First Peoples likely to be the first target of law empowering the military
Written by: Lindy Nolan on 3 November 2020
With nearly 450 deaths since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the first murder charge against a police officer has been referred for trial in the Supreme Court. But a new Bill still in the Senate looks set to give immunity to military and police from charges arising from “emergency” actions.
In September, Lawyer and human rights’ activist Kellie Tranter released a briefing paper on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Enhancement of Defence Force Response to Emergencies) Bill 2020, but there’s been barely a whisper in the media, apart from Independent Australian and The Saturday Paper.
The Bill allows the ADF – and foreign forces – to escape charges from actions during civil “emergencies” declared by the Defence Minister. The action does not have to be referred to parliament or even the prime minister.
US troops are already based in Darwin, making the NT the most likely place where foreign troops may be called into action. First Peoples are already the most gaoled people in the world. They make up 30 per cent of the Territory population and are already living in the firing line.
Tranter says an assumption that the new law would only be used for natural emergencies, like bushfire or flood, is incorrect, though that’s the pretext. Tranter’s paper makes clear it could just as easily be used against anti-poverty protesters or striking unionists.
Anti-imperialist organisation Spirit of Eureka provides evidence from history for Tranter’s statement.
In a 2015 article, Tranter also drew attention to a section of the ‘Australian Army Manual of Land Warfare’, called ‘Aid to the Civilian Authorities’. Circulating unofficially in the 1980s, former Greens Senator Bob Brown tried to make the document public in 2000. But his amendment to this affect was defeated by a Labor-Coalition voting bloc.
A ‘how to book’ for military coups and martial law, the manual puts meat on the current Bill’s bones, like locking down neighbourhoods to undertake searches; setting up detention centres; systematically isolating and shooting leaders; hiding evidence by removing wounded and dead; and so on.
We could rejoin the sorry list of dictatorships where people simply disappear. Rejoin? This continent and its islands, as almost all now know, is covered with the bones of secretly or openly slaughtered First Peoples.
In publicising Tranter’s concerns, Spirit of Eureka also noted the last time the ADF was used here against civilians was during the Northern Territory Intervention which began in 2007.
The Intervention was called ‘The Emergency Response’. After late night passage through parliament of an enormous and barely scrutinised document, the army rolled into communities across the Territory.
The Emergency Response was a testing ground for open policies of state military, economic and cultural repression across the continent and islands.
It aimed to open First Peoples’ lands to exploitation by multinational corporations. Last year half the Territory was opened to fracking. Gas is announced as Australia’s bipartisan economic saviour post-Covid.
When mining (or gas) and community, including First Peoples, come into conflict, the forces of the state protect corporate property. It’s never reversed. Alas, no riot squad surrounds Rio Tinto HQ for destroying caves sacred to Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura or Victorian Government offices for cutting down Djab Wurrung birthing trees.
Yuendumu resident, anti-fracking leader and Warlpiri Elder Ned Jampajinpa Hargraves spoke at an online forum for Redfern Amnesty Group on August 5 this year about events surrounding November 2019’s shooting death of Walker, a Warlpiri teenager by a police officer.
Jampajinpa said Yuendumu has a population of just 800, but a $7million dollar police station was the only thing built as part of the Intervention. “That money could have gone to our children,” he said.
The police station is a direct line from the Intervention to Walker’s death. Police, but no medical treatment, poured into Yuendumu as the teenager lay for hours before eventually dying.
Jampajinpa stated that Warlpiri were victims of the last “official” massacre by police and civilians at Coniston in 1928.
He said that faced with the Intervention’s laws, army and police, Warlpiri “were tied down, could not move a muscle”.
After Walker’s death, Warlpiri youth under Elders’ leadership alerted the world, ensuring protesters poured onto the streets across the continent, their numbers increasing until a police officer was charged.
Groups as varied as the Australian Anthropological Society announced they stood with Yuendumu.
Great strength was taken from US Black Lives Matter protests to take to the streets against Black deaths here.
The first aim of almost all First Peoples whose family members have died in custody is that people be held accountable, that charges be laid. This could well prove impossible if it falls under the new legislation.
A Warlpiri statement was read at a small Sydney Black Lives Matter protest on Monday October 26, the day murder charges were referred for trial at the Supreme Court.
It said, “We are a proud People, strong in our language, culture and our Lore. But the police and government rule over us and treat us as enemies in our own land.”
It concluded, “We want everyone supporting Black Lives Matter to stand with us for justice for Walker.
“This means those responsible must be held accountable. Justice for Walker also means that power must come back to the Warlpiri People and the violence and control against us must end. We want our rights back to control what happens in our communities and on our land. Stop this Intervention and all the racist laws we are under. Reset our local councils and give us the resources we need to employ and serve our people. The police must put down their weapons before they come into our land. We cannot walk around in fear in our own community.
“Respect Warlpiri Lore, the real Lore of our land.”
Breaking silence and repression
No matter what words on paper are passed in parliament, no matter how brutal the suppression or terrible the sacred and human carnage, the ruling class has been unable to crush the resistance of First Peoples.
But First Peoples need more than our applause.
Union motions were passed, articles were published. The CFMEU constructed a home in one week for Territory First Peoples, exposing what the Intervention was NOT providing. The MUA and others are active. The ACTU’s First Nations Worker Alliance exposes CDP slave labour, teaches history, encourages voting. All these have merit.
A few unions will fight. Sadly, too many compliant leaderships deliberately suppress even their own members’ cries for support. No wonder there are no strikes when First Peoples are smashed.
Collectively we need to break silence and repression, but we have far to go. The working class must breathe struggle into deliberately buried slogans. An injury to one IS an injury to all. This cannot just be words, for this law is coming for all those the ruling class deems enemies.
No matter how big the spontaneous demonstrations nor large an election victory, unless the working class systematically rebuilds its strength and alliances, exposes the lies and omissions that allow First Peoples to be murdered and repressed, the carnage will continue and spread.
Colonialism and imperialism. First Peoples cannot defeat them alone. Nor can we.
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