Howard, narrow-minded, mean
In response to the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation's official Declaration Towards Reconciliation, Prime Minister John Howard has issued his own version of a document acceptable to him. His objective is to mobilise the racist sections of the Australian community who do not recognise the rights of the Aboriginal people as the first occupiers and owners of the land. The genocide of over 200 years, was first by shootings, poisoned water- wells and flour, disease, herding into reserves, and then my the more recent policies of assimilation, integration, stolen children, racist mandatory sentencing, neglect of health and housing, unemployment and discrimination. In every way these policies are the hallmarks of that section of Australian society that the Prime Minister is appealing to. A comparison of the two documents vividly reveals the truth. The contested sections are reproduced below. (In all cases the emphasis has been added.) The Council's wording: Reaffirming the human rights of all Australians, we RESPECT AND RECOGNISE CONTINUING CUSTOMARY LAWS, BELIEFS AND TRADITIONS. Howard's wording: Reaffirming the human rights of all Australians, we RESPECT the cultures and beliefs of the nation's first people and recognise the place of traditional laws within these cultures. Howard's version omits the vital word, "RECOGNISE" in the first part and also the word "CONTINUING". "RESPECT" on its own is not sufficient and, in fact, relegates the significance of the culture, customary laws and traditions of the Indigenous people of Australia. Council: As we walk the journey of healing, ONE PART OF THE NATION APOLOGISES and expresses its sorrow and sincere regret for the injustices of the past, so the OTHER PART ACCEPTS THE APOLOGIES AND FORGIVES. Howard: As we walk the journey of healing, AUSTRALIANS EXPRESS THEIR SORROW AND PROFOUNDLY REGRET the injustices of the past and recognise the continuing trauma and hurts still suffered by many Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. The Indigenous people recognise themselves as Australians and in Howard's version his use of the word "AUSTRALIANS" is intended to include the Indigenous people who are, therefore, called upon to apologise for injustices imposed on them. The Council's version, on the other hand, recognises the truth that the injustices were committed by one section of Australian society against another section. Whereas, the Indigenous people are prepared to accept an apology and offer forgiveness, Howard's meanness prevents him from even offering an apology which he knows would be accepted in a generous spirit. Council: We desire a future where all AUSTRALIANS ENJOY THEIR RIGHTS, accept their responsibilities, and have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Howard: We desire a future where all Australians enjoy equal rights, LIVE UNDER THE SAME LAWS and share opportunities and responsibilities according to their aspirations. In his version, Howard denies that the Indigenous people are a national minority and insists that there is only one law — the law of those who invaded Australia, occupied all its territory, seized the land that belonged to others and set about, by acts of genocide, to destroy those who had occupied the land for at least 50,000 years. The rest of Howard's version which speaks of sharing "opportunities according to their aspirations" is a meaningless platitude as the policies of Howard and those who support him, are rooted in discrimination and racism. Council: And so, we pledge ourselves to stop injustice, overcome disadvantage, and respect that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION WITHIN THE LIFE OF THE NATION. Howard: And so, we pledge ourselves to stop injustice, overcome disadvantage and RESPECT THE RIGHT of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, ALONG WITH ALL AUSTRALIANS to determine their own destiny. The Council's version raises the question of self-determination but within the life of the nation. There is no thought here of setting up a separate State of the Indigenous people, the Council correctly insists upon the recognition of the Indigenous people as a national minority. By denying this right, Howard continues the policies of assimilation and integration. He insists that the power of the conqueror be accepted without question by the Indigenous people. They must bow-down to the superior force, give up their land to the invaders, accept the law of the conqueror, accept their position as inferiors, end protests against discrimination and racism. Once again the "pledge" of Howard to stop injustice and overcome disadvantage is meaningless in the face of the failure of his and previous governments to right the wrongs of the impoverished, deprived and discriminated against Indigenous people. Howard's statement continues to deny the rights of the Indigenous people. It will also split the rest of the Australian people between those who genuinely want to extend the hand of reconciliation and bring an end to two centuries of injustice on the one hand and, on the other, those who would continue the old policies of deprivation, discrimination and genocide. It is a critical moment for the Australian nation and all its people. Prime Minister Howard, and his government should be driven out of office. They shame the country. They are a disgrace to the civilised world.