The Guardian May 17, 2000


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.

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