Thursday, May 31, 2007

News from Australia

The last few weeks have seen a spate of articles in the Australian print media revolving around the 40th anniversary of Australia's decision to formally grant citizenship to its Aboriginal population, who had previously been controlled by various state legislative acts that classed them with the country's flora and fauna.

On the latter issue, see the Sydney Morning Herald, in an article titled, "When I was fauna: citizen's rallying call":

"LINDA BURNEY remembers her childhood well - those days when she was counted among the nation's wildlife. 'This is not ancient history,' says the state's [New South Wales] first Aboriginal minister. 'I was a child. It still staggers me that for the first 10 years of my life, I existed under the Flora and Fauna Act of NSW.' Then came the 1967 referendum, when Australians voted to extend full citizenship to Aborigines. Now, just days before the 40th anniversary of that vote, Ms Burney has described the referendum as a high tide in both the nation's history and her own - the moment when her status was elevated from fauna to citizen."

See especially: "Aborigines recall when Australia called them wildlife", by Michael Perry, Reuters, Thursday, May 24, 2007.

Other articles focused on the continued misery that dominates many remote and poor Aboriginal communities for whom "citizenship" entails a vague and increasingly irrelevant abstraction. A number of sources point out that in terms of health standards and life expectancy there are two Australias: one, a wealthier and whiter Australia with life expectancy mirroring that of nations of the G8, the second, an Aboriginal Australia with life expectancy rates mirroring those of the poorest nations of the "Third World." See the following article in The Australian: "Aborigines still off the map 40 years on," by Neil Sands, May 25, 2007.

Current Prime Minister John Howard, who has been in office for more than a decade is, according to some polls, leading his ruling coalition to what appears to be a landslide defeat by November of this year. Prime Minister Howard's administration has distinguished itself on numerous fronts, from alluding to Lebanese Australians as a violent community, to treating refugees fleeing the Taliban in pre-911 days as being mere "economic opportunists" (Australia later joined the US in invading Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban), to refusing to issue an apology for clear cases of genocide against Aboriginals in recent Australian history, and finally dismantling the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders Commission. Howard is getting his fair share of heckling by Aboriginals at major events--see in the Agence France Presse, Sunday, May 27, 2007, "Australian PM heckled on Aborigines."

As if to further pollute the situation of unsettled Aboriginal land tenure in Australia, despite some historic victories in the highest courts of the country, we also read about plans to turn some Aboriginal territory into a nuclear waste dump...and then to return it to Aboriginals two centuries from now. This resembles the case of Great Britain using parts of South Australia for testing nuclear bombs, with that land also later returned to its traditional ownwers. One can read more in The Australian, "Aboriginal land likely to be nuke waste dump," by Tara Ravens, May 25, 2007.

"Why is it so hard to say sorry?"--a good question, addressed in this article by Ursula Stephens on the Australian Eurekastreet website. Please read some of the commentary that follows the article, at the bottom of the page.

Australia is still grappling with racism and its deep colonial history, an ongoing history, in this settler state that in many parts was settled by Europeans only within the last 170 years. With the amount of negative attention directed towards the U.S., the Iraq war, and the many shortcomings of President Bush, it is very easy to overlook other situations where both the nature and consequences of current political leadership can be even more stark and grim. Canada, like Australia, also evades such critical attention.

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