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Aboriginal resistance to capitalist profits, and the fight for traditional lands

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by Verity M

What is behind the Western Australian Government’s attempt to force Aboriginal people off their traditional lands, Homelands and Outstations? The Homelands movement has previously been supported by Coalition and Labor alike as a viable alternative to failed Government policies such as assimilation.  The answer lies in the changed use of land.  What was seen in the sixties as land with little or no commercial value is now seen as offering wealth creating opportunities for giant corporations.

It is also a product of Abbott’s use of the Constitution’s definition of state and federal powers: by cutting federal funds to areas such as maintenance of remote communities, which Abbott says is a state responsibility, he provides an excuse for the sort of community closures being enforced in WA.  WA, which has ripped huge amounts out of Aboriginal lands in the form of mining royalties, now cries poor in response to Abbott’s cuts, and says it cannot find the money to provide services to remote Aboriginal communities.

Governments of Western “democracies” are facilitators for capital accumulation.  This is their main function. The current 'opening up the North' is the focus for generating profits for foreign multinationals who are licking their lips at the prospect of new territory to exploit, and for our resident billionaires who are already diversifying away from mining and into cattle farming in North Western Australia. Mining has reached its peak and is producing lower rates of profit.  “Feeding Asia” is the new mantra.  Gina Rinehart has already advocated lower wages for foreign and  local workers and lower tax rates for those who are prepared to 'develop' the  North.

Apart from the opportunity to provide a food basin to feed the increasingly lucrative Asian market the area offers mining opportunities as well as geologically stable spaces for dumping the world's nuclear waste.  Unfortunately for our would-be investors swathes of the North across Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland are under Aboriginal title, and having to negotiate with land title holders is a time consuming disincentive for those who are used to free, largely unregulated markets and who see unimpeded access to profiteering opportunities as theirs by right.

The process of weakening Aboriginal ownership and control of land began with the racist NT Intervention and has been forcefully pursued by the current government and its sycophants on its Advisory committee (Mundine et al) through attempts to persuade Aboriginal people to privatise their land.  This has been strenuously opposed by communities, Elders and land councils, most of whom are aware that privatising land, far from benefitting Aboriginal people, would simply be a means of transferring Aboriginal ownership to non-Aboriginals.  The submission to the Queensland Government, Extract of the Consultation  Draft  the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander land (Providing Freehold) Bill emphasises the longevity and purpose (to care for country and preserve for future generations) of community ownership and the risks of land loss associated with private ownership.  This report sees privatisation as allowing land be to ultimately be for sale on the open market and to result in a "patchwork effect with Indigenous-held land being small islands in a sea of private non-Indigenous ownership".

Another issue the Government is faced with is finding a community which will accept uranium waste.  Most Aboriginal communities are strongly opposed to having a waste dump on their land and have campaigned against it with women Elders threatening to lie down in front of trucks.  The Aboriginal owned Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory was a site with an agreement to accept a nuclear waste dump, but community controversy and resistance has seen this option cancelled.  Given that the government is committed to accepting reprocessed nuclear fuel rods from France this year the search is becoming urgent.  As well there is pressure from countries using nuclear fuel to find a burial site for their waste and Australia because of its geological stability is a prime target.  There is money in it for investing capitalists and some for cash strapped governments which is why the South Australian Government is holding a royal commission into all aspects of nuclear power hoping it will get the answers it wants to change public attitudes.

All of this makes Aboriginal Land Rights and tenures an issue for capital accumulation.  When homelands were being established from the 1960s to the 1980s, the land that people were returning to had little commercial value. Aboriginal people are used to being turned out and moved on when the land they were living on is needed for other purposes, but not this time.  Demonstrations around the country have said so.  Ceasing to remain connected to land means loss of title and loss of Law and Culture.  This is the aim behind what amounts to forced removals.  In many communities poverty and neglect have caused distress.  Others are self-sustaining and productive, training land carers, growing and collecting native foods for commercial use,  providing plants for medical and scientific use, drawing incomes from art and ecotourism and importantly providing respite for people recovering from a spell in prison or drug rehabilitation or just providing a space for people to return home to.

The homelands are important for all Aboriginal people where ever they live which is why the entire Aboriginal nation is militantly opposing the forced removal, through planned neglect, of people from their traditional lands.

Capital has no use for that which does not contribute to its profiteering.  They tossed Aboriginals away a long time ago but find they are still in the way; they tossed away the car workers and many other artisans and skilled workers when they found they could make bigger profits elsewhere. They will toss aside the submarine workers if they can get away with it.  But the Aboriginal Nation has said “No, never again!” and the working class will stand with them.  

One thing our Prime Minister has been able to achieve is to unite the people against injustice, exploitation and inequality, legislated for in the name of capital.  We are moving on, the real struggle is just beginning.


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