Friday, 28 September 2007

Steve Jolly, socialist electioneering, and sectarianism

Over at the very interesting group blog project LeftWrites, Socialist Party councilor for Yarra Council, Steve Jolly, has posted his "Balance sheet of Council work", giving his impressions of both successes and challenges that the role has entailed.

One interesting point from Jolly's arsenal is this:

"The approach we have taken as a party in using the Councillor position as a powerful auxiliary in the fight to build support for socialism has been to hit the ALP and the Greens at their weakest point."

Jolly goes on to show to some extent the degree to which the Greens have exposed themselves once in power as frequently little more than the left-reformist and opportunist cover for capitalist interests (both small and large). While admittedly the membership of the Greens is quite diverse - including many self-identifying socialists in their ranks; as well as those at the other end of the spectrum entirely - the politics which they are compelled into by their focus on electoral success over all other is one which exposes this strategy for what it is: opportunism.

Regardless of the subjective political views of the people involved, this is generally how the scenario finishes up. So the Greens were initially reticent to get involved in the APEC protests, because of their fear of a negative backlash in an election year. The wombats have heard accounts of Socialist Alliance members suffering the complaint of Greens members at polling booths that every Socialist vote that gave its preference to the Greens lost the Greens a much needed 50 cents per vote, and that they weren't getting enough of our preferences anyway. One such incident even included Kerry Nettle herself lodging said complaint (and in close proximity to an ALP campaigning pack of Garrett, Burgmann and Tebutt). Not to mention the general on-again-off-again approach of the Greens to movements in general - including even the environmental movement - as they gradually dissociate themselves from the "radical treehugging ratbags" image during the quest to pick up disaffected Liberal and "centre" (ie. "neither right nor left") votes.

It has, if you like, been one of the greatest successes of the Socialist Party's project in Yarra - to show that socialists can get elected, and can successfully use that position to expose the bankruptcy of the other parties - not just the blatant corruption and nepotism of the ALP and Liberals, but also the soft-opportunism of the Greens when in power. As points of interest, Jolly's vote in non-council elections subsequent to his election to council has increased, and there is no doubt that, utilised properly, positions like his can build real, lasting, non-ephemeral, support for socialism within communities and workplaces.

But we are still left with a problem - or a few, but they are related, and they diminish greatly the effect of having a socialist on council, unless they are overcome.

The Socialist Party has been campaigning in the one area solidly for years (decades even), and their membership (next to non-existent outside the area) is still relatively small even within Yarra, and Melbourne in general. It has a threadbare existence elsewhere, in numbers probably measurable on one or two hands.

This brings us to the crux. As the wombats raised recently, the Socialist Party has sent a letter to the International Socialist Organisation in response to the latter's call for a vote for the Greens in the Federal election, a position now also held by Socialist Alternative. The Socialist Party appeal - that socialists ought to support socialists candidates (even of different stripes) - is an eminently rational one. While we are less than confident that the call will be taken up, it is one that must be made, and made regularly.

This election will pose the socialist left in Australia with a curious situation (but unfortunately, none too rare). The Socialist Alliance (by far the largest of the socialist organisations, with hundreds of members in branches and at large across the country) has recently regained Federal registration, and will run across the country (not just in Melbourne). The Socialist Equality Party have also gained Federal registration (the first time since 1998), and will similarly be running. And the Socialist Party will be running as well, although in a more limited sphere. To add to the fracas, the Communist Party is trying to get registered (but will almost certainly fail).

All of which raises the very serious question: why can't these groups work together? This was indeed the aim of setting up the Socialist Alliance (although the three organisations just mentioned refused point-blank to join), but such an approach at this juncture need not mean the immediate formal alliance of the groups (although it would be preferable).

As pointed out in the previous post, the Socialist Alliance does not run in seats where other socialist organisations traditionally run (an exception might be in Marrickville, where the SEP also runs, but far less successfully, and as this is a core base for Socialist Alliance operations, and as the SEP only ever turn up around elections, the Socialist Alliance should have a genuine right, if not obligation, to run there). Furthermore, they also publicise the existence of the other candidates through Green Left Weekly.

It requires no great leap of the imagination that, having parallel campaigns, and almost entirely consanguineous politics, the different groups could work together. (To be honest, the wombats hold no great hope that the SEP will ever enter into this degree of civility with the rest of the left, but it remains to be hoped). THIS, and not merely the existence of the Socialist Party campaign, or it alongside the Socialist Alliance campaign, is the basis whereon the other groups of the left may be drawn back into taking a healthy position vis-a-vis who to call for a vote for. (It should be noted, however, that drawing organisations like Socialist Alternative into an actual organisation of left unity would be an immensely larger and more difficult task).

But it makes no sense - and indeed smacks of sectarianism - for socialist groups to outright ignore the existence of other socialist groups in an election and instead call for a Green vote. The higher the vote for socialism, the better an indicator we have (on one graph, at least) of the success of our work.

But we wish to post a qualifier. It is no good calling the ISO out for their sectarianism in ignoring a socialist campaign, and then ignoring a larger one yourself. So the wombats would like to finish on an imploratory note, to Steve Jolly and the Socialist Party in particular, and to the rest of the socialist left in general, to consider long and hard the benefits and logic of building left unity. A broader, more effective, socialist alliance, of one kind or another, is the only rational, genuine, and truly revolutionary, way forward. Our understanding is that the Socialist Alliance is open to negotiations and bona fide suggestions.

As we said only a week ago:

The wombats appeal to all the groups on the socialist left (and individuals, at that) to get over your petty differences (you have more in common than not), and unite in a single socialist alliance that will be worthy of the name, and can take socialism back from the fringe into the mainstream, into the unions, into the parliaments and streets, and into the 21st Century and beyond. As a wise old bearded German once said: "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains."

Election '07 : Make your first time count

Socialist Alliance launches charter to defend working people's rights

Illawarra Socialist Alliance launches charter to defend working people's rights

This Saturday the Illawarra branch of the Socialist Alliance is launching the Workers Rights Charter. In the face of unprecedented attacks on the rights of working people and the lack of genuine opposition from the ALP, the Socialist Alliance is calling on working people to unite so that we, the majority of Australians, can defend our rights through a political alternative to the major parties. Socialist Alliance candidate for Cunningham, Jess Moore and NSW Senate candidate Tim Dobson will be speaking at the event. Moore stated:

"We are told we live in a democracy, yet WorkChoices was introduced despite the fact that the vast majority of people in Australia oppose the legislation.

"WorkChoices has disproportionately impacted women workers. In the six months immediately following its introduction our wages fell to an average of $100 a week less than men. That's the same gap that existed back in 1978.

"And the ALP's IR policy is simply a watered down version of WorkChoices. They have back-pedalled on AWA's, do not guarantee the democratic right of workers to strike, do not fully reinstate unfair dismissal laws and the right of entry for union organisers to the workplace. They've even scape-goated and expelled union officials who've gone public with their objections to ALP policy.

"People keep saying to me - we just have to get rid of Howard. Indeed, a defeat of the Howard government would be a huge boost. However, the last thing we need is to give a blank cheque to the ALP which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Liberals on all the essentials.

"The campaign to defend Our Rights at Work must continue until we've won all of them."

Tim Dobson added: "We need to defend all those forced onto AWA's who average 90 cents an hour less than those on collective agreements! We need to repeal all anti-union laws, defend the right to organise and fight for job security and equality at work!

"We need a party that's prepared to genuinely defend our interests."

Both candidates have committed to campaigning against the misnamed "WorkChoices" policies throughout the election campaign. They will be speaking at the launch of the Socialist Alliance Workers Rights Charter in the Illawarra, from 2pm on Saturday 29 September at 13 Girvan Crescent, Corrimal.

For interviews contact Jess Moore on 0416 232 349 or Tim Dobson on 0413 928 894

The charter is also available for download as a PDF here.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

"Twenty Theses on Sinn Fein's Strategy"

The situation in Ireland has been undergoing some interesting changes of late, which the wombats will take up in a more detailed post soon. Not least - and not least contentious - is the role that Sinn Fein are playing there, and whether or not they have "sold out" in the struggle for a Democratic Socialist Republic.

There have been various splits in the republican movement over the years, and little has changed, with a new split developing a little over a year ago, mostly in Dublin, called éirígí. There have also been some moves of late to regroup those outside of Sinn Fein. So, the role of Sinn Fein, and whether they are a block to the movement or not, has become one of pressing urgency.

The wombats are here re-posting a contribution from Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh to the Marxmail e-list as part of a discussion going on there. We do not necessarily agree with his views, but consider them an interesting appraisal of one perspective on the question.

"Twenty Theses on Sinn Fein's Strategy"

Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh

Phil has written a number of articles in which he attempts to portray Sinn Fein and the Republican movement as having 'sold out' and myself as covering for them.

Before jumping to conclusions people should understand the situation in Ireland sufficiently. The only person emailing facts was attacked for the source of their facts - Phil would rather use epithets to conduct a 'marxist' analysis.

I don't have a huge amount of time to explain my take on things (insofar as I can express it openly) but here goes...

1. Sinn Fein are as committed to achieving its ultimate objective of a Thirty-two County Democratic Socialist Republic as it has ever been.

2. That narrow programme would probably garner no more than about 10% of the total vote in a popular election either side of the border - socialism itself right now is not a huge selling point in an Ireland which has just experienced considerable growth as a result of an FDI-led growth spurt. National feeling in the Free State is largely limited by an acknowledgement of the need for the consent of a majority in the north for reunification. Parties which stand on a strong socialist platform like the SWP get paltry levels of support.

3. So logically, Sinn Fein must promote that agenda by the most effective means possible: politics. In the context of the current 'agreement', Sinn Fein believe that its political goals can be achieved through political (and democratic) means. This is not a result of Sinn Fein lowering its standard from revolutionary to reformist but as a direct result of the success of the IRA's military campaign against the British. In a sense, the state is no longer unassailable from within as it has been forced to accord equal legitimacy to Sinn Fein's demands to those of bourgeois parties.

4. From this perspective, the northern state itself is a battle-ground. Sinn Fein's entry into PSNI structures is a case-in-point where the party is waging a determined struggle on a range of issues from the routine arming of the PSNI to community-empowerment policing structures (CRJ). Elements within the PSNI are struggling very hard to prevent that agenda. British MI5 as a result of the negotiations has committed themselves to playing an external role in that struggle.

5. All negotiations are a concretisation of struggle, they reflect the relative balance of forces at the time of the negotiations themselves. That is one reason why the process of Irish integration has grown rather than shrunk over time - it reflects the growth of popular support for Sinn Fein in electoral and political terms across the north and border counties.

6. Sinn Fein attract around 25-30% of the vote in the north currently. Despite historically low levels of mass mobilisation or political engagement across Irish society, Sinn Fein does still command a substantial mass level of adherence. This is primarily because the party does not campaign directly on its ultimate objective but on its immediate policy platform which is more limited and focussed around Irish reunification. While the party has a substantial vote, in reality, it ends up that the other parties who constitute around 70% of electoral representation tend to side with those elements within the state which wish to hold back radical change.

7. Despite the fact that other political parties represent little by way of substance and SF as a representative political party 'punching above its weight' - the party is badly outgunned across most sites of struggle because other parties tend to end up effectively acting as conduits for the status quo civil service agenda. The end result is that change has been less than might be hoped for but a constant demand for change across all aspects of local and regional government. However, the party is achieving greater successes by linking outwards with civil society and popular opinion as its agenda is largely 'populist' and as such the civil service agenda can be confronted effectively where issues are opened out to the people.

8. Key to this is the trend within the party which emphasizes a strategic commitment to participatory democracy and participatory forms of governance.

9. As with anything the development of the party in this direction is combined and uneven.

10. The DUP which is currently acting as the bulwark of unionism is under serious pressure from its grassroots from engaging with Republicans in a power sharing administration and in all-Ireland institutions. This may or may not have impacts on the viability of unionism in the medium-term.

11. SF has not accepted consent. However, the party has taken the step of working within a system where consent is enshrined. This was the most substantial compromise made by the party and some found it difficult to accede to working in such a framework saying that this amounted to an ideological commitment to consent. At the same time, the current arrangements reflect the opinion of the bulk of Irish people and the position of every single other party of substance in the island. No change is possible without proceeding from the standpoint of the bulk of Irish people - as such, the party has been forced to negotiate and act within a framework outside itself. This is a substantial problem that radical critics of Sinn Fein are in denial about - the people themselves do not view the continued existence of the North as a British colony as illegal. As a consequence military options do not have sufficient levels of support to be sustainable. Indeed, it is likely that political options of rejecting the Peace process will leave their adherents sidelined in political terms from the action. The situation post-1998 is qualitatively different than previous to it given the overwhelming support of the Irish people for the new arrangements.

12. Economics lies largely in favour of Irish reunification. In terms of Agriculture, Environment, the Economy and Energy the argument for all-Ireland approaches is unassailable. Even hardened pro-British parties like the DUP are now calling for the adoption of integration across these sectors. Any such changes to the base will have tremendous impact on the political super-structure over time. As Engels said, "According to the materialistic conception of history, the production and reproduction of real life constitutes in the last instance the determining factor of history."

13. Sinn Fein is not the only party to recognise this. The largest party of the Free State (Fianna Fail) has indicated it will now actively pursue an all-Ireland structure. Fianna Fail is the definitive party of the Irish big bourgeoisie (mixing both comprador and national bourgeoisie elements). This is reflective of the fact that the Free State [Dublin] Bourgeoisie recognise that they have a natural interest in exploiting opportunities on an all-Ireland scale. The rate of investment from Dublin to Belfast is substantial and is supported by the Dublin Government pumping £600m into infrastructure for the north. This money is not for nothing. Dublin is preparing the ground for reunification on the back of economic integration.

14. This move north is on the back of Fianna Fail's success in hammering Sinn Fein in the recent Free State elections. Fianna Fail decimated the left in those elections - the SPI (CWI) which had a TD and was hoping for a second lost their only seat. Sinn Fein went down from 5 TDs to 4 but this reflected a failure to achieve grandiose targets of up to 15 seats. In essence, this reflected the working class hopefully voting en-masse for the party of the big bourgeoisie to retain 'the good times'. As such, it is a transcient victory and Fianna Fail recognise that with its substantial northern electoral base, Sinn Fein remain a serious threat to Fianna Fail - largely because of that party's core support deriving from the working class and the potential to lose a fraction of the (powerful) national bourgeoisie to Sinn Fein - as has happened in the north.

15. Fianna Fail are also interested in the money. Sinn Fein despite its limited achievements has remained as a bulwark against corruption and has been very active driving an equality agenda. This does not suit big business interests and Fianna Fail believe that Sinn Fein need to be and can be attacked on their home ground.

16. While this represents a serious threat to Sinn Fein given the disparity between the level of support for Sinn Fein's ultimate objectives of a Socialist Republic and its current levels of political support, there are a range of opportunities associated with Fianna Fail coming north. Not least is that Fianna Fail will hasten Irish unity as they will be able to speak more effectively to sections of unionism which see their loyalty as stemming from material advantage. In the future, this economic-based loyalty to Britain will be replaced by a more pragmatic attitude based on profit-making. Given the all-Ireland economic dynamic this is a very persuasive factor.

17. Sinn Fein contesting elections against Fianna Fail in the north will also sharpen the party's own focus on what it stands for. Key to this is a commitment to Equality and Participation. Equally, the struggle to effectively democratise the Police through the accountability mechanisms negotiated will assume greater importance in awakening wider consciousness around the need for radical outcomes. Sinn Fein's work within institutions and use of political power will inevitably and eventually contribute to a radicalisation of Irish society, north and south, as cross-border institutions bed down.

18. At the same time, power-sharing in the north has opened the door to Sinn Fein engaging with unionism at grassroots levels and will accelerate the process whereby working class unionists begin to challenge their political affiliations to conservative parties. This process, however, is much more involved than might be otherwise assumed. It reflects the strength of the ideology of loyalism and sectarianism. In a sense, it is akin to countering attitudes of racism in the US south.

19. The contours of the struggle are therefore complicated. It is guaranteed that anyone without a comprehensive understanding of localised politics based on practice will come unstuck if they attempt to apply simplistic models to strategy. Ireland is divided artificially but this division is reflected in popular consciousness. Ireland is at once a neo-colony and a colony. Large sections of its indigenous working class are materially privileged and have a material interest in maintaining this relative privilege. That situation is doubly complicated in the north. I seriously doubt whether Sinn Fein will be taking any advice from groups or individuals who have been signally ineffective in advancing their struggle in their own countries.

20. Sinn Fein's entry into institutions cannot be dissevered from the success of the IRA's military campaign. This campaign has opened the state up for struggle. Effectively, SF are engaged in a war of position with elements from within the state itself and other political trends. The British Government, itself composed of various trends, retains a material interest in Ireland as expressed variously by the Northern Ireland Office, British MI5, etc. The direct interest of the British Government, in particular its Treasury, in curtailing moves towards further devolution or independence is related to its struggle to contain Scottish demands for Independence. None of these factors are simply coterminous and they can be contradictory. All of which makes for a variety of viewpoints.

Nothing is guaranteed for Sinn Fein and the Republican movement. The state itself may be able to withstand Republicans and tie down their struggle for years. However, I doubt this given the economic and political trends we see manifesting themselves today. Similarly, Sinn Fein remains focussed on its goals so let us hope they are successful. If not, Eirigi is performing a useful task in collecting all those individuals who find that they cannot believe in the current strategy so I wish them well too. If Sinn Fein is to succeed, it will need all the allies it can get in prosecuting the struggle.

I hope that this explains things a little more than Phil's simplistic rantings about Sinn Fein's engagement in a capitalist state and just giving up on the freedom struggle.

Le meas,


Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Riot squad called on sacked workers!

Just when you thought nothing more stupid could be done by the organising committees for capitalism in Australia (known, ironically perhaps, as "Governments"), this happened.

After almost 500 workers lost their jobs, and had all pay and entitlements (including their Superannuation) frozen when their employers - McArthur Express - went belly-up and into receivership, t
he company locked them out at the gates. They naturally decided to protest.

Now, there a number of ways to deal with this kind of problem. One of them, and the most reasonable in the wombats' eyes, would be to give the workers open slather on the company - they are, after all, owed around a million dollars. Naturally, Capital doesn't think this way and disagrees.

You might even call in the tame union officials - and the TWU all-too-often falls into that camp - to talk them into a kind of vote-ALP supine submission. But no...

The Clever-clogs-that-be decided that in the current climate - what with terrorism, and anti-Howardism, and anti-WorkChoices-ism being so rife at the moment (take, for example the 15,000 workers that rallied in Melbourne today) - it would be best to call in the Riot Squad. And that they did, resulting in two arrests, one woman being injured by over-the-top police violence, and a worker being crash-tackled. (Now, imagine if they tried to pull the same trick in Melbourne today...).

Apparently it didn't go down too well up here either:

Transport Workers Union senior official Mark Crosdale said the mood outside the depot was angry.

No surprise there. Even less surprise, then, ought to be on the faces of employers and ALP MPs when, after the elections (and if Labor wins), they find that workers don't take too kindly to the WorkChoices-lite of "Forward With Fairness". After all, when the "workers' party" provides an "alternative" that includes maintaining the ban on the right to strike, not restoring the right to entry, and maintaining the ABCC - the secret police force used to harass building industry workers as though they were worse than terrorists, who would be surprised?

And, just to leave no doubt as to which side of the locked gates Kevin Rudd falls on, at
the WA Labor Party Conference back in June, Rudd was honest enough to point out that:

"When it comes to the construction industry, we support a strong cop on the beat."

No doubt that's a great comfort to the workers at
McArthur Express. Once again, the question is posed, if Labor won't put workers first, who will?

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Draft Resolutions and Media Release of the National Indigenous Meeting


Embargoed until 10.30am E.S.T on Friday, 14 September 2007

A new independent voice for Aboriginal Australians

A new national political body for Aboriginal Australians, entirely independent from governments, will be established following a three-day gathering held in Alice Springs this week.

A ‘fighting fund’ will be set up to support the new National Aboriginal Alliance (NAA), with contributions to be sought from Aboriginal people and communities and private sources Australia-wide.

About 100 Aboriginal people from throughout Australia have attended the meeting since Wednesday, including representatives of land councils and legal services, Stolen Generations organisations, health and housing bodies, the national youth forum, media organisations, doctors and Elders, as well as people living in town camps and remote communities and outstations.

The diverse group yesterday agreed upon the principles that will guide and underpin the NAA, and will now return to their communities and organisations to start to build support for the new body.

Those principles include a rejection of the ‘discriminatory and coercive elements’ of the Commonwealth’s so-called ‘emergency intervention’ in the Northern Territory, which the group believes has little to do with the protection of Aboriginal children.

The group urged Aboriginal peoples and communities to actively but peacefully resist the ‘intervention’, and demanded:

  • the immediate removal of Commonwealth Business Managers from Aboriginal communities in the NT
  • that the Commonwealth respects the property rights of Aboriginal people in the NT and restores the permit system
  • that the Commonwealth immediately restores integrity to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which has been put aside under the Government’s ‘intervention’.
  • that Aboriginal communities receive equitable service delivery and infrastructure.

The group affirmed its commitment to protecting Aboriginal children from harm, adding that successive Australian governments had ignored Aboriginal peoples’ repeated cries for help.

“There is not a single reference to child protection in the hundreds of pages that comprise the Commonwealth’s legislative package,” the group said. “Rather than protecting children, this so-called ‘emergency intervention’ is a cynical attempt to subject our people to further genocide.”

The group said the lack of national political representation for Aboriginal people since the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) had left Aboriginal people vulnerable to harsh government policies and practices.

“These attacks against Aboriginal people in the NT are a consequence of the lack of representation,” it said. “Had there been a powerful black political voice in place, we doubt these attacks could have succeeded.

“We call upon all Aboriginal people to walk in the footsteps of our Elders whose legacies are now at stake and whose victories are being wound back. We must stand united to seize back the power to shape our own destinies.

“We call on all Australians, to engage with, speak up and support Aboriginal people’s self-determination.”

NITV CEO Pat Turner said this week’s meeting had laid important foundations.

“This is something we hope that all of our brothers and sisters and the many fair-minded Australians will stand shoulder to shoulder with us on,” she said.

“This is the beginning of resistance,” said Tasmanian participant Michael Mansell. “Finally, a national voice of dissent and one that will offer leadership instead of black bashing.”

NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) Chairwoman, Bev Manton, said her organisation and its 23,000 members were appalled by the Howard government’s actions in the NT.

“We have supported the Aboriginal people of the NT since John Howard announced this so-called intervention,” Ms Manton said. “We have agreed to continue this support in financial terms, for three to six months, and will be actively involved in the newly formed National Aboriginal Alliance.

“I urge, encourage and call upon everyone to financially support the NAA to establish a fighting fund to develop a plan of attack against this invasion. By Howard’s actions, he has re-ignited the fire in our bellies and united Aboriginal people across Australia.”

Gunditjmara Elder from Victoria, Alma Thorpe, agreed and urged her fellow Victorians to support the NAA and, through it, the Aboriginal people of the NT.

“I am greatly encouraged by this new national body and I intend to be a part of it,” she said. “We must declare and show by our actions that enough is enough.”

Pastor Geoffrey Stokes, a Wongatha man from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, said the Australian system of government had not worked for Aboriginal people.

“We need a body that can express our aspirations in our way,” he said. “We need the support of other Australians too, about what happens to our people.

“It is time that we as Aboriginal people take our rightful place in this country, it is time that we and our cultural heritage are treated with respect.”

For more information:

Tim Goodwin on (0404) 849 259

Jolene Preece on (08) 8953 4763

Resolutions of the National Aboriginal Alliance

Pioneer Football Club, Stuart Highway, Alice Springs

12-14 September 2007

  1. We celebrate the hundreds of years of struggle by our people to maintain our cultural integrity, protect our lands, and fulfill our obligations to future generations. Our Alliance will continue this powerful tradition of activism to determine our own futures as proud and strong Aboriginal people.
  2. The lack of national political representation for Aboriginal people has left us vulnerable to harsh government policies, and these attacks against Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are a consequence of the lack of representation. Had there been a powerful black political voice in place, we doubt these attacks could have succeeded.
  3. This national gathering of over 100 people from all parts of Australia recognises the need for an independent national political voice. The National Aboriginal Alliance is established to provide that voice.
  4. We affirm our profound commitment to protecting our children from harm. We acknowledge those within our communities who fought for decades to address the complicated issue of child abuse, and we deplore the successive Australian governments who ignored our cries for help.
  5. We reject outright the discriminatory and coercive elements of the Commonwealth’s invasion (‘emergency intervention’) in the Northern Territory.
  6. The Racial Discrimination Act has only ever been suspended on three occasions – each time to erode the rights of Aboriginal people. This previously occurred in 1998 with the Native Title Amendment Act and the Hindmarsh Island Bridge legislation. We demand that the Commonwealth immediately restore integrity to the Racial Discrimination Act.
  7. We demand the immediate removal of Commonwealth Business Managers from Aboriginal communities in the NT. They are comparable to the missionaries and police protectors who exercised despotic control over our forebears and therefore, have no place in our lives. We urge our peoples and communities to actively resist in a peaceful way the so-called intervention in the Northern Territory.
  8. We demand that the Commonwealth respect the property rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, including the right to control access to our lands through the permit system; rights that generations of our people fought to secure, often in the face of fierce opposition.
  9. We demand that the Commonwealth respect the expertise and independence of our community organizations. There is not a single reference to child protection in the hundreds of pages that comprise the Commonwealth’s legislative package. Rather than protecting children, this so-called ‘emergency intervention’ is a cynical attempt to subject our people to further genocide.
  10. Many of the socio-economic problems in our communities are the legacies of decades of chronic under-funding in essential service delivery and infrastructure. We demand that our communities receive the equitable services delivery and infrastructure that is our entitlement.
  11. We call upon all Aboriginal people to walk in the footsteps of our Elders whose legacies are now at stake and whose victories are being wound back. We must stand united to seize back the power to shape our own destinies.
  12. We call on all Australians, to engage with, speak up and support Aboriginal people’s self-determination.

Monday, 24 September 2007



Speaking for the recently conceived National Aboriginal Alliance, member Michael Mansell called for a “6 months cooling off period before Aboriginal communities are firmly and legally committed to 99 years leases being sold through Aboriginal affairs Minister Mal Brough”.

Mr Mansell said, “Canberra is placing enormous pressure on Aboriginal communities to sign land over on 99 year leases. Canberra has an agenda it is not fully disclosing to Aboriginal communities. The implications are enormous and not well understood by community leaders. Galurrwuy Yunipingu’s capitulation is a classic example.

Having had their land titles recognised for less than 30 of the past 229 years, Galurrwuy Yunipingu’s people will effectively lose the land once again until 2106. That is one third of the existence time of white Australia, and with the continued rapid commercial and social change likely to take place over the next 100 years, it is certain the Aboriginal people affected by these leases will not realise the consequences.

Legal title holders of lands burdened by a lease lose their normal ownership rights, which remain theoretical and subject to the terms of that lease. Exchanging security of tenure for money will destabilise whole communities by making them more susceptible to “mobility” policies coming out of Canberra.

In the short term, communities will be cashed up with infrastructure funding but will see their physical connection with a place eroded. As commercial development, tourism and greater European occupation replaces community control, the demands of the city life will override any cultural connection.

If Mr Yunipingu has a crystal ball to predict precisely how his people and culture will prosper at the end of 99 years, he should tell us all.

On a larger scale, dismantling Aboriginal communities will have unforeseen social effects. One certainty is that by the time the lease has expired European interests will be so firmly entrenched that Aborigines will not be able to claim the occupation of the lands back.

As we have seen in Alice Springs, where use of the Todd River by Aborigines has existed for thousands of years, the needs of tourists and Europeans has gradually driven Aborigines from their traditional places. In the absence of some very clever social and town planning, the Gove Peninsular will go the same way. Already mines, a refinery, a yacht club and a town of miners have made massive social incursions into the area.

It is for these reasons Canberra must agree to a cooling off period so that communities are able to get more information before committing to so long a period of loss of land. It is inevitable.”

Michael Mansell
National Aboriginal Alliance
182 Charles St, Launceston, TAS 7250
contact 0429310116
20th September 2007

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Socialists, the Greens and building a working class alternative

With the Federal Election just around the corner (will it be 6 weeks, or 16?), the usual speculation, horse-trading and hand-wringing has begun to hot up, with psephologists often found perspiring in a dazed or manic state in bus shelters, inner-city bars and going through the garbage outside polling companies to quadruple check last weeks pollings on Howard vs Howard-lite.

Unfortunately, coming off the back of the very successful anti-Bush protests at APEC, some of the far-left has started playing little games of recrimination, trying to prove who's the most R-R-Revolutionary (the Russian revolutionary VI Lenin once wrote a lovely little pamphlet about the infantilism of trying too hard to do exciting little things with few people to make up for not doing less exciting big things with more people). The wombats are un-impressed. The protest was successful because it focussed on Bush, and then on the right to protest, and because it was resolutely peaceful in the face of government, police and media hype. A large part of the discussion can be found here.

Unfortunately, on top of this, the irrational behaviour of some left groups is finding new ways to express itself. In the face of an existing socialist organisation with national reach, some groups, particularly the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) and Socialist Alternative (SAlt), have migrated to the land of the blind, and are calling for a vote for the Greens, while others have been living there for some time.

In traditional sectarian fashion SAlt appear simply to ignore the existence of the rest of the left, and call for a vote for the Greens in order to send a message to Labor over IR and other issues. This , it must be admitted, is in itself an improvement for SAlt, for as far as the wombats are aware, they have previously clung to calling for a vote to the ALP.

The ISO, more ambivalently, appear from their newspaper coverage, as well as discussions and interventions made by ISO members, to be advocating a Green vote, also (understandably) in order to hold Labor to account on a number of issues, not least WorkChoices. In doing so however, the ISO continue on the path they took earlier this year when they formalised their exit from the Socialist Alliance (although they had been inactive for a couple of years before that, and some members had already been handing out for the Greens at polling booths).

The Socialist Party (who are more or less limited to Melbourne with a small handful of members in Newcastle and Sydney) has written a letter to the ISO, calling for them to support an explicitly socialist project (particularly, the Socialist Party) in the elections, rather than calling for a vote directly to the Greens, and challenging them to a debate on "How should socialists relate to the Greens?". The arguments are plain enough, even without reading the SP letter, and much the same argument has been made by the Socialist Alliance. A further trump in the SP hand is that they have, unlike the rest of the far left, had some success in elections, getting Stephen Jolley elected to Yarra Council.

It is obvious that the left in Australia needs to work out how to relate to the Greens, who are rapidly emerging as the electoral third force around the country, and to develop a coherent approach and critique. Even the ALP, and what remains of the left in that party, is taking up the issue. For socialists, this is particularly important, as the Greens take up most of the electoral space, and a lot of the political space, on the left, making it harder, in many circumstances, to get a hearing for a socialist perspective. Socialist Alliance, like the Socialist Party, directs its preferences to the Greens before Labor, but there still remains the need for an explicitly socialist alternative to all the major parties (Greens included) to be posed - both at election time, and in-between.

This all raises another, more important, point. Despite the SP's piece of electoral success, they have a limited scope of activity - mostly Melbourne. Neither the ISO nor SAlt (nor the other, smaller groups outside the Alliance) run in elections, and their membership is limited to a smal number of capital cities.

By contrast, the Socialist Alliance has multiple branches in capital cities across the country, as well as branches in places like Newcastle, Geelong, Wollongong, Armidale, Cairns, Lismore, Taree, and so on (as well as at-large members dotted across the country-side where there are no branches - yet), giving it the broadest reach of any of the socialist organisations, and the greatest opportunity to profile alternative politics.

Nor is it an homogenous organisation, with a set-in-stone program, despite the inactivity of many affiliates, and the leading role played by the Democratic Socialist Perspective. It remains open to individual socialists and activists (who make up a majority of its membership) and other socialist organisations to join and play a role in organising and building the a united socialist voice. And these factors in turn have brought Socialist Alliance more notoriety in the media and elsewhere. Lesson? The more united we are, the more people listen.

Both the SP and SAlt were initially invited to join the Socialist Alliance, but declined and continue to organise in parallel, despite the advantages that socialist unity might bring. Furthermore, like SAlt and the ISO above, the SP also neglects in its paper to mention that there is any other socialist organisation running in the elections. By contrast, the Socialist Alliance has traditionally avoided running in the same seats as other socialist candidates in order to create good will (and avoid confrontation) pursuant of building a larger socialist alliance, and Green Left Weekly makes a point of profiling all socialist candidates running, not only those in the Socialist Alliance.

The Socialist Alliance remains as the only socialist organisation with national scope, and, in contradistinction to the aforementioned groups, is indeed an "alliance" of people and groups, which all of those above are invited to join, and play a part in building a united, effective socialist voice in this country as an alternative to all the capitalist dross and terra-cide of the major parties and the political ambivalence of the Greens.

Workers in Australia need a party of their own, not a dozen toy revolutionary outfits, all with the perfect program. Despite
it's relative electoral weakness compared to the Greens, the Socialist Alliance is at least trying to lay the foundations for such a party.

The wombats appeal to all the groups on the socialist left (and individuals, at that) to get over your petty differences (you have more in common than not), and unite in a single socialist alliance that will be worthy of the name, and can take socialism back from the fringe into the mainstream, into the unions, into the parliaments and streets, and into the 21st Century and beyond. As a wise old bearded German once said: "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains."

* In addendum, we understand that the organisation Solidarity, a composite of splits from the ISO and SAlt, as well as some newer student activists, is calling simply for a vote for the ALP, while in a wonderful piece of sheltered hypocrisy, the Communist Party is trying to set up a new "Communist Alliance" for the elections - as if there were no socialist options open already...

Friday, 14 September 2007

APEC: Why the Stop Bush protest was such a victory

The wombats have been asked to post this contribution to a discussion taking place in the aftermath of the successful 10,000-15,000 strong anti-APEC "Stop Bush" protests held in Sydney last week, from Socialist Alliance members Pip Hinman and Alex Bainbridge, both of whom were involved in the Stop Bush Coalition which planned the protest. The detail of the debate is in the piece below, and so needs no repeating, but other groups' reports of the rally can be found here, and here.

Why the Stop Bush/ Make Howard History protest was a success

By Pip Hinman and Alex Bainbridge

Socialist Alliance

Why the Stop Bush/Make Howard History protest was a success
By Pip Hinman and Alex Bainbridge
Socialist Alliance

The success of the Stop Bush protest on September 8 during APEC was not only a victory for the progressive movements, it revealed that the mass action tactics being advanced by the DSP/Resistance and the Socialist Alliance and others throughout the debates among the Stop Bush Coalition over how to organise this particular protest proved correct.

From the outset, since the Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference in 2005, we argued that the visit of George Bush to Sydney for APEC would be the key mobilising draw card given the US-led role in Iraq and Afghanistan. We argued that despite how hated John Howard is, he would not pull the same attention.

Given that it was apparent for about a year that APEC would be close to an election, most people (rightly or wrongly) would be more interested in just voting him out.

We also argued that focusing on APEC as a summit protest would not work not only because APEC is not a significant trade organisation, even for the capitalists, but also because the post-Seattle anti-globalisation movement had, in all significant respects, become the anti-war movement in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and beyond.

Focus on Bush

The focus on Bush was disputed among the left: Solidarity and the International Socialist Organisation (caucusing with each other) were unconvinced, as was Socialist Alternative at the outset.

A Solidarity position paper sent to the Stop the War Coalition organising list on May 4 stated: "The biggest possible protest will be achieved by politically building our actions as an opportunity to mobilise against the Howard government's agenda (including its neo-liberal agenda for the region) to help kick them from office and build stronger movements in the process."

However, most were convinced that having a focus on APEC would not be a strong drawcard.

Solidarity, along with the ISO, until the last minute, argued that Howard had to be the protest's main focus.

Their reasoning was that: as Australia was hosting APEC; as Australian imperialism is increasing its militarisation of the Asia Pacific region; and as it cements an even closer alliance with US, having a focus on Howard would help build a movement to throw the Coalition out of office. While we agreed with the political critique of Australia's imperialist role in the region, we disagreed that the sentiment against Australia's role in the region, and the more abstract question of its alliance with the US, was enough to bring people out into the streets during APEC.

While the organised section of the anti-war movement has dwindled in Australia since 2004, with the invasion anniversary events shrinking to some 800 people in Sydney this year, we judged that the anti-war sentiment could be mobilised onto the streets when Bush was in Sydney. This was confirmed when US vice-president Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Sydney in February. We had just two weeks to organise a response, and more than 500 people turned up to one protest, defying the police crack down, and about 150 to another the next day.

The following paragraphs are Solidarity's position (largely supported by the ISO throughout the debates) from their May position paper, a position its members were arguing right up until the protest on September 8.

"Within Stop Bush 07 committee, there has been a perspective that focussing on Bush, 'world's number one terrorist', and doing promotional work for this demonstration will bring large numbers of people and re-invigorate the anti war movement. This is demonstrative of a tendency [they mean Socialist Alliance] that has held back Stop the War Coalition since the February 2003 rallies - the idea that there is a big antiwar 'sentiment' in society that can be brought into action simply by promoting some particular rally."

But this is exactly what happened on September 8, and Solidarity is not honest enough to admit that they were wrong.

Solidarity continued:

"By itself Bush being here won't build big demonstrations. It will of course be a particularly significant focus and give poignancy to any demonstration such as we saw when Cheney was in town."

"But for the movement to be built and bigger numbers won to the importance of street demonstrations, Stop the War cannot fold into logistics for "stopping Bush", but must redouble its efforts to creating domestic political issues out of the international situation - linking the war to prominent local concerns of the day such as Workchoices ..."

Civil rights attacks

The 10,000-15,000 peaceful protest in Sydney proved Solidarity's perspective wrong. But rather than let facts get in the way, they are now arguing that it was their focus on the excluded persons' list that brought the massive crowd onto the streets. That despicable fear campaign by the state would have helped make people angry about the security overkill, but it did not bring people into the streets.

If anything, the lightening rod that made people decide to come out was the extreme lengths to which the state was prepared to go to keep people away, and to stop people from entering certain parts of the city - the security overkill - which the Chasers' stunt so well sent up. When the barricades went up, the water cannons, the snipers, the mobile police units, and the excluded people list came out, people were rightly enraged.

But being angry doesn't necessarily mean that will take action. The Stop Bush Coalition's emphasis on the need for these protests to be peaceful to draw in the largest numbers of people, and to show up the violence of Bush and Howard and the police state - put largely by DSP member Alex Bainbridge, media spokesperson for the Coalition - had a huge impact on people deciding to come out on the day. We know that because so many people, not members, have told us.

Relating to the unions

Solidarity agreed, rightly, that it was important to involve more groups - in particular climate change groups and the unions. But they were only prepared to work with those who shared their overall political perspective.

They paid lip service, at best, to wanting to work with the unions: the fact that the couple of unions which did decide to support the Stop Bush protests, the Maritime Union of Australia and the Fire Brigades Employees Union, stressed that they would only do so if the rally was peaceful was lost on Solidarity. And it was largely us, and ISO member Jim Casey from the Fire Brigades Employees Union, who did most of the work to get union support.

UnionsNSW had, early on this year, met and decided not to allow its union affiliates to support the Stop Bush Coalition protest, on the pretext that it did not want union flags to be mixed up with "protestor violence" as that would jeopardise Labor's chances of being reelected. This was how the left union, the CFMEU, explained it to one of the protest organisers. When it looked like the protest was growing, AFTINET decided to organise a stationary "protest" in Hyde Park, on the Friday, an opportunity for unions to be seen to be doing something about APEC.

While it was always clear that the Labor state government was preparing for a huge security operation for APEC, just how big that was to be was revealed with the new police powers laws being leaked to the media, and then all the equipment and numbers of police being assigned.

The militarisation of Sydney for APEC was clearly going to scare a lot of people away from joining the protest. But Solidarity, along with the ISO and some anarchists, were opposed to the Stop Bush Coalition declaring that the protest would be peaceful from the start. For them, this had pacifist connotations, and would send the wrong signal that the protestors were not defiant, or militant, enough!

While they continued with this ultra-left posturing right up until the very last minute, it did not receive majority support from non-aligned activists in the Stop Bush Coalition meetings.

Ultra left posturing

Solidarity and their anarchist friends scored a pyrrhic victory at the 500-strong convergence meeting the night before the protest when Ian Rintoul (a leader of Solidarity) put a counter motion to the first part of a motion being moved by the majority of the tactical committee about the march route.

This first part of the tactical committee's motion (moved in the name of Alex Bainbridge (Socialist Alliance), Anna Samson (Stop the War Coalition), Damien Lawson (Greens), Diane Fields (Socialist Alternative), Paddy Gibson (Solidarity) and Paul Garrett (MUA) was:

"That we confirm the planned march route for tomorrow's rally will be from Town Hall, down Park Street to Hyde Park North".

Solidarity's counter motion was: "That we reject the prohibition of demonstrations in the declared zone and declare that we will march to the police lines to assert our right to protest and our opposition to APEC, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to their nuclear agenda and to Workchoices and the attack on workers rights."

Solidarity's motion won 273 to 221, largely with the help of the Socialist Party, Workers Power, ISO, Alliance for Civil Disobedience Coordination, Latin America Solidarity Network - from Melbourne. From Sydney, Mutiny, Flare in the Void, and some others also supported it.

Ian Rintoul, at the time, admitted his motion would not actually change the march route. He knew that the Stop Bush Coalition had been informed by the NSW police that they would be lining the march route and that given the huge mobilisation of police, there would no chance of breaking through police lines. But he, and others, insisted that it was the "attitude" of the motion that was different.

Solidarity's motion was a posture, designed to make out that they were the "militants". This is despite their consistent refusal to take any serious responsibility for the overall organisation of the protest, a product of their lack of political confidence in the overall shape of the protest as supported by a majority at every Stop Bush Coalition meeting.

(Solidarity's lack of confidence in the rally and its political focus was confirmed again on the Saturday afternoon when two of their members admitted that they'd only expected 3000 people to show up. The Stop Bush Coalition had been publicly saying it had expected 5000 or more.)

The rest of the tactical committee's motion, which was unanimously adopted, was:

"That we plan a sit-down (or die-in) in the middle of the march

"That we endorse the list of planned speakers (overleaf)

"That we all on all groups and individuals to respect the unity and diversity of the Stop Bush/Make Howard History protest."

The tactical committee's motion had been discussed and moved by a majority of the tactical committee, although a member of Solidarity had implied on the Stop Bush organising list that the sit-down motion was his idea.

Having lost the overall political debate about tactics, Solidarity, and others, are now trying to scandalise the DSP, in particular, for not respecting a "democratic decision" of the convergence meeting to sit-down at the police lines.

This is untrue. As already mentioned, a lot of people did sit down, some many times, and a lot didn't (some because the ground was wet).

The biggest sin, apparently, was that Alex didn't announce that there would be sit-in from the platform!

After the first bracket of speakers, Alex went to the corner of George and Park Streets to organise to get a mobile sound system there for the sit-down and the middle bracket of speakers. But getting any sound to that point was difficult given the police obstruction and size of the march. In any case, the unions led the march off, and everyone starting moving, although a section at the back of the march remained at that corner.

The MUA and others organised a longish sit-down at the front of the march. Others organised their own - to make a statement that the city belonged to us, not the cops. The inadequate sound system meant that a lot of people with megaphones, including Alex, and Paul and Warren from the MUA, and the union secretary from Geelong (also a Socialist Alliance member), urged people to sit down.

The criticism that the motion's "politics of defiance" and our rejection of the exclusion zone was not put from the platform is also absurd. The Stop Bush Coalition, from the beginning, has stressed that it did not accept the special police powers and the exclusion zone (organising public meetings around this very theme, and constantly putting this line through its media work). This political line was not only put at the rally by the co-chairs, it was also put by most, if not all, of the speakers.

The criticism that the motion was to march to the police lines and this didn't happen is bizarre. The rally was already at police lines before the march had even started to move!

Paul (MUA), Paddy (Solidarity) and Alex were at the corner of Park and George Streets and agreed that a sit-down would happen when the front of the march reached the second set of lights. Paddy agreed with this course of action. Alex announced it over the megaphone as the rally marched off down Park Street.

We were at the police lines - we couldn't have gone any closer without trying to bust through them. But is this what Solidarity wanted to do?

The questions that Solidarity (and the ISO) should be asked include:

Why did they want a clash with the police?

How would that have advanced the confidence of the movement?

If they had decided to have a clash, it would have only have fed into the police operation, and it certainly would have helped John Howard in his much hoped-for post-APEC electoral boost.

The fact that the majority who came to the protest denied Howard his much-needed APEC electoral boost with our determination to carry out a peaceful protest in the face of huge provocation.

This shows that the mass action approach which the DSP, Resistance and Socialist Alliance had argued for in the Stop Bush Coalition for almost a year, was correct. It allowed the Coalition to win a section of the union movement, the Greens and other non-aligned movement activists to play a big role in making this protest a success. This is also in a context in which the Sydney anti-war movement coalition, Walk Against War, had been split by the ALP after the Iraq invasion.

Mass action approach

The feeling on the streets on September 8 was electric and defiant - but apparently not enough for Solidarity and a section of the anarchists whose long faces stood out from the crowd.

They argued that their motion was different because it conveyed "the politics of defiance"! They seemed to completely miss the fact that people who came to the rally were very consciously being defiant.

Solidarity's argument is the argument of those who wish to separate themselves out - the so-called "militant minority" - from other working people.

They believe, wrongly, that they have to show everyone else how to think and behave politically, and that this is "leadership". In fact, the real leadership was shown by those who took up the challenges of organising a protest in difficult circumstances, who did the work instead of only turning up to meetings to criticise and point score, and who were prepared to discuss with people who did not always share their opinions the often tricky tactical decisions. Real leadership was shown by those who knew the movement would gain confidence from having pulled off a huge rally.

Trying to scandalise the DSP, now, for the success of the protests back fires badly on Solidarity (and the ISO).

The success of the Stop Bush protest was that it managed, under very difficult circumstances, to bring out a slice of that pre-war rally in February 2003.

The strategy followed by the DSP/Resistance and Socialist Alliance was one of mass action: that is, to build a broad united front around concrete demands. It is a general strategy, there is no rule book to follow, and certain political realities dictate certain choices.

This is a vastly more effective strategy than trying to separate out a "militant" minority from the rest of us.

The mass action approach derives from our understanding of how change comes about, through the self consciousness and self-organisation of the working class. Our tactics should be geared to drawing in the mass of workers into active struggle and not tactics that drive those workers out of struggle and help the ruling class strengthen its ideological influence in the working class.


Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Russia finds eco-friendly way to massacre millions

The news today brought a huge wave of relief to the Wombats - finally, the danger of a Nuclear Winter has passed. After years of testing - particularly on Chechen civilians, the elderly, pregnant and ill - Russia has announced that it has just tested the world's biggest "vacuum bomb", of comparable magnitude in blowing stuff (and people) up to a nuclear weapon.

The name is a wonderful little piece of warmongering, elitist, spin - redolent of, perhaps, hoovering up the mess on the floor, those inconvenient unsightly crumbs (and people) that might embarass you if a neighbour sees them lying (or bleeding) on the carpet. The true nature of the "vacuum" bomb, described prosaically as "the bomb which has no match in the world"
is slightly less tasteful.

It's also known as a "fuel-air explosive" or "gas bomb", and Russia made quite effective use of one of them on the Chechen capital Grozny during Moscow's long and bloody wars of extermination in the 1990's. Issuing a warning to the Chechen capital to evacuate, the Russian military then proceeded to drop one of these nice, clean, devices onto the city, killing thousands.

The bomb works as follows: an initial explosive charge bursts the main container open at a predetermined height in order to allow the fuel to disperse in a cloud, mixing with oxygen, and becoming highly combustible. Then, a second charge ignites that cloud, creating an enormous fireball, large enough to engulf whole buildings, or blocks, depending on the size. Imagine Dresden, but with only one or two bombs. Very humane.

But at least it's not a nuclear weapon. Rest assured, dear friends, the military world is as concerned as the rest of us about protecting the environment. As the report from Alexander Rukshin, deputy head of Russia's armed force chief of staff, points out:

"At the same time, I want to stress that the action of this weapon does not contaminate the environment, in contrast to a nuclear one."

So - no uranium. Must be ok then... The options laid out for humanity by Rosa Luxemburg all those years ago have never been starker: socialism or barbarism.

Monday, 3 September 2007

New nation-wide indigenous leadership body formed!

A new coalition of Aboriginal leaders from around the country formed a couple of weeks ago, and has released its first public statement, according to the National Indigenous Times article (reproduced below) A decade under Howard has been a living nightmare, says new black leadership group.

The new (but as-yet unnamed) group includes

PHOTO: TOP L-R: Pat Turner, Olga Havnen, Naomi Mayers, Dennis Eggington; MIDDLE, L-R: Sam Watson, Bob Weatherall, Michael Mansell, Michael Williams; BOTTOM, L-R: Gracelyn Smallwood, Nicole Watson, Larissa Behrendt and Bradley Foster.

This comes at a crucial time for indigenous Australia after a decade of fierce attacks from the Howard Government: the abolition of ATSIC, the undermining of Native Title, the invasion of indigenous lands held under Land Rights, the continuing deaths in custody and police racism, the return of assimilation and paternalism, the cuts in funding to essential aboriginal services, the ongoing denial of justice to the stolen generation, the stolen wages of generations and the refusal to say sorry.

All this 40 years after the referendum which overwhelmingly showed the support of non-indigenous Australians for a change in the treatment of Australia's first people. Yet what has changed? Not a lot - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are still massively over-represented in prison, still die 17 years earlier than the rest of the population, still suffer systematised diiscrimination, and are still denied the substance of a sovereignty never ceded.

Both Labor and Liberal have promised the world, and failed. Or worse, lied and manouevered, and tried to condemn indigenous Australia to the dust-bin of history. At the UNSW Indigenous Legal Centre's National Forum on July 20, two sentiments was repeatedly expressed - that both the major parties have failed; and that the re-invasion of the Northern Territory needs to be to the Indigenous rights movement what WorkChoices has been for the union movement - a catalyst to action.

On Friday August 31, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy set up in Victoria Park in Sydney again, and the same night politics in the Pub packed the Gaelic Club to the rafters (the Wombats counted over 130 people) in a discussion on the fight for indigenous rights. ANTaR, Oxfam, the Greens, the Socialist Alliance, ReconciliACTION, the newly re-formed "Women Against Wik", and many more groups are getting ready to take the fight to the next level.

But the leadership has got to come from the indigenous community. It's time.

It's time to get more than angry - it's time to get active!

A decade under Howard has been a living nightmare, says new black leadership group
National Indigenous Times
Thursday, 23 August 2007

By Chris Graham

NATIONAL, August 31, 2007: A new coalition of Aboriginal leaders from around the nation has released its first public statement since forming a fortnight ago.

And the group, which has yet to adopt a formal name, has come out swinging, issuing a release that is written in the vein that the group intends to continue fighting… with plenty of aggression.

Describing the past decade under the Howard government as “a nightmare” for Aboriginal people, the group attacks both the Liberal and Labor parties for creating policies which “blame the victims”.

The group includes former senior public servant Pat Turner, Olga Havnen (ACOSS and ANTaR), Naomi Mayers (CEO, Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service), Dennis Eggington (WA Aboriginal Legal Service), Sam Watson (Murri academic and activist), Bob Weatherall (FAIRA), Michael Mansell (Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre), Michael Williams , Gracelyn Smallwood (North Queensland), Nicole Watson and Larissa Behrendt (both Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, University Technology Sydney) and Bradley Foster (community leader from North Queensland).

It formed a fortnight ago in response to the federal government's 'emergency intervention' into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

“A decade under John Howard has seen native title made harder to get with his 'bucket loads of extinguishment' legislation,” the statement reads.

“The elected body ATSIC was sacked; the Reconciliation Council dumped; paternalistic funding conditions imposed, such as being asked to wash hands and attend school to get Commonwealth monies.

“The Northern Territory Land Rights Act has been amended to increase access for mining and now vulnerable Aboriginal communities in the NT are invaded by troops.

“It has been a nightmare decade for Aboriginal people.

“We have been reduced to beggars in our own country.”

The group accused the Howard government of selective listening when it came to hearing Indigenous people.

“Any dissenting voice is ignored by a Government that selects "yes" people to promote its own agenda, and the select few are tragically held out as the voice of Aborigines,” the statement read.

The group accused both the Coalition and the ALP of 'blaming the victims' and launched a scathing attack on the NT intervention plans, which are endorsed by both major parties.

“The Howard and Rudd response to policies that have kept families and whole communities destitute is to blame the victim.

“Those victims, long denied a real chance to make a go of it, will now have their income stolen and must go to the local store with food vouchers: those vouchers will have a list of purchasable items on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

“The balance of family incomes will never be seen by the "beneficiaries" because the bureaucracy keeps it to pay "other" costs.

“This demeaning approach will create greater dependency and strip the last form of human dignity from those subjected to a destructive policy.

“The increased police presence in community areas with "dob-in desks" is designed to humiliate, not rehabilitate.

“Portraying all Aborigines as paedophiles and drunks, and taking land away, undermines the remaining virtue we have: our dignity.

“We cannot watch developments in silence any longer. Our people deserve better.”

The group says the new coalition will seek to “represent the unrepresented Aboriginal communities” from around the nation and it promises to never align with any political party.

“We believe we bring experience and sincerity to the national political landscape.

“In our quest, we will not favour any political party as we see Aboriginal issues as being above party politics. Our single aim is to improve the lot of our people.

“We see our culture and people as an asset, not a liability.

“If we cannot persuade governments, then we will take our case to the court of public opinion - to the Australian people, to give us a chance to create a better future.”

Also, readers who haven't done so already should check this out, and sign it.