Circus and Injustice Down Under
By John Pilger
September 19, 2014 "ICH"
are times when farce and living caricature
almost consume the cynicism and mendacity in the
daily life of Australia's rulers. Across the
front pages is a photograph of a resolute Tony
Abbott with Indigenous children in Arnhem Land,
in the remote north. "Domestic policy one day,"
says the caption, "focus on war the next."
Reminiscent of a vintage anthropologist, the
prime minister grasps the head of an Indigenous
child trying to shake his hand. He beams, as if
incredulous at the success of his twin stunts:
"running the nation" from a bushland tent on the
Gove Peninsula while "taking the nation to war".
Like any "reality" show, he is surrounded by
cameras and manic attendants, who alert the
nation to his principled and decisive acts.
wait; the leader of all Australians must fly
south to farewell the SAS, off on its latest
heroic mission since its triumph in the civilian
bloodfest of Afghanistan. "Pursuing sheer evil"
sounds familiar; of course, an historic
mercenary role is unmentionable, this time
backing the latest US installed sectarian regime
in Baghdad and re-branded ex Kurdish
"terrorists", now guarding Chevron, Exxon Mobil,
Marathon Oil, Hunt Oil et al.
parliamentary debate is allowed; no fabricated
invitation from foreigners in distress is
necessary, as it was in Vietnam. Speed is the
essence. What with US intelligence insisting
there is no threat from Islamic State to America
and presumably Australia, truth may deter the
mission if time is lost. If this week's police
and media show of "anti-terror" arrests in "the
plot against Sydney" fails to arouse the
suspicions of the nation, nothing will. That the
unpopular Abbott's reckless war-making is are
likely to be self-fulfilling, making Australians
less safe, ought to in headlines, too. Remember
the blowback of Bush's and Blair's wars.
what of the beheadings? During the 21 months
between James Foley's abduction and his
beheading, 113 people were reportedly beheaded
by Saudi Arabia, one of Barack Obama's and Tony
Abbott's closest allies in their current "moral"
and "idealistic" enterprise. Indeed, Abbott's
war will no doubt rate a plaque in the
Australian War Memorial alongside all the other
colonial invasions acknowledged in that great
emporium of white nationalism - except, of
course, the colonial invasion of Australia
during which the beheading of the Indigenous
Australian defenders was not considered sheer
returns us to the show in Arnhem Land. Abbott
says the reason he and the media are camped
there is that he can consult with Indigenous
"leaders" and "gain a better understanding of
the needs of people living and working in these
Australia is awash with knowledge of the "needs"
of its first people. Every week, it seems, yet
another study adds to the torrent of information
about the imposed impoverishment of and vicious
discrimination against Indigenous people:
apartheid in all but name. The facts, which can
no longer be spun, ought to be engraved in the
national consciousness, if not the prime
minister's. Australia has a rate of Indigenous
incarceration higher than that of apartheid
South Africa; deaths in custody occur as if to a
terrible drumbeat; preventable Dickensian
diseases are rampant, including among those who
live in the midst of a mining boom that has made
profits of a billion dollars a week. Rheumatic
heart disease kills Indigenous people in their
30s and 40s, and their children go deaf and
suffer trachoma, which causes blindness.
as shadow indigenous health minister in 2009,
Abbott was reminded by the United Nations
Special Rapporteur on Indigenous people that the
Howard government's fraudulent "intervention"
was racist, he told Professor James Anaya to
"get a life" and "stop listening to the old
victim brigade". The distinguished Anaya had
just been to Utopia, a vast region in the
Northern Territory, where I filmed the evidence
of the racism and forced deprivation that had so
shocked him and millions of viewers around the
world. "Malnutrition", a GP in central Australia
told me, "is common."
as Abbott poses for the camera with children in
Arnhem Land, the children of Utopia are being
denied access to safe and clean drinking water.
For 10 weeks, communities have had no running
water. A new bore would cost just $35,000.
Scabies and more trachoma are the result.(For
perspective, consider that the Labor
government's last Indigenous Affairs minister,
Jenny Macklin, spent $331,144 refurbishing her
office in Canberra).
2012, Olga Havnen, a senior Northern Territory
government official, revealed that more than $80
million was spent on the surveillance of
families and the removal of children compared
with just $500,000 on supporting the same
impoverished families. Her warning of a second
Stolen Generation led to her sacking. This week
in Sydney, Amnesty and a group known as
Grandmothers Against Removals presented further
evidence that the number of Indigenous children
being taken from their families, often
violently, is greater than at any time in
Australia's colonial history.
Tony Abbott, self-proclaimed friend of
Indigenous people, step in and defend these
families? On the contrary, in his May budget,
Abbott cut $536 million from the "needs" of
Indigenous people over the next five years, a
quarter of which was for health provision. Far
from being an Indigenous "friend", Abbott's
government is continuing the theft of Indigenous
land with a confidence trick called "99-year
leases". In return for surrendering their
country - the essence of Aboriginality -
communities will receive morsels of rent, which
the government will take from Indigenous mining
royalties. Perhaps only in Australia can such
deceit masquerade as policy.
Similarly, Abbott appears to be supporting
constitutional reform that will "recognise"
Indigenous people in a proposed referendum. The
"Recognise" campaign consists of familiar
gestures and tokenism, promoted by a PR campaign
"around which the nation can rally", according
to the Sydney Morning Herald - meaning the
majority, or those who care, can feel they are
doing something while doing nothing.
all the years I have been reporting and filming
Indigenous Australia, one "need" has struck me
as paramount. A treaty. By that I mean an
effective Indigenous bill of rights: land
rights, resources rights, health rights,
education rights, housing rights, and more. None
of the "advances" of recent years, such as
Native Title, has delivered the rights and
services most Australians take for granted.
Arrente/Amatjere leader Rosalie Kunoth-Monks
says: "We never ceded ownership of this land.
This remains our land, and we need to negotiate
a lawful treaty with those who seized our land."
A great many if not most Indigenous Australians
agree with her; and a campaign for a treaty -
all but ignored by the media - is growing fast,
especially among the savvy Indigenous young
unrepresented by co-opted "leaders" who tell
white society what it wants to hear. That
Australia has a prime minister who described
this country as "unsettled" until the British
came indicates the urgency of true reform - the
end of paternalism and the enactment of a treaty
negotiated between equals. For until we, who
came later, give back to the first Australians
their nationhood, we can never claim our own.
This article was first published in the
John Pilger on twitter @johnpilger