In 2007, Operation Outreach involving 600 Australian Army soldiers was launched against Indigenous communities to implement the Howard Coalition Government’s Northern Territory Intervention policy. The Intervention has since been reinforced by the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments and the Abbott Coalition Government. It was extended for a further ten years under the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012.
The Intervention policy has a number of regressive features, including:
- imposition of government leases on Indigenous land
- mandating that 50% of Indigenous peoples’ welfare income be spent on items and in stores approved by the government
- further welfare restrictions for Indigenous families who are deemed to not be adequately looking after their children
- additional, intrusive police powers “to enforce restrictions on alcohol and pornography”
- restrictions on the consideration of customary laws and cultures in criminal court processes
The changing of Indigenous communal title, previously protected under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976, to leasehold is a significant attack on Indigenous land title and land rights.
The Intervention, with the aid of the Northern Territory Government, attempts to move Indigenous community-run councils into bureaucratic structures and to de-fund smaller Indigenous communities, with the aim of disempowering them.
The underlying purpose of the Intervention is to free up indigenous lands for exploitation by the mining companies. This is shown for instance by the use of Indigenous land at Muckaty in the Northern territory for nuclear waste disposal and the rapid increase in mining leases in mineral rich areas. The Federal Government’s relaxation on the restriction of uranium sales overseas has prompted a surge in mining company interest in gaining access to Indigenous lands.
The method used by the Intervention is to gain public support by fomenting hostility against Indigenous peoples, initially with the allegation of child sexual abuse within the communities. This emotive accusation was backed by revival of the demand that Indigenous people assimilate into white society. It incorporates the authoritarian attitude that “We will tell you how to spend your money” and “We will tell you how to raise your children – and if you don’t comply with our rules, we will take the children from you”.
The Intervention represents a huge backward step in the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ land rights and respect for their dignity and culture. It is an extreme form of racism contrived for the purpose of satisfying the profit hungry mining companies.
The struggle of Indigenous people against the mining companies draws them into a parallel struggle – that of the working class who are subjected to exploitation by the mining companies. It is the same enemy, with the same pro-capitalist government doing their bidding.
This struggle is not unique to the Northern Territory but affects Indigenous people across Australia who are subjected to racist policies and practices.
There is a compelling need for both the Indigenous people and the working class to recognise the common enemy and to forge ties of understanding and solidarity in the struggles that lie ahead.
The Communist Party of Australia remains committed to the following additional policies:
- Recognition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original occupiers and owners of Australian territory and their right to own and control their land and resources on the basis of communal and inalienable title.
- Provision of basic services to Indigenous communities, including housing, health services, water and education and training with communities having a say and involvement where possible in their provision.
- Immediate repeal of the Northern Territory Emergency Response Act and its discriminatory provisions for Aboriginal peoples and the reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act in the NT.
- The restoration of the Community Development and Employment Program (CDEP) program to all Indigenous communities that request it.
- The establishment as soon as possible of a genuinely representative national Aboriginal advisory body to be elected by registered Aboriginal voters at the same time as each Federal election.
- The ongoing campaign for the restoration of unpaid wages to Aboriginal peoples as a result of previous protection policies.
- The establishment of a Federal Ombudsman with sole responsibility for investigating complaints by Indigenous people of their treatment by the criminal justice system of the states, territories and Australian governments.
- Introduction of Indigenous languages being part of the curriculum in all primary schools.
- Implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Bringing them Home Report.