entire people and its culture.

“We may go home, but we cannot relive our childhoods. We may reunite
with our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles,
communities, but we cannot relive the 20, 30, 40 years that we spent
without their love and care, and they cannot undo the grief and mourning
they felt when we were separated from them. We can go home to ourselves
as Aboriginals, but this does not ease the attacks inflicted on our
hearts, minds, bodies and souls, by caretakers who thought their mission
was to eliminate us as Aboriginals.”

Bringing them home utterly refutes the claims made by the likes of
Howard and Hanson, as we shall see below. That’s why Howard and Minister
for Indigenous Affairs John Herron have gone to such extraordinary
lengths to undermine it, before and after its release.

Howard claimed, for example, that the inquiry President, Sir Ronald
Wilson, was “biased” because, in his capacity as a church
representative, he had offered an apology to Indigenous people for the
church’s role in the treatment meted out to Aboriginal and Islander
people. It is crucial that those who support Indigenous rights equip
themselves with the facts and arguments, and disseminate them as widely
as possible.

Indigenous children were forcibly taken from families well into the
seventies – merely twenty years ago. The Broken Hill Aboriginal Legal
Service told the inquiry “there were children removed from Wilcannia in
the 1970s in much the same way [as] in the 1960s”. A woman told how she
was adopted by a white family, without her mother’s knowledge, in 1973:

“I was taken off my mum as soon as I was born…What Welfare wanted to do
was adopt all these poor little black babies into nice, caring white
families, where they’d get a good upbringing. I had a shit upbringing.
Me and [adopted brother who was also Aboriginal] were always treated
different to the others…”

In 1964, Paul was stolen from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne
as a baby, when he and his mother were both ill. His mother was told his
removal to a Babies’ Home was a temporary arrangement until she got
better. But Paul was first made a ward of the State and then offered for
adoption when the courts dispensed with his mother’s consent. The
adoption placement failed because the family was racist, and Paul was
returned to an orphanage, subsequently being fostered until the age of
17. In this family too, he experienced cruelty, abuse and racism – which
he didn’t understand until he was discharged from State wardship. It was
a bombshell.

“In May 1982…the Senior Welfare Officer…conveyed to me in a
matter-of-fact way that I was of ‘Aboriginal descent’, that I had a
Natural mother, father, three brothers and a sister, who were alive…He
placed before me 368 pages of my file, together with letters, photos and
birthday cards. [His mother had never given up looking for him.] He
informed me that my surname would change back to my Mother’s maiden
name…”

The Home at Bomaderry in NSW, notorious for holding Indigenous children,
was not closed until 1980.

And according to National Party MP Bob Katter – hardly a sympathiser of
the Aboriginal cause – the removal of Aboriginal children, presumably
under child welfare legislation, is still going on today in areas of
Queensland and other parts of the country. So we are not talking about
“ancient history” here, but a pattern of racist oppression which has
continued in different forms from settlement right up to today.

In fact, Bringing them home devotes a whole chapter to “Contemporary
separations”. Though “assimilation” is no longer official government
policy, there are still ways to break up Indigenous families and
communities. Although Indigenous children and youth aged 10-17 accounted
for only 2.7 per cent of the total youth population in 1993, they made
up 20 per cent of the numbers in care, with the main reason cited as
“neglect”. In 1997, Indigenous children were almost six times more
likely than non-Indigenous children to be removed from their families
and placed in protective care, according to a survey by the Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare (and in fact this was an
underestimation, because NSW was unable to provide details on
Aboriginality).

Of perhaps even greater concern is the juvenile justice system and the
way it is administered in respect of Aboriginal youth. Indigenous youth
(and adults) are routinely arrested for minor “offences” such as
drunkenness, offensive language and so on, which when committed by
whites lead to at most a caution. The Royal Commission into Black Deaths
in Custody recommendation that these offences be dropped from the
criminal code – like most of its other recommendations – was ignored.

A study by researchers from the University of Melbourne’s criminology
department found that over-representation of Kooris in the Victorian
criminal justice system has worsened since the findings of the Royal
Commission on Black Deaths in Custody in 1991. Between 1989-90 and
1993-94 the number of Koori “offenders” aged 17 and under jumped by 69
per cent, and the rate of charges against Kooris increased by 17.3 per
cent over the same period. Kooris are 14.5 times more likely to be
charged with being drunk than non-Aborigines and 10 times more likely to
be charged with robbery.

After funding of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association
Inc was cut in 1996 (as a result of Federal government cuts to ATSIC),
the number of young Victorian Aborigines in custody nearly doubled in
less than a year.

In November 1996 Western Australia introduced a “three strikes” law
which makes a minimum 12 month jail sentence mandatory for anyone –
adult or juvenile – convicted of a third home burglary offence. Under
this law, a 12-year old Aboriginal boy was jailed for a year for acting
as a look-out. There was outrage in December 1997, when a magistrate
jailed two Aboriginal children for (quite understandably) spitting at
the racist MP Pauline Hanson. Fortunately, the public outcry led to
their release.

In August 1995, a National Police Custody Survey illustrated, according
to an analysis done by the Australian Institute of Criminology “the
continuing heavy involvement of Indigenous children (compared to
non-Indigenous children) in the criminal justice system, in particular
the elevated proportion of Aboriginal children being held in the cells
by police.”

Of 1,753 juveniles aged from 10 to 17 years held in police custody in
the survey period, 704 – about 40 per cent – were Indigenous children
and young people. Similarly, some 36 per cent of youth in juvenile
correctional institutions in June 1996 were Indigenous, with a rate of
incarceration of 540 per 100,000, compared to 25 per 100,000 for
non-Indigenous youth.

These scandalous figures again highlight the systematic, ingrained
racism of Australian society and its institutions. And as the WA
Aboriginal Legal Service submission to the Stolen Generations inquiry
points out, “The detention of Aboriginal youth is a form of child
removal.”

The separation from their families and communities of Indigenous
children and youth detained in correctional institutions is even worse
when you consider that the detention centres are often hundreds or even
thousands of kilometres away from the communities, especially in
Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where the
rates of removal are particularly high compared with the national
average.

So it’s very strange that he was prepared to give a personal apology
(albeit a very grudging, mean-spirited one) at the 1997 Reconciliation
Convention, but utterly refuses to countenance an apology by the Federal
Parliament, on behalf of the nation. And since he followed up his
stilted, two-sentence “expression of regret” with an angry,
lectern-pounding tirade defending his government’s policy on native
title, it’s hard to believe in his sincerity. No wonder a quarter of the
audience turned their backs on him in disgust.

It might appear that Howard just doesn’t get it. A majority of people
(according to the polls), most newspapers, churches, a host of eminently
respectable public figures, and even some State Liberal governments can
recognise that an acknowledgement of and apology for past crimes against
the Aboriginal people is not a matter of people today admitting
individual or collective guilt – a word which, as the inquiry President
Sir Ronald Wilson has pointed out, is never mentioned in Bringing them
home.

But Howard isn’t really that dumb. His refusal to consider either an
official apology or compensation arises out of his determination to
pursue a course that involves not only continuing racist oppression, but
stripping away some of the gains, small as they are, that Indigenous
people have made in recent years.

Howard’s 10-point plan in response to the High Court’s Wik judgement
takes away from Indigenous people and gives to the miners and
pastoralists, and all the millionaires who stand to make windfall
profits from the effective upgrading of pastoral leases to freehold
ownership. So Howard’s response (or lack of it) to the Stolen
Generations report is entirely consistent. He doesn’t want to
acknowledge the past because he plans to continue it in other ways.

A sincere acknowledgment and expression of regret for the wrongs done to
Australia’s Indigenous people has nothing to do with guilt. But it does
imply that you take responsibility for trying to redress the wrongs by
fighting for, or at least supporting, greater rights and a better deal
for Aborigines today.

The reason Howard is so obsessed with guilt is that, unlike most of us,
he actually does have reason to feel some.

But of course, Howard doesn’t want to be seen as the racist he is, nor
does he want the Australian economy damaged by international perceptions
of Australia as a racist country. Hence his condemnation of what he
calls “the black armband view” of Australian history. Howard prefers
what the historian Henry Reynolds refers to as the “white blindfold
view”. (And the whitewashing continues. Following the release of
Bringing them home, government departments have been instructed not to
refer to “stolen” children, but to use the more sanitised term
“separated” instead.)

There is no rigid barrier between the past and the present – or between
the present and future for that matter. There is a continuity in history
– things that happen in one year or decade shape what comes after, as
the victims of the assimilation policy know only too well.

“I have six children. My kids have been through what I went through…The
psychological effects that it had on me as a young child also affected
me as a mother with my children. I’ve put my children in Bomaderry
Children’s Home when they were little. History repeating itself.”

The social and economic position of Aborigines today is a direct result
of what has happened to them in the past. And on a personal level, the
effects ripple through the generations in a vicious cycle of despair and
alienation.

In fact, as the report clearly shows, existing laws were often flouted
and common law rights were certainly ignored. British common law rights
were promised to all the Indigenous peoples of the British Empire. But
in far-flung colonies, before the development of mass transportation and
communications, local authorities could get away with murder –
literally. And the Australian colonies were the most notorious. The
report shows how the following common law rights were routinely violated
with regard to Indigenous people: deprivation of liberty (by removing
Indigenous people to reserves and missions and by detaining children and
confining them in institutions); abolition of parental rights (by making
the children wards or by assuming custody and control); abuses of power
(in the removal process) and breach of guardianship obligations (on the
part of Protectors, Protection Boards and other “carers”).

Moreover, a host of special legislation was devised to provide legal
cover for the atrocities committed against Indigenous people. For
example, a Welfare Ordinance was introduced in the Northern Territory in
1953. Its purported objective was to “subject all Aboriginal people to
the same welfare legislation as non-Indigenous people. Accordingly, it
made no mention of race, referring instead to ‘wards’. A ward was any
person who ‘by reason of his manner of living, his inability to manage
his own affairs, his standard of social habit and behaviour, his
personal associations, stands in need of special care.’”

These “wards” had no rights whatsoever; they were completely in the
power of the Director of Welfare. But when there were protests from
non-Indigenous Territorians who feared the Ordinance might be applied to
them, the wording was changed to make it clear that only Indigenous
children were to be targeted. This was simply done, still managing to
avoid any reference to race – people with voting rights could not be
made wards. Before the 1967 referendum, this excluded few apart from
Aborigines.

Australia voluntarily pledged itself to certain standards of conduct
under the banner of international human rights – the UN Charter of 1945,
the UN Resolution of 1946 declaring genocide to be a crime against
humanity, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and so on.
At this time “assimilation” was in its infancy, and it was to continue
for several more decades, despite the fact that the policy itself, and
practices such as the forcible removal of children, were both generally
and specifically outlawed under the various declarations Australia had
signed (see also the discussion of genocide below).

Let’s turn now to the treatment of Indigenous children and how it fits
with the ideas of the time about the raising and treatment of children.

In our society, the family is held up as the foundation of all that is
worthwhile – it is where we are supposed to be nurtured, loved and
prepared for life in the wider world. This is not a new idea. Millions
of words were written from the 1880s to the 1970s about the damage
children suffer when removed from their parents, in particular the
mother, and about the problems institutionalised care causes for child
development.

In 1951 the United Nations released a report based on studies of
maternal deprivation and its effects. The report stressed that the focus
of child welfare services should be on assisting families to keep their
children with them. This thinking underpins a lot of child welfare
policy-making this century.

In 1955 the Australian High Court unequivocally confirmed the rights of
parents to keep their children except in the most extraordinary
circumstances.

“It must be conceded at once that in the ordinary case the mother’s
moral right to insist that her child shall remain her child is too
deeply grounded in human feeling to be set aside by reason only of an
opinion formed by other people that a change of relationship is likely
to turn out for the greater benefit of the child.”

Yet during all these years, in the name of “assimilation” into white
society, Indigenous children were deliberately stolen from their
families, then systematically lied to in order to keep them out of their
families. They were prevented from having any contact with their
families by the suppression of letters, being moved to inaccessible
places, having their files destroyed, even having their names and
birthdates falsified. By and large, these things did not happen to white
children who were removed from their families. And indeed, the trend
with regard to white children was to return them to their families
wherever possible, to arrange fostering if not – at the same time as the
pace of removal of Indigenous children was increasing.

“Unlike white children who came into the state’s control, far greater
care was taken to ensure that [Aboriginal children] never saw their
parents or families again. They were often given new names, and the
greater distances involved in rural areas made it easier to prevent
parents and children on separate missions from tracing each other.”

Many of the officials who oversaw and implemented the removal of the
children tried to justify their actions with the racist claim that
family bonds among Indigenous people were not as strong or as important
as among whites.

“I would not hesitate for one moment to separate any half-caste from its
Aboriginal mother, no matter how frantic her momentary grief might be at
the time. They soon forget their offspring.”

Yet if this was the case, why did government departments go to such
extraordinary lengths to make it difficult for parents to find out where
their children were?

“They changed our names, they changed our religion, they changed our
date of birth…That’s why today, a lot of them don’t know who they are,
where they’re from. We’ve got to watch today that brothers aren’t
marrying sisters; because of the Government. Children were taken from
interstate and they were just put everywhere.”

“When I finally met [my mother] through an interpreter she said that
because my name had been changed she had heard about the other children
but she’d never heard about me. And…every morning as the sun came up the
whole family would wail. They did that for 32 years until they saw me
again.”

Parents and other relatives tried desperately to find or maintain
contact with the children, meeting with obstacles and threats at every
turn.

Murray’s mother was initially allowed to visit her children (under
supervision) at the Townsville State Children’s Orphanage. But the
visits were stopped because they had “destabilising effects”:

“That didn’t deter my mother. She used to come to the school ground to
visit us over the fence. The authorities found out…They had to send us
to a place where she couldn’t get to us. To send us anywhere on mainland
Queensland she would have just followed – so they sent us to…Palm Island
Aboriginal Settlement…I wasn’t to see my mother again for ten nightmare
years.”

Paul’s mother never gave up looking for her son.

“She wrote many letters to the State Welfare Authorities, pleading with
them to give her son back…All these letters were shelved. The State
Welfare Department treated my mother like dirt, as if she never existed.
The department rejected and scoffed at all my Mother’s cries and pleas
for help.”

Records were destroyed, often deliberately. For example, in the Northern
Territory, personal files were “culled back to only 200 records in the
1970s due to concerns their contents would embarrass the government”.
And even today, it remains extraordinarily difficult to gain access to
the remaining records.

The first Annual Report of the newly-established Ministry for Aboriginal
Affairs in 1968 expressed concern about the illegal removal of children
in Victoria, citing “unauthorised fostering arrangements” and informal
separations where children were taken and their names changed to prevent
their parents finding them. Government reports by this time recognised
that Indigenous children were best left in their own communities, yet
despite all this, the number of Aboriginal children who were forcibly
removed continued to rise, from 220 in 1973 to 350 in 1976.

Economic rationalists like Howard and Herron, of course, see “benefits”
only in material terms. They seem incapable of understanding the trauma
of separation and the deprivation of things most Australians take for
granted.

“I’ve often thought, as old as I am, that it would have been nice to
have known a father and mother, to know parents even for a little while,
just to have had the opportunity of having a mother tuck you into bed
and give you a good-night kiss – but it was never to be.”

Another stolen child, Penny, reports that three of her siblings are
under psychiatric care, and one of them, Trevor, has been diagnosed as a
paranoid schizophrenic and sometimes gets suicidal. Yet because he has
had a job for most of his life and owns a house and car,

“People…look at [Trevor] and say, ‘He’s achieved the great Australian
dream’. And they don’t look behind that…They look at us and say, ‘Well,
assimilation worked with those buggers’. They see our lives as a
success.”

Some submissions to the inquiry acknowledged the “love and care provided
by non-Indigenous adoptive families (and foster families to a much
lesser extent)” or recorded “appreciation for a high standard of
education.

Access to education is the most frequently-cited “benefit” that stolen
children are supposed to have enjoyed. Yet more often than not, their
educational aspirations were denigrated and opportunities denied.

“I wanted to be a nurse, only to be told that I was nothing but an
immoral black lubra, and I was only fit to work on cattle and sheep
properties…I [got] that perfect 100% in my exams at the end of each
year…only to be knocked back…Our education was really to train us to be
domestics and to take orders.”

“I was the best in my class, I came first in all the subjects…[At age
15] I…wanted to continue in school, but I wasn’t allowed to…I was sent
out to the farms just to do housework.”

The first Aboriginal magistrate, Pat O’Shane, recalls her ambitions to
study medicine, but her teacher “responded that I didn’t have the brains
to go on to high school…notwithstanding that I had always had an above
average record through school.”

A three-year study in Melbourne during the 1980s of both children taken
from families in childhood (33 per cent) and those raised in their
communities found that those removed were: less likely to have
undertaken tertiary education; much less likely to have stable living
conditions; twice as likely to have been arrested by police and been
convicted of an offence; three times more likely to have been in jail;
and twice as likely to be using illegal drugs.

A national survey by the Bureau of Statistics in 1994 found no
significant difference in standards of education, ability to find work,
or the large numbers living on incomes under $12,000 between those
removed and those not. But those removed were twice as likely to have
been arrested more than once in the last five years. And 70.9 per cent
of those taken away assessed their own health as good or better,
compared with 84.5 per cent of those not taken.

The effects of the atrocities of the past haunt people’s lives to this
very day. And in any case, those children who could point to some
positives such as education to weigh up against the devastation of
separation are very much in the minority.

A majority of the stolen children spent all or part of their childhoods
in institutions, and in many cases, this was a prelude to a life in and
out of other institutions, such as prisons and psychiatric hospitals.

“They grew up to mix with other troubled children in Tardon…they only
knew how to mix with the other boys they grew up with and these boys
were into stealing, so my sons went with them. I couldn’t tell them
anything…because they felt that coloured people were nothing…

“One of my sons was put into jail for four years and the other one died
before he could reach the age of 21 years. It hasn’t done my sons any
good, the Welfare…taking them away from me, they would have been better
off with me their mother.”

To say that any stolen child “benefited” from the experience is not only
utterly false with respect to material advantage for the vast majority,
it also reflects the racist view that there is nothing of value in
Aboriginal culture and denies the significance of cultural identity for
Indigenous people.

Howard says that he “understands” the concerns and anxieties of those
white Australians who feel their cultural identity is under threat
(people who are attracted to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation for instance).
He is also an active promoter of “family values”. Yet he shows
absolutely no sympathy for or understanding of the cultural identity and
family relationships of Indigenous people. This, plus his contemptuous
dismissal of the report and its recommendations, is further evidence of
his inherently racist world view.

There are none so blind as those who will not see. Bringing them home
documents criticism of and opposition to the practice and methods of
forcible removal, as well as the extreme cruelty and abuse suffered by
children, from the very beginning, and all around the country. It quotes
Members of Parliament, government officials (including police and patrol
officers), newspaper editorials, welfare organisations and of course
Aboriginal organisations.

The historian Henry Reynolds has recently published a book, The
Whispering in Our Hearts (Allen and Unwin 1998), about opposition to the
treatment of Aborigines from 1790 to 1940. He notes that the word
“reconciliation” was used in the 1830s in much the same way as it is
used today, showing that “this tradition has much deeper roots than
people suppose.”

In an official report commissioned by the Queensland government in 1896,
Archibald Meston wrote:

“Kidnapping of boys and girls is another serious evil…[They] are
frequently taken from their parents and tribes, and removed far off
whence they have no chance of returning; left helpless at the mercy
of…white people responsible to no-one and under no supervision by any
proper authority…Stringent legislation is required to prevent a
continuance of abuses concerning the women and children.”

In 1915, the NSW parliament passed the Aborigines Protection Amending
Act, giving the Protection Board total power to take children away
without having to prove neglect, and abolishing the minimum age at which
Aboriginal children could be apprenticed. There was strong opposition to
this Act by MPs who argued that it was an “act of cruelty” to “steal the
child away from its parents”, that the real intention was “to gain
absolute control of the child and use him as a slave without paying
wages” and that this was tantamount to the “reintroduction of slavery in
NSW.”

South Australia’s 1923 Aborigines (Training of Children) Act made it
easier for the state to remove Indigenous children, justified on the
basis that such a separation was “less traumatic” for Indigenous than
for white children. It was strongly opposed by Aboriginal families who
organised a petition to the government, and they won some public
support. The South Australian magazine Daylight editorialised: “There is
not and never should be occasion for the Children to be taken away from
their parents and farmed out among white people.” As a result of the
protests, the operation of the Act was suspended in 1924, although it
was subsequently revived in another form.

In 1925 the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA) was
formed in NSW and immediately called for an end to the stealing of
children. One of the AAPA’s supporters was the MP for Cobar, whose
questions in parliament led to a Parliamentary Select Committee into the
Aborigines Protection Board and a further inquiry in 1938.

In Western Australia in the early 1930s, a series of articles appeared
in the local and international press, containing allegations of slavery,
mistreatment of Aborigines and abuse of Aboriginal women. The resulting
publicity forced the government to hold a Royal Commission. Bessie
Rischbieth, president of the Australian Federation of Women Voters, gave
evidence: “In most instances I should prefer to see the children left
with their parents…the system of dealing with the parents should be
improved in order that they might keep their children”. In her opinion,
governments preferred to remove children “because it was cheaper than
providing the same system of support which operated for white children.”

Another prominent critic was the feminist Mary Bennett, who taught from
1932 at the Mt Margaret Mission in Western Australia. She described the
removal of children as the “official smashing of family life”. Feminist
politics of the time were strongly maternalist, and this led feminist
groups such as the Australian Federation of Women Voters, the Women’s
Christian Temperance Union and the British Commonwealth League to take
up the issue of the stolen children. They supported Aboriginal women
giving evidence to a WA Royal Commission in 1934, though they failed to
win the legal rights for Aboriginal mothers that they were seeking.
Their evidence was dismissed by Royal Commissioner Moseley as
“hearsay…interesting, but valueless”.

In 1937 the Commonwealth Minister of the Interior, John McEwen, visited
The Bungalow and Half-Caste Home in Darwin, and was shocked at what he
saw:

“I know many stock breeders who would not dream of crowding their stock
in the way these half-caste children are huddled.”

Though not documented in the report, a major source of opposition to
racist government policies towards Aborigines was the trade union
movement, and especially the unions influenced by the Communist Party.
In the film Lousy Little Sixpence (itself evidence that many people knew
about and opposed forcible removal), an Aboriginal activist fondly
recalls the financial support given by wharfies of the Waterside
Workers’ Federation, who “gave like anything”.

In the light of the Howard government’s current attacks on maritime
workers, it is well worth recalling the wharfies’ proud history of
support for Indigenous people – indeed it is precisely this record of
solidarity with the oppressed which is one of the main reasons the
government and employers have set out to smash the Maritime Union of
Australia.

In 1964 Faith Bandler, the NSW Secretary of the Federal Council for the
Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, wrote to the
Waterside Workers’ Federation (WWF – predecessor of the MUA) secretary:
“The main support of the FCAATSI [in the struggle for scholarships for
Aborigines to receive skills training] comes from the Trade Unions, and
among the Trade Unions, the WWF has a special place in my heart because
it has so often been the first and most generous in response to our
appeals.”

The next year, the WWF levied every member around Australia to build a
new bakery at Moa, a Torres Strait Island, after the Queensland
government had refused to help. With other groups of well-organised
workers, such as the Newcastle branch of the Operative Bakers, Seamen
and the Transport Workers’ Union, the WWF organised the purchase,
delivery and installation of the bakery.

In the run-up to the 1965 FCAATSI conference, Aboriginal wharfies held
lunch hour meetings to explain the issues to their fellow workers. In
1968, with other unions, the WWF bought a car for Aborigines in northern
Australia campaigning for their rights. By 1969, the WWF was one of
seven unions which had set up committees to organise support for
Aborigine and Torres Strait Islander demands at the request of the
FCAATSI.

According to the definition of genocide under international law and used
by the UN – yes. Australia is a signatory to a number of UN Charters,
Conventions and Declarations which outlaw the very practices carried out
here. The 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide (ratified by Australia in 1949) made it clear that
genocide includes any actions which have the effect of “destroying, in
whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” It
defines genocide as: “…killing members of the group; causing serious
bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately
inflicting…conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical
destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent
births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group…”

Australia’s treatment of Aborigines qualifies as genocide on every
single count.

So at the same time as Australian governments were grandstanding
internationally, they were deliberately ignoring their own commitments,
and they continued their genocidal practices for decades afterwards.

“There are certain restrictions which must remain imposed on Aborigines
even though they are at variance with the complete ideals of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The UN Conventions also make it clear that acting out of “good
intentions” is no excuse – it’s the effects which count, not the
purpose. Nor can a state use the excuse that “it was lawful under its
own laws”. For example, the Holocaust was genocide, even though much of
the persecution of the Jews in Germany was legal under the Nuremberg
Laws of 1938.

“Official policy and legislation for Indigenous families and children
was contrary to accepted legal principle imported into Australia as
British common law and, from late 1946, constituted a crime against
humanity. It offended accepted standards of the time and was the subject
of dissent and resistance. The implementation of the legislation was
marked by breaches of fundamental obligations on the part of officials
and others to the detriment of vulnerable and dependent children whose
parents were powerless to know their whereabouts and protect them from
exploitation and abuse.”

UN Conventions also stipulate that, where genocide is established,
reparation must follow. Australia would not be the first country to do
this. The report documents a number of cases where it has been done, and
more recently the Canadian government made an apology to its indigenous
people for similar practices and allocated substantial funds towards a
reparations program.

While nothing can adequately compensate for the damage, the prospects
for healing are further reduced in the absence of acknowledgement and
reparation.

Financial compensation is only a part of this. Equally important are an
open and official acknowledgement of and apology for the past, the
establishment of mechanisms to help people find out about themselves and
to reunite with their families where that is possible and legislation to
ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again. These and the other
recommendations of the inquiry should be implemented immediately, but
the Howard government has rejected most of them.

The government response to the report, announced in December 1997, is
nothing less than an insult to the stolen generations. The paltry sum of
$63 million dollars will be spent – over four years – on such things as
counselling, regional support networks, family support programs, link-up
services, a culture and language maintenance program and an oral history
project. Minister Herron once again reiterated the tired old Coalition
party line justifying the government’s refusal to offer an apology: “You
might as well go and ask the British for an apology for coming to
Australia with the convicts”, he said. “You can’t judge past practices
by today’s standards.”

Herron also ruled out any financial compensation, saying “It was
believed cash compensation to individuals would not achieve a great
deal.” Meanwhile, stolen children who want to seek compensation for
abuse in government and church institutions through the courts are being
prevented from doing so by lack of money to fight the cases and what
lawyers describe as an almost impossible hunt for documentation. Matthew
Storey, senior solicitor for the NT Stolen Generation Litigation Unit,
has been told that government records dating back to the crucial period
of the 1950s have been destroyed.

Although most States have not undertaken to adopt the report’s
recommendations on adoption, child welfare and juvenile justice
procedures, Herron said Commonwealth action to force their compliance
was unnecessary. This is a repeat scenario of what happened with the
recommendations of the Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission, where
the States’ failure to implement them has meant that the problem has not
only continued, but got worse. Since 1990, according to the Australian
Institute of Criminology, 92 Indigenous Australians have died in prison
or police custody (including deaths in police operations such as sieges
and pursuits). More than 17 per cent of all custodial deaths were
Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders, who make up 1.4 per cent of the
adult population.

With all this plus the racist 10-point plan, it is little wonder that
the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission has passed a vote
of no confidence in Herron, and refused to have further dealings with
him. Even the conservative, Liberal-appointed head of ATSIC, Gatjil
Djerrkura, who was a Country Liberal Party candidate for a Northern
Territory Senate seat in 1980, has called for Herron’s sacking. In a
recent interview Djerrkura described Herron as “a person who believes he
knows best for us. He has a paternalistic attitude.” And one of his
staffers described the relationship between Herron and Howard as “the
uninformed informing the uninterested.” Howard has repeatedly
demonstrated his lack of interest in the issue, perhaps most notably
when he actually left the parliamentary chamber just as Labor opposition
members started to read out some of the experiences of the stolen
children.

Howard wants to be “fair” to pastoralists, many of whose fortunes were
built on both dispossession and cheap or unpaid Aboriginal labour. He
has no problem with setting up special funds for things such as drought
relief or gun buy-backs, or funding the redundancies of wharfies sacked
by Patrick Stevedores. Clearly, he feels some loyalty and sense of
responsibility to those constituencies. But he rejects any compensation
for Aborigines.

With its attacks on native title, ATSIC, Abstudy and so on, the Howard
government is carrying on the racist traditions of its predecessors and
adding further insult to the grievous injuries already suffered.

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