Essay: Racial Discrimination With the Northern

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[. . .] 18). They did not vote for the Liberal Party in the state of federal elections, and formed no part of his real constituency. Noel Pearson, a neoliberal Aboriginal intellectual, was the only leader he listened to, not least because he was widely considered "a traitor to the Leftist ideology Aborigines were expected to cling to" (Toohey, p. 19). Pearson argued that Intervention was necessary on the grounds of "safety and security in these communities…overriding concerns about individual and communal rights" (Jennett, p. 122). He also offered congenial advice about individualism, self-sufficiency, reduction of welfare-state dependency and expanding the market economy that Howard found naturally congenial. After all, his ideology was part of the Reagan-Thatcher return to laissez-faire that had dominated the English-speaking world for the last thirty years. From the start of his government, he had warned Aboriginal communities that he would cut off their funding if they did nothing to control drugs, alcoholism and gang violence, such as the rival clans in Port Keats that went by the names Judas Priest and Evil Warriors. His threats "got them right where it hurts: the money" (Toohey, p. 21).

For twenty-seven years, the Liberal Party had governed the Northern Territories before Labour came to power in 2001-07. On the territorial level, the Liberals had always been blatantly racist and dealt with Aborigines mainly as a law-and-order and crime control problem. They had even adopted 'three-strikes' laws and mandatory minimum sentences from their (much harsher) counterparts in the United States, which had left the majority of young black males in urban areas in prison or on probation and parole. By Western standards, of course, the U.S. is a fascist police state in its treatment of minority groups and unapologetically so, but in the cities and towns of the Northwest Territories, prison was also a common experience for young, Aboriginal males. For many whites, in fact, the idea that most of these young men would spend some time in prison simply seemed like the new normal and even a perverse rite of passage for them. Labour intellectuals in the coastal cities might have been marginally more sympathetic to them, but for most of the rank-and-file "Aborigines were seen as some sort of disease that whites might contract" (Toohey, p. 23). On the positive side, the new Labour government in the Northern Territories abolished mandatory sentences for Aborigines, but they never issued the explicit apology for 200 years of colonialism that they had promised in the election.

Aborigines remained a segregated minority in the Northern Territories, just as they had always been. In cities like Darwin, Alice Springs and Matranka, they were a ghettoized and impoverished minority, and even had international aid groups like the Sisters of Charity and World Vision tending to their sick and hungry children, although this "didn't fit with how coastal city people saw their Australia" (Toohey, p. 23). As far as Aboriginal social and economic needs were concerned, the Liberal governments in the Northern Territories had always treated these with "apathy and neglect" (Toohey, p. 24). Aborigines did not vote for them and they received very little in the way of money or social services. As is the case with Native peoples in the U.S. And Canada, they suffered from very high rates of poverty, unemployment, violence, and alcohol and drug abuse. Their unemployment rate is 300% higher than the national average while only 3% are university graduates compared to 15% of the general population (Jennett, p. 123). Aborigines make up 2.3% of the total population, and today 53% live in cities and towns rather than the bush. They are segregated into low-paying, low-skill jobs, ghettoized, and the majority of them either have no work at all or only part-time jobs. Only 9% of Australians even have any regular contact with Indigenous people, and therefore only know about them from the mass media, stereotypes and popular culture mythology (Jennett, p. 123).

Youth poverty, unemployment and lack of educational opportunities leads to high levels of crime, violence and gang membership, as in the segregated urban ghettos in the U.S. And other Western nations. This violence really flares when Aboriginal youth are killed or wounded in confrontations with the police, which is also very common in the United States. In comparison to the police and state authorities, these communities are relatively powerless, and the traditional Aboriginal elders no longer have much influence in the cities and towns. Control over youth was long ago ceded to the "agents of the internal colonial core, such as the police and the welfare and health officials of the state" (Jennett, p. 125). Ghettoes like Redfern in Sydney are the scenes of occasional riots, such as the 2004 incident in which a boy was killed during a police pursuit. Youth in these ghettos, just like their counterparts in London and New York, are well aware that their life opportunities are going to be far more limited than their white peers in middle and upper class suburbs and this leads to a sense of hopelessness and alienation "just like any other community where poverty is rife" (Jennett, p. 126).

ATSIC was the largest employer of Aborigines in Australia, and its closure eliminated most of the middle class jobs that existed in these communities, which social and economic conditions worsened because of the cutbacks imposed in the Emergency Intervention. In the end, this program which had been enacted because of the political and ideological necessities of white elites turned out to be pennywise and pound foolish. ATSIC's staff and bureaucracy consisted mostly of women, and like minority groups in other English-speaking countries, they had been more successful educationally than men. For Aborigines in Australia, however, the "overall results remain dismal" (Walter, p. 104). Those who lost their jobs at AISIC were employed in Aboriginal Sections of the regular state and federal bureaucracies, although most ended up resigning from these due to segregation and lack of cultural support. This meant that Aboriginal women lost the few jobs with the "good wages and secure conditions so rarely available to Aboriginal workers in the Australian labor market" (Walter, p. 104). Other ATSIC programs like the Network of Women's Legal Services also lost government funding and now depend on private donations and volunteers. Shared Responsibility Agreements removed welfare payments from children who did not attend school, which impacted women to a greater degree than men. Women were also made responsible for reductions in family and community violence, for improving the upkeep and renovation of subsidized housing, and even for proper washing and showering of children. They were also required to spend public assistance funds in a list of shops approved by the government. Any violations of these agreements led to suspension of welfare payments and other penalties (Walter, p. 105).

Emergency Intervention and suspension of Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territories was a complete fraud and sham passed by the neoliberal government of John Howard on purely false pretenses. It should never have been enacted at all, and it was passed simply for political and ideological reasons, as part of the ongoing attack against the social welfare state, civil rights for minorities and multiculturalism that has been a consistent feature of conservative parties in every English-speaking country since the Reagan and Thatcher years. This law was completely unjust and unethical in its conceptions, implementation and ultimate effects on the Aboriginal communities, and should either be repealed or overturned by the courts. It has accomplished absolutely nothing of any value, and ironically failed to even improve the electoral prospects of Howard himself. Intervention had all the hallmarks of 19th Century-style racism and paternalism, which is perfectly consistent with the neo-Victorian and laissez faire ideology of conservative parties over the last thirty years. Indigenous peoples in Australia have always suffered tremendous levels of poverty, unemployment, segregation and lack of educational opportunities, and this Intervention made their social and economic conditions even worse, especially for women and children. Howard passed this legislation without even the slightest pretense of consulting with the Aboriginal communities themselves, apart from some neoliberal intellectuals and politicians widely regarded as stooges and turncoats by their own people. It hardly expanded the Aboriginal middle class but reduced it, and did not enhance civil and human rights for minorities but eliminated them. In the long run, such regressive legislation will only increase the crime, violence and alienation in these marginalized communities, especially among youth. To be sure, civil rights laws and multiculturalism had hardly been a cure all for the entrenched poverty and ghettoization of these Indigenous communities, but the answers certainly will not be found in Howard's callous, inept and shallow attempt to turn back the clock a century or two.


Jennett, C. 2011. "Internal Colonialism in Australia" in (Eds) Minnerup, G. And P. Solberg, First World, First Nations: Internal Colonialism and Indigenous Self-Determination in Northern Europe and Australia. Billbong, pp.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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