The left and the apology

by

The range of responses to yesterday’s Australia-wide outburst of emotion over the new government’s apology to indigenous Australia

Bob Gould

The most striking thing about the apology ceremonies was the extraordinary outburst of emotion throughout the day by tens of thousands of indigenous people watching the events at public venues from Hobart to Darwin, Broome, Cairns, Sydney, Perth and all places in between, and an equally emotional response from possibly hundreds of thousands of non-indigenous Australians.

The overwhelming response from indigenous people, including the 1000 or so militants assembled on the lawns in Canberra, was excitement and pride, together with a very favourable and emotional response to Rudd’s speech. That response was often coupled with the proposition, correctly advanced, that much more is needed to right the wrongs done to indigenous Australians.

The manifest reality is that in this area Rudd and the members of the new government are the heroes and heroines of the hour, particularly to indigenous people. Anyone on the left who fails to notice this is politically blind.

The Tory politicians are in an extraordinarily bad way in the face of the impact of the apology and Rudd’s speech. Those tired old warhorses of reaction, Gerard Henderson and Wilson Tuckey, were vituperative and made heavy weather of television interviews. The conservatives are taking a hiding on this question. The Murdoch media are twisting and turning, and trying a bit of demagogy of their own, essentially denying that any crimes took place, and running as a second-string argument the implied threat that if crimes did take place the compensation must be massive.

There are attempts to wheel out the right’s pet conservative indigenous figures to take off some of the heat, but some of the conservative indigenous leaders are backing away from parts of their previous positions.

Meanwhile, on the left, there are some oddly discordant notes. The utterly predictable World Socialist Web Site says the whole apology is a fraud because it’s perpetrated by the Labor Party, which is no different to the conservatives. This appears to be an outfit that doesn’t watch television and wouldn’t know a representative of indigenous Australia if it fell over one.

John Pilger, who cultivates a role as a kind of oracle on high, assisted by his rather commanding physical presence and his mellifluous voice, is a bit out of touch with mass politics in Australia, partly because he’s not here much and partly because he’s no dialectician and tends to treat the labour movement as if it were an undifferentiated reactionary mass. Real familiarity with the labour movement and the contradictory ebbs and flows of mass politics clearly shows that the labour movement is no such thing.

Brother Pilger rather likes sound bites, but the one he provided on this occasion, that the apology was mainly for white Australia, not indigenous Australia, is a gross misunderstanding of these developments.

All the coverage of today’s events demonstrates the opposite: that the demand for an apology, advanced by indigenous militants for many years, was very much in the first instance for indigenous Australia and that the sympathetic response of progressive non-indigenous Australians, while enormous and powerful, was very much a response to the demand from indigenous Australia. The political victory of the apology was very much the victory of an indigenous campaign prosecuted over many years.

On this question, brother Pilger’s otherwise usually useful journalistic and political activity is no guide at all to the struggle and the ebbs and flows of events.

There has been almost no coverage of the day’s events on the Green Left Weekly discussion site except for a post by Rebel Hobbit, a bold young Boyleite originally from Newcastle, who is actually quite a pleasant bloke. He challenges me in a more or less civilised way, which is a nice change, loyally advancing the Boyleite view of Laborism.

At the risk of sounding a big pompous, I’d suggest to this bloke that he needs to give himself a crash course in dialectical and dynamic mass politics, which is the area in which the Boyleite approach is so persistently inadequate.

For a start, he says the Rudd government is committed to continuing the Howard government’s intervention in Northern Territory indigenous communities. It’s certainly true that the government talks about continuing the intervention, but it’s also true that, in the contradictory way that working class politics sometimes proceeds, the new government has suspended the abolition of the CDEP employment scheme pending a reorganisation. The young Boyleite is clearly so carried away by the DSP leadership’s schema about Labor always betraying that he doesn’t realise what’s really happening.

The new government has also restored the permit system to give indigenous communities the right to control indigenous land. Many other aspects of the intervention are also in the melting pot.

It’s also clear that the majority of indigenous communities and leaders are struggling for further progressive changes despite the fact that some of them pay lip service to the intervention.

Important in this process are the indigenous leaders and members of the NT Labor government. There’s clearly a battle between left and right going on in the indigenous community about directions in indigenous affairs from this point.

As urban Australians, the young bloke from Newcastle and myself are neither of us experts on the details of the problems in remote indigenous communities.

For my part, I study these matters as closely as I can, from a broadly socialist point of view, but in complex and contradictory matters such as the problems of drugs, alcohol and child abuse, I tend to go to people on the left of the indigenous mass movement for information, rather than rushing in with some cracked, formalistic thesis, driven as it is in the case of the Boyleites, by the desire to expose Laborism in all things.

That is, in my world, the effective way to practice the dialectical aspect of Marxism.
The fact that the well-intentioned young Boyleite can belt out the schema that the new Labor government is still carrying out Howard’s policy, without noticing the new government’s U-turn on the permit system and CDEP underlines how useless Boyleite schemas are in any rapidly changing situation in the labour movement or, in this case, the indigenous movement.

I’m not ashamed to say that I found Rudd’s speech incredibly moving, as did pretty well the whole of progressive Australia, particularly indigenous people. This is independent of the fact that on a number of other questions, such as privatisation, some aspects of industrial relations, and other matters, I’m sharply opposed to Rudd.

There’s no doubt that there’s an element of political calculation involved in Rudd’s speech, and Rudd is emerging as a consumate political operator, but I haven’t the slightest doubt that he was utterly sincere in the speech he made today.

As a battle-scarred old militant in the labour movement I will, in my own modest way at rank and file level, be doing battle with Rudd on a number of vital questions, along with thousands of others. I’m not unmindful of the fact that today’s events strengthened Rudd’s hand a bit, as a kind of Bonapartist leader. Militants will have to combat that circumstance in whatever ways are available to us.

But today’s events underline dramatically the general point that battles with Rudd, which are inevitable, will have to be conducted in a careful and civilised way. Any socialists who don’t understand that are a danger to themselves and the whole left of the labour movement.

Even in the rather privileged, streamlined atmosphere of Parliament House, the magnitude of the emotion generated by today’s events was shown in the fact that several of Rudd’s senior aides were caught up in the emotion and along with other Labor and Green parliamentary staffers joined in the slow clap during opposition leader Brendan Nelson’s unpleasant and reactionary speech.

Rudd later unloaded these staffers and made them apologise to Nelson, but I’d wager that’s about as far as the matter will go in the current political climate, and they’ll remain as valued members of Rudd’s staff. That small incident underlines the general point that it’s quite unsound to treat even the sometimes opportunistic staffers who surround Labor and Green politicians as an undifferentiated reactionary mass, as do political dopes like the DSP majority leadership and the World Socialist Web Site.

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43 Responses to “The left and the apology”

  1. John Tognolini Says:

    So John Pilger,is wrong is he Bob? When he states;

    “The ‘sorry’ is without much substance unless it is backed by an honest and massive rehabilitation campaign of all resources available to Aboriginal people,” he said.

    “Tears will be shed and there will be much emotion, but it will be over by next week.”

    “Australia has treated its indigenous people worse than any other developed country,” he said.

    “Aboriginal people have been betrayed by every government since the Whitlam government.”

    He called on ordinary Australians not to celebrate Sorry Day unless they were going to take action on indigenous issues.

    “To understand it they need to look at themselves and realise it’s down to them to pressure their government to end the disgrace,” he said.

    And is Hall Greenland right Bob? When he wrote;

    “Australia’s new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd went up onto the mountain and delivered. The first order of business, on the first day in parliament, of the new Labor government. Nothing would, nothing could, and nothing did take precedence over the apology. Kevin Rudd’s ‘Sorry’ to the stolen generations of indigenous Australians was social democracy’s finest hour.”

    “…For many kids this day will be like the day of the moon landing, or the day Martin Luther King was assassinated, or Che murdered, or JFK shot, was for previous generations; they will remember where they were if only because lots of schools watched the apology. It means these rising generations will inherit an Australia which has, if not a clean sheet, at least an honest one.”

    I suggest that both Bob and Hall watch and listen to what Aboriginal people including Socialist Alliance Comrades, think of Rudd saying sorry at the protest at parliament on eve of apology to Stolen Generations.

    For me Stolen Generations member John Moriarty sums it up when he said “It doesn’t tell what the Stolen Generation really is,…I’m questioning the cultural genocide aspect. I think it’s an appeasement in the sense that it’s saying sorry, but it doesn’t get down to the real crux of the issue, in my view, that people like me were taken away from their full-blooded mothers to breed out the culture. It doesn’t come to that. It doesn’t hit home with me.”

    Is John Moriarty wrong too Bob?

    Also Bob have you Hall forgotten about the troops and police that Howard used to invade remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory? Rudd hasn’t, their still there and since he got elected on 24/11 last year he has not made any announcement about their withdrawal.

    And you might guess Bob I’m in agreement with John Pilger. Indigenous are owed a lot more than an apology.

  2. Bec Says:

    “We welcome the commitment of the new government to Close the Gap on life expectancy and community health, on education and on economic opportunity. We also welcome their stated commitment to evidence-based policy and we are hopeful that they will assess and respond to the evidence of the problems with the intervention in the Northern Territory and to make sure that those resources are being used constructively and effectively.”

    Greens Senator Rachel Siewert at Greensblog

  3. Jenny Haines Says:

    John Tognolini says that Australia has treated its indigenous people worse than any other developed country. Really? Worse that America’s treatment of the American Indians, Canada’s treatment of its indigeous people and worse than South Africa? And that they have been betrayed by every government since the Whitlam Government. Really? I remember Gough pouring earth into the hands of Vincent Lingiari when giving the Pjitjijarra people their land. It was the Whitlam Government that passed the Racial Discrimination Act. It was to Malcolm Fraser’s credit that his government did not repeal that legislation. Keating stood in Redfern Park and made that magnificent historic speech that still rings in Australian ears today about the wrongs done to aboriginal people. It was the Keating Government that commissioned Owen Wilson and Mick Dodson to do the Stolen Generation Report which is hundreds of pages of evidence of what was done to the Stolen Generations. Obviously members of the Socialist Alliance are yet to read it!! And now the next step has been taken by Kevin Rudd, the start of a new approach. Labor was reported to say before the election that they would retain the Intervention but since the election Jenny Macklin has begun unwinding the Intervention, reinstating the permit system, putting a moratorium on the abolition of CDEP, setting up a consultative forum with the greatest critics of the Intervention, Pat Turner, Olga Havnen etc, and working closely with the NT Government to identify immediate needs. There is more to be done, of course there is. But give credit where it is due.

  4. Mattie Says:

    If Socialist Alliance members are incapable of hailing and celebrating an event that was unthinkable a mere few months ago and which was supported and relished by a clear majority of Australians, particularly indigenous, then they might like to reflect on why their views, on anything, should not been seen as unreliable, irrelevant and so easily dismissed by most everyone else.

    John Tognolini doesn’t seem to be aware either of the now bipartisan commission to be co-chaired by Rudd & Nelson which has made enormously significant commitments in relation to radically improving Aboriginal life expectancy, infant child mortality rates, early child education provision, and health care. Do your members not support tthese commitments and this initiative? Isn’t in the interests of everyone to do so? The commission was only announced yesterday. Why have you already written it off?

  5. John Says:

    Bob, you seem to forget that Aborigines are not a uniform social grouping and that there are different social layers within th Aborignial population. It is facile and plainly infantile to assert that because some prominent indigenous Australians supported the apology, it is a positive development with the intention of improving the conditions of the Aboriginal masses.
    Also, I would love to hear what you think was the cause of the policy that forcefully seperated half-caste children from their parents…
    Apparently “red” Bob dosn’t see the cause as being the profit system itself..

  6. Ed Lewis Says:

    John Tognolini:

    John Pilger is a very good journalist and I agree with most of what he writes, but on this question he was plainly wrong when he told MSN that “Sorry Day is an event ‘without substance’ geared towards white Australians, not indigenous people.” (Assuming he wasn’t misquoted by MSN, and he hasn’t said he was.)

    It’s abundantly clear that indigenous militants have been campaigning for an apology for many years, and the apology was what they wanted. It’s a long way from all that these militants want, and the apology puts campaigners for indigenous rights in a stronger position (as Paul Kelly notes in a bit of a worried way in today’s Australian).

    The apology raises expectations: for an end to the NT intervention, for compensation, for housing, education, health and other programs, for security for land rights, and when people’s expectations are raised they campaign with more vigour in expectation of winning.

    Previous generations of campaigners made some progress, and the Howard government tried to take a lot of that back in the past few years. Land rights were under attack, in particular.

    The apology is a victory because it reverses that trend. It is something to build on. If you can’t recognise a strategic advance when one happens in front of your face, don’t expect much respect for your political nous.

  7. Doolie Says:

    John, the only Aboriginal person I know of either personally, by repute, or in the public eye who said an apology was useless and unwanted unless it was matched by a commitment to compensation was Noel Pearson.

    Noel Pearson of course was a Howard government devotee, courtier and government-business funding recipient whose anti-ALP bile led him to personally attack Rudd as being, he claimed, a congenital anti-Aboriginal hater. He said this, overcome it seemed at the prospect of the Liberals losing. in the final week of the federal election campaign last year. A campaign which resulted in a huge electoral backlash against Howardism and specifically a repudiation of his government’s inflexible stance on the apology to the stolen generations.

    It is interesting that post election Noel has continued with this line, echoed by culture warrior historian Keith Windshuttle. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

  8. John Says:

    Doolie, in his article entitled “Several Civilized Actions by Labor on Refugees” Bob wrote “It’s not exactly a socialist revolution, but in an effective if piecemeal way the Rudd Labor government is wrapping some of the nastiest remnants of the Howard government’s demagogic, chauvinist refugee policy.”

    This would be funny if it was not sad…it reveals complete and utter demoralisation and spectacular pessimism.

    Doolie, it is the mark of complete political opportunism to speak of Noel Pearson and the Liberals when you know full well that I am critisicing Rudd from the left, as is your talk about the “only Aboriginal person” you know.
    The support for an apology in broad sections of the Australian working class is a reflection of the deep seeted democratic ideals rooted in the working class…the question however is what was Rudd’s motivation?…the answer, a cynical ploy to facilitate attacks on the social position of the most vulnerable sections of the working class.

    ps. Doolie have you heard of the 67′ referendum. What did it change in terms of the social conditions of Aboriginal people?

    Take your Stalinist popular frontism elsewhere…

  9. Norm Dixon Says:

    I guess we can’t expect the Ozleft Rudd cheer squad to fairly represent Socialist Alliance’s attitude to the victory by the Indigenous and left movement’s in forcing the Australian government to make an opolgy to the Stolen Generations. But the point is that it is only the first step, not the last, as the capitalist forces and Labor governments hope will be the case.

    The Socialist Alliance attitude is summed up in the comments by five SA Indigeous members in this video, and by others interviewed: ‘Apology is a start, now for justice!’

    Perhaps Bob and others should target the Green for their “sectarianism” in trying to push on for justice too. Of course this was unreported by the mainstream press and others seeking to claim that the “past has been laid to rest” etc. with the apology:

    Wednesday, 13 February 2008

    Greens move for Stolen Generations compensations lost in Senate

    Greens Leader Bob Brown’s move to amend today’s Sorry motion by adding a commitment to offer, “just compensation to all those who suffered loss” was lost when the government, opposition, Democrats and Family First all voted against it.

    “This was a timely move to ensure that proper compensation flows from this great symbolic Sorry Day in Australian history. The government’s policy to refuse compensation is wrong. As time passes, it means that many more of the Stolen Generations will die without due recompense for the harm done,” Senator Brown said.

    ————————————————————–

    Ebony Bennett

    Media Adviser

    Office of Greens Senator Bob Brown

    Mobile: 0409 164 603

    Ph: (02) 6277 3170

    Fax: (02) 6277 3185

  10. Brolga Says:

    John, if you think “motivations” are the most significant factor in politics then no wonder you tie yourself in such knots and can’t see the forest for the trees. Rudd’s motivation in delivering an apology to the stolen generations is the least important political factor here.

    What is politically significant and important to understand is the more material question of why the ALP government believed it necessary to do this as a matter of priority, the way in which it did it, the extraordinary social justice policy commitments Labor made two days ago with the support of the Liberals and the political victory that all of this represents for indigenous Australians and their supporters.

    You refer to the 1967 Referendum. Like the Apology by the Australian Parliament on February 13, that too was a major political victory and the culmination of a much longer period of struggle, activism, and political pressure by indigenous people, communities and organisations and the progressive left.

  11. Mattie Says:

    Norm, I asked John Tognolini some questions which he hasn’t answered. Perhaps you would care to as a member of the Socialist Alliance.

    I wrote:

    “John Tognolini doesn’t seem to be aware either of the now bipartisan commission to be co-chaired by Rudd & Nelson which has made enormously significant commitments in relation to radically improving Aboriginal life expectancy, infant child mortality rates, early child education provision, and health care.”

    And my questions were:

    “[Does the SA] not support these commitments and this initiative? Isn’t in the interests of everyone to do so? The commission was only announced yesterday. Why have you already written it off?”

  12. Norm Dixon Says:

    Mattie,

    I think you are being very naive. This is not the first time Australian governments have “made enormously significant commitments”, in the face of mass pressure that results whenever the Indigenous rights movement has mobilised and built alliances with progressive whites.

    Of course, the problem is that these “commitments” have always remained just that. The job of the left is to support the Indigenous rights movement in its mobilisations, build solidarity, gain trade union support etc. to ensure these commitments do not simply remain on paper, as inspiring but token speeches and statements, as have done up until now.

    It also important to push far beyond those commitments to enact real change that really addresses the root causes of Indigenous people’s marginalistion–their dispossession and disempowerment. In that light, putting their future in the hands of commission co-chaired by Rudd and Nelson does not, in and of itself, offer much.

  13. Bob Gould Says:

    Through gritted teeth the DSP leadership and Boyle and Dixon change their line a bit

    Even when changing their line a bit on the momentous impact of the new Labor government’s apology to indigenous Australia, the DSP leadership can’t resist its old sect habit of trying to present themselves as central to the events, pouring a certain amount of abuse on others on the left, particularly myself and Hall Greenland, and continuing to understate the important change in the Australian political landscape represented by the apology and the popular sentiment associated with it.

    Greenland and I are accused of being some kind of cheer squad for Rudd, well Dixon had better add Greens leader Bob Brown to the cheer squad. In the Senate last night, Brown said the apology had “changed this place forever” (meaning the parliament) and the apology was an enormous step in nation building. Dixon doesn’t report this for the obvious reason that it doesn’t reinforce his eccentric sectarianism towards the mass labour movement and towards the substantial majority of indigenous people who clearly share Brown’s view, and my view and Hall’s view.

    I repeat my statement of yesterday that I found Rudd’s speech extremely moving and I accept his obvious personal sincerity in the speech, as far as it went.

    If stating the obvious in politics is joining someone’s cheer squad, well I’m prepared to be stuck with that.

    Dixon’s alternative of continuing to pour his ignorant abuse on the bulk of the labour movement and progressive Australia at this time is counter-productive politically.

    Having said that, Boyle’s and Dixon’s statements through gritted teeth and larded with their congenital sectarianism, do represent a certain change, and I applaud them for having the political brains to make the change.

    At the start of the week, John Tognolini, Rebel Hobbit and the ubiquitous Dave Riley, who seems to have an infinite capacity for getting mass politics wrong, were backing up John Pilger’s ill-considered and rather ignorant view that the apology was only for whites, or that it was essentially a waste of time.

    Clearly, something happened in the next couple of days, and in my view, having carefully watched the video produced by the Socialist Alliance, the something was the impact on the modest number of indigenous activists around the DSP of the enormous outpouring of emotion they could see around them at the convergence in Canberra and in general in indigenous society.

    Being indigenous people, even on Tuesday before the apology, they couldn’t help noticing the atmosphere, as a result swinging over to acknowledging the importance of the apology at the same time as quite properly stressing that it didn’t go far enough and laying out, again quite properly, a set of demands.

    Sam Watson, in particular, a seasoned campaigner in indigenous affairs, avoided any sectarianism towards fellow indigenous activists, while stressing, again quite properly, the need to carry the campaign forward.

    Not being as totally oblivious to the real world as they sometimes appear to be, the DSP majority changed tack a bit, and more power to their elbow for doing so. One can discount, for practical purposes, the nasty rhetoric they associate their change of tack. What is important, politically, is their slight change of tack.

    In one area, however, the DSP majority leadership’s chronic sectarianism is still dominant. They still, in their statements, continue to assert that the Labor leadership was forced by the mass movement to do what it did. There’s an element of truth in that because the apology is the culmination, to this point, of generations of indigenous struggle.

    Nevertheless, the new Labor government could have resisted presenting the apology in the forthright and sensitive way that Rudd did. After all, it’s clear from talkback radio and other sources that reactionary forces are still capable of stirring up a large amount of redneck chauvinism against indigenous people, and this is well expressed in the antics of the Tory right in the parliament. The fact that Rudd and the new government decided to risk the wrath of the rednecks by proceeding in the way they did is a subjective decision that any socialist should applaud, rather than attack.

    It’s quite obvious that the struggle should proceed in a mass way for unresolved indigenous demands, but it’s pretty clear that the apology facilitates that process because of the, at present, still a bit rhetorical commitment to a massive increase in funds towards solving the many problems of indigenous communities.

    The key questions about all of this is the way whole process raises the consciousness of indigenous Australia and progressive white Australia, and the expectations of indigenous Australia and progressive white Australia, thereby creating conditions for the further development of the struggle.

    What’s lost in this situation by socialists giving a certain amount of credit where credit is due to the new Labor government? Just about all indigenous Australians, and Bob Brown, can do that, rather than attacking Rudd and the government at this moment in the DSP’s old style, which is likely to be utterly incomprehensible, not to mention irritating to progressive Australians.

    Boyle and Dixon would do themselves a bit of a service if they came somewhat further in out of the rain. Their half-in, half-out posture is getting them pretty wet.

  14. Mattie Says:

    Norm, I don’t know what scientific method you use to try and understand the present, but saying because something has never happened in the past, in this case, that governments never honour any of their commitments, and therefore will never do so, not only flies in the face of facts – such as, e.g., the fact that the federal ALP has long said it would make an apology to the stolen generations and it just did – but it implies all grassroots political activity is a waste of time.

    For if governments are the bodies that, in the end, through institutions such as the public service, parliament, etc., will actually ensure the enactment of popularly-supported policies, then to say that these governments will never carry out any commitments, in spite of mass pressure to do so, is effectively to also say it is futile to put pressure on governments to do anything.

    So what you are advocating, whether you realise it or not, is passivity, surrender, pessimism and defeatism to the working class. You are effectively saying to Aboriginal people, don’t bother to try and change anything. All you can do, people, is berate governments even before they act for doing what you say they will do: which is nothing.

    Most peculiar way of looking at the world, Norm. Are you for real?

  15. Norm Dixon Says:

    I see you’ve got the Ozleft method down pat. Ignore what’s actually said, then repeatly assert the exact opposite of what was said.

  16. MissJessel (barbara goddard) Says:

    Sorry Day was an unexpectedly moving and tonic experience for almost everybody I have spoken with including Greens members who were in Canberra, so I was baffled and disappointed by the reactions that have subsequently come from some of the guys on the far left who found no value at all in the acknowledgements of white cruelty and the gestures of black forgiveness that were delivered in its wake.

    Although I am not a Freudean and do not believe in “the talking cure”, I think it is obvious that in any relationship (personal/political/professional) words can hurt and heal, inspire, shock, enlighten and comfort…..why else do we put such a high premium on words and language in our lives? Why do we protest energetically and recoil from those habits of language that cruelly demean and humiliate others ? Why does it matter? Praxis maybe primary but nobody said it was sufficient.

    Somewhere in the macho left’s unwritten credo, however, in its habitual inability to leave the tough and gruff register of perpetual complaint, lurks an associated feature of being unable to smile or unclench fists. This gives the macho a most unattractive appearance, even on paper, let alone at the workplace, the union meeting or in the street. I detect definite symptoms here of an entrenched and fortified neurosis resembling paranoia. Dance classes and clowning workshops could be a good start for those who suffer from this unfortunate condition. They say it is not incurable. Purgatives may also assist. He who cannot unbend and celebrate when the occasion requires it, shall probably not be missed at the festivities.

    Meanwhile, regardless of what comes next (and I join others in their desire to see government commit a heap of money and resources to eliminating the scandalous problems that still plague so many indigenous communities) you cannot get away from the very simple and conspicuous fact that Kevin Rudd (who may well live to regret it ) has delivered an eloquent and memorable moment — dare one say a therapeutic moment — a strong dose of optimism on Sorry Day. This tends to embolden people who need both Bread and Roses like the old song says. He legitimised a language of generosity and comfort that has a ripple effect on others and gives them new bearings and new, more productive ways of viewing (therefore dealing with) the black Australian predicament. That is a good thing after 10 years of that constipated, tight-lipped, mean-spirited little macho man who stood at the helm of the nation and his intellectual henchmen. Howard’s absence from the ritual embrace , was wholly predictable and wholly pathetic.

    As for Rudd’s words rippling, one can already hear people on the radio opening up with their stories, echoing Rudd’s phrases , the sentiments expressed….Paul Keating’s notion of “golden threads” too, seems to have resonated and caught on.

    By the way, in contrast to many of the responses from the leftish men (including an unusually stiff John Pilger ) I found Hall Greenland’s article in Counterpoint, very fine; it does not say everything, but he finds just the right tone, just the right degree of qualification and surmise and even risked the phrase “moral leadership” at one point, which was refreshing. Greenland seems to notice that Kevin Rudd is a brilliant politician, with a gift for old-fashioned oratory that can stir people up and prepare them to climb mountains. Of course we all know too from watching politics in the USA, that pulpit oratory and moral fervour (so common in political discourse over there) while inspiring people to strive, often enough has made them fall down in church on the promise of salvation or go off to war with a song in their hearts ..”but that was in another country and besides the wench is dead”.

    Anyway, to the amazement of all and sundry, Rudd certainly has these rhetorical skills in abundance and a fabulous sense of theatre to boot, (both unfashionable in Australian politics and virtually entirely absent on the Oz far left ) so it behoves us to at least recognise in him a formidable opponent.

  17. Wombo Says:

    I think there are a few things to note here.

    First is the facts that despite the sectarian slinging match which Bob has tried to kick off, there are nothing but Pilger and a bunch of straw-men in his sights, no matter what he says about the DSP or the Socialist Alliance (whose actual position he religiously ignores in order to snipe). While his points are true enough, I think Pilger underestimated the degree of sentiment that existed around this issue, and that leaves his arguments open to criticism (at least so soon after the apology.

    The second is the unfortunate fact that Bob seems to have more time to spare trying to point score against the DSP than actually talk about what the apology actually means. Yes, it was a powerful statement in and of itself, given the build-up over the past decade, and you need only look at the ongoing impact of the Redfern speech and the bridge walk to realise that there is a very strong and long-lasting sentiment out there in support of reconciliation.

    But Saint Kevin has not saved the children, he has not rescued the souls of the damned, he has not closed the 17 year life expectancy gap, nor the other problems which assail Aboriginal Australia. Of course, he hasn’t had the time to be tested yet, hence the “honeymoon period”.

    He HAS made an extremely important – and very eloquent – step in the right direction, but one which those of us whose good sense can sustain our emotions know is unlikely to be very meaningful at all, unless there is pressure placed on the government.

    Unless anyone can show that the ALP has made a decisive shift in its politics, then there is little reason to believe that what Rudd has promised will be meaningfully carried through on.

    The NT intervention continues with the support of Labor, and is spreading its destruction across communities in the NT, and, while I’m sure that Kevin Rudd meant every single word of his apology, the politics of his party mean that the solutions are likely to be not only bungled, but also go counter to other “more important” strictures, and hence be subtly undermined.

    I’m not poo-pooing the apology, which was clearly a watershed in Australian politics as a whole. But apart from the very real relief and recognition that it means to the Stolen Generations and their families, it remains little but hollow words and salved white consciences until the actions meet the verbs. And the left has a responsibility to maintain every ounce of pressure on that faultline until something gives.

    Bob prefers to waste his time on creating ever tinier wedges on the far-left, however, an activity that serves no other purpose than to maintain the left cred of the ALP without engaging with those in the ALP who are also unsatisfied.

    Rudd (and the ALP machine) is indeed a formidable enough opponent without handing out free runs.

  18. Mattie Says:

    I notice Nick Beans from WSWS has this to say:

    ” The formal apology is certainly a “step in a new direction” but not toward ending the oppression of Australia’s indigenous population. It is a step by the Rudd Labor government toward winning the support of, and utilising, a section of Aboriginal community leaders to implement its right-wing policies—something that would have been impossible without the formal repudiation of the Howard government’s position on the stolen generations.”

    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/feb2008/rudd-f13.shtml

    Where’s the evidence for that? And is it likely to happen in the short-term even? All the statements made by every Aboriginal community leader who has commented, without exception, have stressed the apology is just a start. Rudd emphasised it HIMSELF in his speech outlining the new strategic goals that the bipartisan Commission will address. These are enormous commitments. Expectations have been raised already on those levels alone.

    Further, a wide range of Aboriginal representatives and individuals have raised numerous concerns and demands including ongoing criticism of aspects of the NT intervention, calls for the restoration of CDEP, for guaranteed free quality health care and education, there’ve been calls for a treaty, for a new look at land rights, for a massive compensation fund for the stolen generations, for the establishment of new indigenous national elected representative body, etc. And so it goes on.

    Why preach a message of cynicism and disempowering despair? It’s almost as if the WSWS crew want indigenous people to fail. And that’s crook!

  19. Pipsqueak Says:

    Expatriate Australian QC Geoffrey Robertson blames the Fabian intelligentsia for Australia’s genocidal Aboriginal policies and calls on the British government to also apologise to Australian Aborigines.

    “Much as white Australians may castigate themselves today for their deluded assimilation efforts, it is necessary, as with every genocide, to sheet home responsibility to the intellectual authors of the policy. These were the Fabian socialist heroes who believed eugenics principles could be applied to produce a “superior” society. Sydney and Beatrice Webb, John Maynard Keynes and Bertrand Russell all supported this cause. George Bernard Shaw argued for humane extermination of “the sort of people who do not fit in”. Marie Stopes publicly pleaded for the sterilisation of the “hopelessly rotten and racially diseased”. Virginia Woolf and DH Lawrence privately urged that the state should eradicate “imbeciles”. Their slogan was the vile aphorism of Oliver Wendell Holmes: “three generations of imbeciles are enough”.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/feb/14/australia

  20. Prince Nikolai Says:

    I don’t know that Rudd has rhetorical skills unless you count being a master of plain speaking. But then this is increasingly a rare gift in public life and mightily appreciated by the masses, particularly when coming from politicians. People are heartily sick of obfuscation, verbosity, and jargon. Down with empty academic post-modernist wankery. This sincere, kind, plain speaking style, which I admit I too sneered at on election night, will probably come to be one of Rudd’s greatest political assets.

    It’s been apparent for a while that this man has been seriously underestimated by most everyone and he’s gonna be a very interesting PM – and for that alone we could well make sacred offerings – and, as Miss J says, a formidable opponent.

    He wedged Brendan Nelson on the floor of Parliament on Sorry Day something awful. Sweet.

  21. Bob Gould Says:

    Red Wombat warns the czar

    There’s a rather well-known incident in Australian history in the 19th century that occurred during a diplomatic conflict, when a provincial newspaper in Tasmania with a population of about 1000 printed an article with the headline: “We warn the czar”.

    One aspect of the rouged wombat’s post has something of that flavour. He says, of Rudd and the apology: “Rudd (and the ALP machine) is indeed a formidable enough opponent without handing out free runs.” This approach by the Boyle bunch is very like the approach of the aforementioned Tasmanian newspaper.

    Wombo accuses me of lacking analysis, but my posts on the apology are almost all analysis, with a little bit of polemic against congenital ultralefts such as the rouged one and his mates in the DSP majority.

    One of the points of my analysis is that socialists should say forthrightly what day it is about major political events. Unfortunately, one of the key strategic issues is that some of the far left’s response to the apology is, politically speaking, absurd. By its outlandish tone it weakens the far left rather than strengthening it. It’s not Rudd who suffers from churlish, noisy, ultraleft denunciations on this question, but that section of the far left that’s producing this static.

    Its blindingly obvious fact that the overwhelming majority of the left part of Australian society is impressed and moved by Rudd’s speech.

    Abusing Rudd with idiot remarks like Saint Kevin is about as useful to the socialist point of view as the Tasmanian bush editor warning the czar.

    If they have any effect at all, denunciations of Rudd on this question at this time only serve to underscore the view held by a very big chunk of the left of Australian society that the far left is a bunch crackpots, and inhumane, insensitive crackpots at that.

    The rouged marsupial, surfacing briefly from his underground lair, provides us with a pretty clear expression of the confusion in the DSP, which I’ve stung him so much by pointing to.

    I’m not trying to wedge anyone, just to knock some common sense into the heads of habitual ultralefts like the Boyleites and the spluttering Red Wombat.

    Wombo’s post succeeds in doing what sects often do, in fact usually do, that is: even when they change their line a bit, they claim there’s no change at all, and the new line is what they said all along. This kind of posture is psychologically necessary for the leadership of the sect to reinforce their pretension to universal understanding and universal political leadership.

    Red Wombat succeeds in having the two positions in the one post: the position initially adopted by John Tognolini and the Rebel Hobbit and the modification, which probably originated with the indigenous Socialist Alliance comrades, and taken up by Boyle in his public notes on the apology.

    There’s no shame in socialist politics in changing your line when a false perspective collides with reality, but to do that and claim you were right all along, the way the Wombat does, only underlines, even to the casual reader, the behaviour of a sect.

    The people who’ve been following and participating in this discussion can see clearly what was said by the marsupial’s mates a few days ago and what some of them say now, and I stand by my description of how that probably came about, which irritates the Wombat considerably.

    A bit of advice to the Wombat and his mates: this kind of political discussion is not essentially about point scoring, at least not from my point of view, it’s a discussion aimed at clarification to advance the struggle of the left.

    The Wombat should stop treating the readers of this discussion as a bunch of mugs who will snap to attention on demand in response to his rhetoric. The readers have before them the contributions made by various people over several days, on which they can form a view.

    I don’t intend to take this polemic too much further. My points have been made sufficiently and I’m mindful of the fact, based on my experience with the Boyleites on other lists, that one of their tactics is to try to reduce all discussions to vitriolic point scoring to try to turn the audience off the whole discussion.

  22. Wombo Says:

    Bob, the reason I have “the two positions in the one post” is because that is, in fact one position – namely, to say that the apology was a milestone in Australian Aboriginal politics, but that it would very soon ring hollow unless followed up by real and meaningful action. That is not only a single position, it is the Socialist Alliance´s position, and is a very good one to take.

    It is also a position that expects Labor to promise a lot, but not deliver much, based on past experience. But no one can claim ahead of time that it is the *absolutely* correct one – none of us have crystal balls. So I am, of course, hoping to be wrong. Honestly, and sincerely, I am.

    It is indeed promising that Macklin and Rudd have been talking about travelling through the NT and elsewhere, consulting with communities. However, the concern of the Aboriginal activists that I have just spent the last week with, organising the Convergence in Canberra, is that politicians tend to consult whosoever they feel will give them the *right* answers, and that they will not listen to those with the most experience and criticism. I hope sincerely to be proved wrong in this regard, but I expect this may be the case this time too.

    In Canberra, Macklin asked for a meeting with organisers of the Convergence, and we presented a list of concrete demands, and concrete examples of the problems across the NT, especially in welfare quarantining and the potentially explosive situation developing because of it.

    There needs to be an immediate suspension and review of the “intervention”. If Macklin and Rudd can produce that, once again, that would be a great thing, and would show a genuinness on the part of the new government. While I suspect it won´t happen (although, once again, I hope it will – “optimism of the will, pessimism of the mind”, and all that), it does need to be fought for, NOW, regardless of how nice, floral, or well-meant the apology was, based on the hope that we can make that change come about.

    The position of the Aboriginal activists who brought you the last week´s rally is that that the apology means little if the Intervention is continued as is. And if you had seen Channel 7´s coverage of the apology, they interviewed Pastor Ray Minniecon, whose position was just that, and was identical to the position of the 1500 people who marched on Parliament on Tuesday.

    If that´s proof of the “sectarianism” of the SA, that we want to prevent another disaster in Aboriginal Australia from happening under our noses rather than bask in the light of a Government in its honeymoon period, then so be it. Perhaps it´s a matter of who you listen to more – ALP politicians, or the people on the ground who are actually fighting for their lives (literally).

  23. Wombo Says:

    And just to help Bob play the ball, not the man (as he so often does), here is the Socialist Alliance´s statement on the apology.

  24. Bob Gould Says:

    Wombo, I thank you genuinely for the changed tone of your last contribution, and it seems to me that the kind of tone you now adopt, and I try to adopt when I’m on my best behaviour, is the tone we should all try to adopt in future, without precluding sharp and sometimes humorous exchanges.

    I respect the point that you make implicitly that some of your contribution is informed by your presence at the convergence in Canberra. As you reformulate the Socialist Alliance position, it seems the difference between us has narrowed considerably and is now a question of emphasis.

    I still reject your proposition that the later position of the DSP doesn’t represent a change.

    It clearly does when you compare Boyle’s statement, your own formulation of the position of the Socialist Alliance today with the earlier posts of John Tognolini and others.

    I hope we can continue this discussion in the spirit you’ve indicated, in the phrase you quote, which I also use from time to time about pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.

  25. Wombo Says:

    I think the spirit does indeed need to change, but for that to happen you also need to be able to distinbguish between the positions of Toggs, Norm, Peter Boyle, John Pilger and the official line of, say, the Socialist Alliance. All too ften you conflate them as if the whole operation was some kind of Borg.

    This (and I´ll be polite and assume that it IS this, and not something else) leads you to just confused statements as “As you reformulate the Socialist Alliance position” and this:

    “Wombo’s post succeeds in doing what sects often do, in fact usually do, that is: even when they change their line a bit, they claim there’s no change at all, and the new line is what they said all along. This kind of posture is psychologically necessary for the leadership of the sect to reinforce their pretension to universal understanding and universal political leadership.

    “Red Wombat succeeds in having the two positions in the one post: the position initially adopted by John Tognolini and the Rebel Hobbit and the modification, which probably originated with the indigenous Socialist Alliance comrades, and taken up by Boyle in his public notes on the apology.

    “There’s no shame in socialist politics in changing your line when a false perspective collides with reality, but to do that and claim you were right all along, the way the Wombat does, only underlines, even to the casual reader, the behaviour of a sect.”

    Your own misinterpretations lead you to a form of sectarian disease yourself. And because such statements do not reflect political reality, and is combined with such unlovely descriptors as “a bold young Boyleite” and “the spluttering Red Wombat”, it does indeed resemble point scoring.

    Perhaps it would be best if we all thought twice before using colourful language in the place of reasoned analysis…

  26. Bob Gould Says:

    Two issues are raised in Wombo’s last post. One is the style of debate and the other a more political question relating to the internal regime in left organisations.

    On styles of debate, I don’t apologise to Wombo for a bit of satire about their choice of pseudonym. He or she walked into that. Some may think it’s a bit cruel but at least it got their attention.

    I sometimes use a bit of satire rather than crude denunciation in discussions that have an acrimonious side. Personally, over a long time in politics, because of the pertinence of my political interventions at different times I’ve copped more abuse than almost anyone on any of these discussion sites.

    It’s water off a duck’s back to me, but like Shakespeare’s Shylock, “if you cut me do I not bleed”, so to speak. I tend to store up my response a bit to for an appropriate moment and I try to make my response aggressive but a bit funny, and in my experience that often works. On the list associated with the DSP I’ve managed, from time to time, to reduce certain people who’ve piled acres of abuse on my head to spluttering silence. I take a certain pride in that.

    The political aspect is more important than personal feelings, of myself or individuals I sometimes take the mickey out of. For example, on the Green Left a while back list a certain semi-Stalinist windbag accused me in quite a calculating way of being an agent provocateur, the worst possible slander in the workers movement.

    When I objected, the GLW list moderator and the DSP leadership bunch refused to take serious note of my objection to this and tried to pass it off as some kind of kind of personal dispute. The GLW list moderator never insisted that the slander be withdrawn, and the discussion was closed with the implicit threat that I’d be thrown off the list if I continued to pursue the matter.

    At the political level, Norm Dixon, the chief cyber-commissar for the DSP majority leadership, relentlessly records everything that he thinks he can present as a betrayal by the Labor Party and evidence of the incurable corruption of the Labor Party, with constant jibes about anyone who’s in the Labor Party being a Rudd stooge, etc, etc. Nothing that might support a contrary impression about Labor or Labor Party members is ever mentioned by Dixon.

    Any political argument with the DSP majority over strategy and tactics is relentlessly presented by the Boyle bunch as unreasonable abuse, but they reserve the right themselves to pour invective on anyone they disagree with. See for example, the discussion in which Boyle kept referring to me as whitey a couple of years ago, or the abuse poured forth by Dave Riley and John Tognolini. (Tognolini has calmed down a bit lately, which is a good thing.)

    I don’t want to labour the point, because I tend to respond in kind a bit, although vanity leads me to think I’m occasionally a bit funnier than the people abusing me.

    I’m not naive enough to require an apology from people for past abuse of me, and I’m certainly not going to apologise for anything that I’ve dished out in response. I’m just interested in trying to put that kind of thing behind us, if possible, to make political discussion a bit easier. I do demand of the strange man from Western Australia that he withdraw his slander that I’m an agent provocateur, but in the real world I doubt that he’s capable of making such a withdrawal. It’s my experience that people who call other people coppers are often open to that accusation themselves, and it’s a destructive way to conduct a discussion.

    On a more substantial political point, Wombo objects to me conflating Riley, Dixon, Tognolini and Boyle (in the discussion of the apology), for example, and insists that the Socialist Alliance statement is the policy, and conflating the statements of others is misrepresenting the DSP or Socialist Alliance.

    Unless you’re a naive newcomer to the politics of the far left you must know that’s disingenuous. A couple of weeks ago, Peter Boyle took the unprecedented step of repudiating, on Marxmail, articles by Max Lane and Sam King on developments in Indonesia, and saying they weren’t the policy of the DSP, despite the fact that Max Lane is generally regarded as the expert on Indonesia on the Australian left. Boyle obviously did this because Lane and King are members of the DSP minority.

    Wombo implies that the early remarks on the apology by Tognolini and Rebel Hobbit, if they did differ from the statement later in the week, weren’t the policy of the Socialist Alliance, and implicitly the DSP.

    Well, obviously, if the differences, which are clear in those early remarks, were regarded as significant, and if Boyle wasn’t motivated by factional considerations, he would have repudiated those remarks. Wombo presumes too much naivete on the part of the readers of the various remarks.

    Wombo accuses me of treating the DSP leaders as if they were leaders of the Borg (well, he said it, not me). Putting it like that is overstating things a little, but I’ll leave it to readers to make a judgment as to whether the cap fits and the DSP majority should wear it.

    Everyone familiar with Marxist politics who reads this will know what you’re saying is completely disingenuous and if they read Boyle’s statement they can see the line has changed. As I’ve said before, it’s not a good idea to treat people as a bunch of mugs.

    This isn’t abuse, just educated, rational observation of how a rather tightly run Zinovievist group tends to function. This form of so-called democratic centralism can be used for the most opportunist purposes, allowing a kind of practice that Nick Origlass used to describe in relation to the Stalinists as double-entry: formal political positions can on occasion be contradictory, but if the official policy and the practice of the cadres differed in the case of the Stalinists, it was justified to the ranks as necessary tactics.

    When challenged on this the Stalinists would always respond by pointing to their published positions and abusing their critics as anti-communist.

    Another variant of this kind of thing, not at all dis-similar to the double-entry that is part of the Zinovievist notion of democratic centralism, has been one of the besetting problems of the left of the Labor Party over many years, and it’s coming to the fore fairly dramatically in the current struggle against the electricity privatisation.

    I don’t want to take this description based on my experience too far, because in the current conflict it appears that the rebellious rank and file and most of the trade union leaderships opposing the sale, and some left and right Labor politicians, are quite sincere in their opposition and determined to defeat the sale.

    Nevertheless, some left politicians are peddling stories that of course they accept the Socialist Left’s formal opposition to the sale, but unfortunately they’re obliged by cabinet solidarity or the more recently introduced notion of caucus solidarity, to defend the sale within the Labor Party. (Actually, the Labor Party rules don’t mention cabinet or caucus solidarity relating to struggles in the party. They’re concepts that have been introduced to facilitate Labor politicians doing pretty well what they like on the basis of arrangements and deals.)

    Happily, the battle-scarred Labor ranks and the majority of unions that want to defeat the sell-off are alert to these devices because anyone who has been around the movement for more than five minutes tends to become aware of them.

    The rank and file left branch members are increasingly reluctant to accept the cabinet or caucus solidarity story from their factional leaders, even leaders they’ve supported for a very long time. Because of this, the outcome of this battle is by no means pre-ordained.

    I know I’ve moved a fair bit away from the practice of the DSP majority, but I regard an understanding of how these things tend to work, in far left groups and in the broader labour movement, as basic equipment for anyone who intends to spend much of their life in left and labour movement politics.

  27. John/Togs Tognolini Says:

    Jenny Haines Says:

    “John Tognolini says that Australia has treated its indigenous people worse than any other developed country. Really? Worse that America’s treatment of the American Indians, Canada’s treatment of its indigeous people and worse than South Africa? And that they have been betrayed by every government since the Whitlam Government. Really?

    I remember Gough pouring earth into the hands of Vincent Lingiari when giving the Pjitjijarra people their land. It was the Whitlam Government that passed the Racial Discrimination Act. It was to
    Malcolm Fraser’s credit that his government did not repeal that legislation. Keating stood in Redfern Park and made that magnificent historic speech that still rings in Australian ears today about the wrongs done to aboriginal people. It was the Keating Government that commissioned Owen Wilson and Mick Dodson to do the Stolen Generation Report which is hundreds of pages of evidence of what was done to the Stolen Generations.

    Obviously members of the Socialist Alliance are yet to read it!! And now the next step has been taken by Kevin Rudd, the start of a new approach. Labor was reported to say before the election that they
    would retain the Intervention but since the election Jenny Macklin has begun unwinding the Intervention, reinstating the permit system, putting a moratorium on the abolition of CDEP, setting up a consultative forum with the greatest critics of the Intervention, Pat Turner, Olga Havnen etc, and working closely with the NT Government to identify immediate needs. There is more to be done, of course there is. But give credit where it is due.”

    This is what I said, “So John Pilger,is wrong is he Bob? When he states;

    “The ‘sorry’ is without much substance unless it is backed by an honest and massive rehabilitation campaign of all resources available to Aboriginal people,” he said.

    “Tears will be shed and there will be much emotion, but it will be over by next week.”

    “Australia has treated its indigenous people worse than any other developed country,” he said.

    “Aboriginal people have been betrayed by every government since the Whitlam government.”

    He called on ordinary Australians not to celebrate Sorry Day unless they were going to take action on indigenous issues.

    “To understand it they need to look at themselves and realise it’s down to them to pressure their government to end the disgrace,” he said.

    Now Jenny, John Pilger said what you accused me off and he’s totally right. But why Jenny are you coming out belittling the suffering of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples who have suffered far worse compared to other racist settler states such as the US, Canada and New Zealand. You sound like bloody Keith Windshuttle!

    Why don’t you have a go at my Aboriginal Socialist Comrades such as Sam Watson and Lara Pullin and other Aboriginal SA Comrades, who are on the youtube from the Aboriginal Canberra Convergence on the eve of Rudd’s apology? And get your facts about Vincent Lingari right, he was a leader of the Guringi, not Pjitjijarra as you state.

    And why big note Whitlam when it was the old Communist Party that did so much work with Guringi during their seven year strike. Read Frank Hardy’s book The Unlucky Australians.

    And Jenny do you know what CDEP is? It just work for the dole!

    How does that lesson Howard’s NT intervention? How does that “unwind” the NT intervention? The only way to do it is to withdraw the coppers and soldiers.

    How does that remove the cycle of poverty and intitutionalised racism that Australia’s Indigenous Peoples’ suffer?

    I’m of the opinion that both you and Bob Gould have become some such sad apologists for the ALP because of your mistaken tactic of entryism into the ALP. Saying that, I haven’t heard of other
    believers in this tactic coming out with such absurd and ignorant statements about Australia’s history and treatment of our Indigenous peoples.

  28. Bob Gould Says:

    You can drag a horse, in this case John Tognolini, to water, but it’s hard to make him drink.

    Reverting to an ignorant, point-scoring form of argument, Tognolini relates alleged errors in Jenny Haines’s comment to her membership of the Labor Party. That in itself is pretty dopey. Jenny’s attitude to the current crisis in indigenous affairs, and my stance, are not primarily based on ALP, membership, but on careful attention to developments in the indigenous movement.

    Tognolini demonstrates in spades the political perils of trying in an extremely ignorant way to impose one’s own prejudices on the indigenous movement.

    Take the question of the restoration and improvement of the CDEP scheme. While the scheme has some obvious weaknesses and should be replaced by a scheme providing better jobs, the attitude of the overwhelming majority of the left of the indigenous movement is to demand the immediate restoration of CDEP, despite all its weaknesses, pending its improvement, in the absence of better job opportunities in indigenous communities.

    Every indigenous leaders I’ve spoken to about this, and I’ve spoken to quite a few, is hopping mad about the abolition of CDEP and they are demanding its immediate restoration, and hoping for improvements to it.

    Tognolini rushes in with his schema, which has no bearing on the immediate tasks, and implies that these leaders of the broad left in the indigenous community are wrong on this question. By Tognolini’s implication they should be marching up and down the country supporting the abolition of CDEP.

    Proceeding from insulting stupidity to insulting stupidity, Tognolini makes some throwaway remark about Haines and Gould being like Keith Windschuttle, a point he doesn’t develop because he can’t. It’s just slander.

    But it’s not a slander of Tognolini to say he has the same position as Windschuttle, because both he and Windschuttle, along with Howard’s favourite indigenous conservatives and Mal Brough, all strongly support abolishing CDEP without any adequate replacement.

    This political clown is in fact attacking the Labor government from the right for restoring CDEP, pending its improvement.

    Tognolini should consult both his indigenous comrades and people like Wombo, who went to the convergence in Canberra, about the attitude of indigenous militants to CDEP. This just might persuade him, if he can be persuaded of anything, that it’s unsound to attack the Labor government from the right on this question.

    Tognolini also attacks Jenny Haines for neglecting the role played by the Communist Party and Frank Hardy in the Gurindji land rights struggle.

    I knew Frank Hardy and other white activists involved in that struggle, and they didn’t see any conflict at all with the Labor Party at the time. They worked flat out to get support for land rights from the incoming Labor government, and that government went a considerable distance towards satisfying the demands of indigenous communities for land rights.

    So much so that Tognolini’s fellow advocates of abolishing CDEP, the neocon journalists, Howard, Brough and co, have in recent years constantly attacked the Whitlam government for requiring full wages for indigenous people, along with land rights and other matters.

    Tognolini is trying to manufacture a conflict between Hardy and Whitlam where no conflict existed. He’s rewriting history to justify his current crackpot total hostility to Labor in every sphere.

    I attended the very moving funeral for Frank Hardy in Melbourne some years ago because I knew him pretty well, and I vividly remember the speech of Vincent Lingiari, one of the main Gurindji leaders, in which he associated Hardy and Whitlam in almost the same breath as friends of indigenous people.

    On this kind of historical question Tognolini is ignorant and boorish.

    Concerning the present struggle in indigenous affairs, my approach is to give a great deal of weight to the views of the leaders of the broad left in the indigenous community. They are quite clearly taking advantage of the negotiating process established by the Labor government, and they are quite clearly avoiding Tognolini-style sweeping abuse of the Labor government.

    They are calling for an immediate review of the Howard government’s intervention in Northern Territory indigenous communities, rather than using more inflammatory language.

    They appear to be concentrating on restoration of the permit system for indigenous communities, restoration and improvement of CDEP, restoration of full land rights, abolition of any military role for troops in the intervention (although they don’t seem to mind the army participating in emergency construction work in indigenous communities), and they appear to be threading their way very carefully through the minefield that is the question of some increased police presence in some remote indigenous communities.

    It’s fairly obvious that the reason the leaders of the indigenous community left are cautious about this question is that there’s a very tangible division in some communities on this question, and some seem to want a modest increase in the police presence because of the problems of alcoholism, violence, etc.

    Tognolini is so far removed from these very real problems that he rushes in like a bull at a gate, imposing his own schema when he should be getting a serious sample of the views and proposals of leaders of the left side of the indigenous movement.

    Concerning Labor, Tognolini doesn’t seem to realise that many people on the left of the indigenous community are in the Labor Party in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. He also doesn’t seem to have to have noticed the blinding fact that indigenous Australians are the community that most strongly votes Labor.

    One of the more pleasing things about the recent federal election was that in several booths on Cape York, the stamping ground of some of the most prominent indigenous conservatives who supported Howard in the election, the vote was 100 per cent Labor.

    So much for supporting the abolition of CDEP. I tend to interpret the massive Labor vote on Cape York as a vote for the prompt restoration of CDEP.

    John, just in case you may be inclined to start talking about some of the leaders of the broad left in the indigenous community being some kind of indigenous elite, you should carefully note who your allies are in that kind of analysis.

    In one of its pompous editorials, in which it purports to represent the interests of the whole community, The Australian yesterday (Tuesday) launched a full-scale assault on what it calls indigenous elites, naming Tom Calma and Marion Scrymgour, the deputy premier of the NT Labor government, a Tiwi woman, for particular attack because of their critical stance towards the NT intervention.

    A while ago, one particularly unpleasant journalistic hack launched an attack on Scrymgour because she got her education at what that journalist termed an elite Catholic school in Melbourne. It’s true that Scrymgour went to that school. She went on a scholarship provided by the school.

    I’ve never met Scrymgour, but I heard her speak at the last federal Labor conference, where she made a bold intervention serving notice on the Labor Party that it would have to start listening to indigenous people.

    Scrymgour is an articulate woman in her early 40s and she has emerged rapidly as a very powerful advocate of indigenous people operating in the framework of the Labor Party.

    The socialist approach to these questions should be to put much greater weight on the strategic decisions of proven indigenous leaders, such as Pat Turner, Naomi Myers, Marion Scrymgour and many others on the left of the indigenous movement.

    I give no weight at all to the ignorant left talk of Tognolini and some others.

  29. Ed Lewis Says:

    Ben Pobje’s apology to Andrew Bolt, at New Matilda, is funniest piece of writing I’ve come across in quite a while.

  30. John/Togs Tognolini Says:

    Oh Bob do I feel the love! Where else can you be abused and verballed that passes for “political debate” than at Bob Gould’s Ozleft? And I stand by comments and ask people to read them.

  31. Mattie Says:

    John Tognolini shows his ignorance and is peddling misinformation in equating CDEP with work-for-the-dole.

    CDEP was a mixed indigenous community development, employment creation and income support scheme. It was and remains popular particularly in remote communities and played an important role on a number of levels. People on CDEP were classified as employed and generally earned far more than those simply on work-for-the-dole schemes. Between 85 and 90 per cent of CDEP participants worked more than the 15 hours a week funded by CDEP programs. Top-up-wages by community organisations and other employers were an integral part of the operation of CDEP.

    Work-for-the-dole schemes require unemployed people to work on not-for-profit community-based projects for a number of hours per week. The participants receive unemployment benefit payments directly from the administering government agency and not from the organisations undertaking the community projects, and therefore the organisations do not have an employer/employee relationship with the scheme participants or receive any extra government funding as do CDEP participating organisations.

    The CDEP scheme on the other hand provides actual employment, an actual wage and often training for indigenous people living in remote, rural and urban areas. There is an employer/employee relationship between the participants and the CDEP organisation. It allows flexibility to indigenous people in choosing how many hours a week they would like to work, and on what, and it often provided skills, training, work experience and valued self-esteem to the people participating as well as contributing to overall community needs – such as in the ranger and ‘Caring for Country’ programs. Most of the 5000 indigenous artists in the NT were CDEP participants as were the 400 community based rangers.

    The abolition of the CDEP program in the NT was not about creating “real” jobs. The aim was punitive, paternalistic and racially discriminatory: to force many indigenous people back on to welfare alone or perhaps work-for-the-dole schemes and to oblige them to spend money in the way government prescribes.

  32. John/Togs Tognolini Says:

    The Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) programme is an Australian Government funded initiative for unemployed Indigenous people in selected locations. ”

    Mattie says “John Tognolini shows his ignorance and is peddling misinformation in equating CDEP with work-for-the-dole.”

    Now Mattie do you still think I’m ignorant?

    Oh how I feel love from the ALP-Kevin Rudd cheer squad.

  33. Ed Lewis Says:

    If you’re feeling unloved, John, here’s a little song you can sing to cheer yourself up:

    United fronts are what we love,
    Our line’s been changed again.
    From below and from above,
    Our line’s been changed again.
    The party says the time has come,
    Our line’s been changed again.
    Don’t call a socialist a bum,
    Our line’s been changed again.
    I knows it, Browder, I knows it, Browder,
    I knows it, Browder, our line’s been changed again.

    It’s from the popular front period, 1935-39, but you might be able to substitute a word or two here and there to give it contemporary relevance.

  34. Mattie Says:

    Unfortunately you are not only ignorant John, but it appears you are wilfully so and incapable too of reading for meaning.

    CDEP is NOT work-for-the-dole according to the government’s own policy explanations of the difference between the two. It is described differently in government policy documents freely available on the web. Educate yourself and stop posting garbage on the internet.

    Do the socialist organisations you belong to also peddle this inaccurate nonsense about CDEP?

    And you have failed to address any of the points Bob and I made. The conclusion most people will draw from this is that you are in fact incapable of addressing them, or worse, deliberately seek to purvey falsities and would rather hurl undergraduate, ridiculous insults. If this is typical of the level of debate within the Socialist Alliance and the DSP (if that is the party you belong to) then well, you’re giving us all a very powerful message, John.

  35. Jenny Haines Says:

    Thanks Bob. John Tognolini needs to get a life and a broader perspective of current events and history. Being locked up in the DSP for so long has narrowed his view of what politics is all about and how political movements move forward. John, you can hardly complain that Bob abuses you when he engages in vigorous debate, in the same way that you do when you replied to my earlier posting.
    You did quote from Pilger, but you did so in a way that presented Pilger’s view as your view. I didn’t note any disagreement by you with Pilger.
    I was not belittling the suffering of Australia’s indigenous people. Far from it! I was saying it is a pointless comparison to say that Australia’s indigenous people suffered more than the American Indians, the Eskimos or the black South Africans. How do you measure who suffered more? Windschuttle says there was no suffering or very little, so his point of view is very different from mine, and Bob’s.
    I know that CDEP is not the best employment program of all time but we have had a conservative government in power for the past 10 years and that is all that has been on offer by the Federal Government. CDEP offered people, especially the young in aboriginal communities paid employment and a chance at better employment. I was impressed by the aboriginal organisations in the NT that called for its restoration, especially those who work patrolling the NT Coast The money that aboriginal people were paid through CDEP was helping them to eat and pay living expenses. Perhaps these essentials of life don’t worry John Tognolini, as long as the political line is pure?
    I don’t detract at all from the work of the Communist Party with the Gurindji people, but as Bob says the Gurindji were grateful to the CPA and the Labor Government, because the CPA, even with all its problems was able to send comrades out into aboriginal communities to help them in their struggles, and to help them win short and long term gains.

  36. Mattie Says:

    Here is an excellent history, summary and defence of CDEP in light of its abolition last year in the NT written by Professor Jon Altman, the Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU, Canberra.

  37. John/Togs Tognolini Says:

    Jenny I’ve got a life thank you.

    And since 1987 I’ve worked with Aboriginal activists in the Deaths in Custody Campaign, Community Radio and Education. And I actually teach Aboriginals Studies.

    In regard to CDEP’s they came into existence under Hawke and Keating.

    Now how is the cycle of poverty and wheel of discrimination ever going to be over turned? Two sociological terms that came from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody nearly twenty years ago. Remember the Royal Commission where not one Copper or Prison officer were charged with any of the one hundred deaths in custody it investigated.

    It wouldn’t have anything to with the government of the day setting the terms royal commission would it?

    By the way it was ALP government under Hawke that set its terms.

    How about land rights and the full granting of Native Title?

    How about Indigenous Control of Indigenous Affairs?

    How ending the Northern Territory Intervention? Withdrawing the Coppers and Troops?

    And how giving the Stolen Generations financial compensation? Which Rudd opposes.

  38. Doolie Says:

    “In regard to CDEP’s they came into existence under Hawke and Keating.”

    Wrong. CDEP was introduced in 1977 by the Fraser government.

  39. John/Togs Tognolini Says:

    They were widely extended under Hawke, but what about Land Rights and Native Title? Or is that to hard a concept to think about for the ALP/Rudd Cheer Squad?

  40. Doolie Says:

    John, who doesn’t share your anger? But you leave out of your cartoonish collapsing and wrongful dating and understanding of historical events, and your mindless anti-ALP bashes, the roles of the judiciary and of the Howard government in stymieing native title, land rights, indigenous control of indigenous affairs, etc.,

    The current opposition of the Rudd government to compensation is not the end of the matter. Andrew Bartlett opposed the Greens amendment to the apology motion (boo hiss) but supports compensation as do many indigenous Australians and the left who will continue to pursue this, as will individuals in courts of law (admittedly, an inferior and very unsatisfactory outcome).

    You ask the question of questions:

    “Now how is the cycle of poverty and wheel of discrimination ever going to be over turned?”

    Do you think the answers to this are even known?

  41. Bob Gould Says:

    John Tognolini is a bit like the knight in the Monty Python skit who picks a fight and first loses one arm, wants to go on fighting, gets another arm chopped off, still wants to fight, gets both legs chopped off, and ends up lying on the ground, just a head and torso, still challenging the other knight. He hasn’t got a leg to stand on in this discussion, but he goes on hurling abuse.

    Tognolini, has his own ultra-belligerent foghorn style, and it takes a lot to stop him. I’ve known John for longer than I care to remember and his style has become more belligerent over the years. There’s a certain merit in sticking to your guns, but there’s no merit, politically speaking, in persisting with political nonsense, and even less merit in trying to impose that nonsense on the struggles of indigenous people.

    I’m a bit in sympathy with Tognolini’s students if he tries to ram that stuff down their throats. I wouldn’t be a student in one of his classes for $10,000, if his educational methods bear any resemblance to his web polemics.

    Tognolini attacks everyone who opens their mouth in opposition to him as being some sort of Rudd cheer squad. His undialectical view can’t accommodate the notion that people can support Rudd on some things and oppose him on others.

    By Tognolini’s Third Period definition, the mere fact of Labor Party membership or support defines a person as part of Rudd’s cheer squad. He just blithely ignores what people say and proceeds with his idiocy.

    The worst thing about Tognolini’s approach, politically speaking, which he tries to impose verbally on the struggles of indigenous people, is that there’s no dialectical aspect at all, and particularly no sensitivity to the real problems and strategic considerations thrown up by the day to day lives of indigenous people, which are then expressed at the political level in strategies developed by leaders of the left side of indigenous society.

    Tognolini waves around a series of slogans that he has had in his head for 25 years or so, and uses them as a kind of bludgeon. Particularly offensive is his reductionism, which leads him to turn black control of black communities into a meaningless slogan.

    The rest of his ragbag of slogans consists of incoherent memories of demands from past struggles that he thinks he remembers, but of course his memories are distorted by the fact that his approach to the indigenous movement way back then was similar to his approach today. He clearly doesn’t study the views of the leadership of the left in indigenous society at all.

    If he did, it would be impossible for him to go on with his rubbish about CDEP, which is implicitly such an insult to the current struggle of the indigenous community. The restoration of CDEP, and its improvement, is an almost universal demand, which in the course of struggle the indigenous community has gone some distance towards achieving through pressure on the Labor government.

    In Tognolini’s one-dimensional world the real struggles of indigenous people can’t really be culminating in some concessions from the Labor government, as they are at the moment, because such things can’t happen.

    Yet Tognolini would claim to be some sort of Marxist and even Leninist. Lenin in particular would turn in his grave at Tognolini’s rubbish because he, by reason of his family background and life experience, was of all Marxist leaders the most sensitive to the struggles and demands of indigenous peoples. Lenin was also a rather creative dialectician and he brought his studies on dialectics into play concerning the struggles of indigenous and oppressed peoples.

    Tognolini’s approach is a disgraceful attack on Marxism as a method. He should tune his foghorn down a few octaves, hold back on the grotesquely ignorant pontificating, and do what Lenin often did: quietly do some thorough investigation of current struggles.

    Tognolini can squeal all he likes about teaching Aboriginal studies. That only makes it worse, because he’s teaching without contemporary study, and particularly without listening, which is the essential way any sensible Marxist or Leninist would go about formulating a strategy for indigenous rights.

    As a matter of information, I have no idea at this point about the identity of Mattie, Doolie and several others who’ve participated in this discussion, but being the political stickybeak that I am, I’ll probably try to find out who they are. I’m impressed by the fact that this discussion has shown that there’s a fair number of people out there, like Mattie and Doolie, who have passion about indigenous affairs from a leftist point of view, and in some cases a much more comprehensive knowledge than I do. I’m also rather pleased that they and others have found the time to participate in this discussion in a number of different ways, with both emotion and obvious expertise.

    Tognolini and others like him might benefit from holding back on the abuse and listening and broadening his knowledge a bit. Who knows, the story he tells his students about indigenous affairs might even improve a bit if he adopted that approach.

  42. Jenny Haines Says:

    John are you saying that nothing has changed for aboriginal people in 20 years? That its all as bad as it was before the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody? What do you say then of the Beattie government standing up to the Police Union in Queensland over the Palm Island Deaths. In the days before the Royal Commission that process would never have proceeded as it did.

    Nothing moves in a simple straight line and there have been gains and there have been losses for aboriginal people over the past 20 years. I am reminded for example of the outcome of the work of the Hollowes Foundation and the reduction in the rates of trachoma and aboriginal blindness. But there is also no doubt that there has been an difficult problem with alcohol and petrol sniffing. But what do you say about the community based programs run by aboriginal communities using paid aborignal workers and volunteers that operate after dark to send or take children home to get them out of harm’s way. If nothing has changed as you imply then these people are wasting their time!!

    What has happened over the past 11 years of the Howard Govenment ,which you never mention or criticise, you only criticise Labor, is that aboriginal people have been disempowered. The appalling way that the Howard Government went after the leaders of the aboringinal community after the 1996 elections, discrediting them, alleging, but never having to prove financial irregularity, and finally the abolition of ATSIC has left aboriginal people in this country with no national indigenous representation, something which the Rudd Government has pledged to address. I know for you that means it should have been done yesterday, but not everything can be achieved in one day.

    The Native Title Act and the Mabo and Wik decisions were watered down by the Howard Government John. Sometimes you seem to forget that the Liberals/ Nationals are the conservatives who have led the way in undermining indigenous rights, sovereignty, autonomy and the process towards reconcilation such as it was under the Keating Government. In your frenzy to accuse Labor of betrayal, you allow the Liberal National Coalition to go free of criticism.

    And then came the patronising NT Intervention and you may think that you and the DSP were the only political group that opposed it, but I am aware of many ALP, Green, Democrat and Independent Lefts and indigenous groups who were appalled by the Intervention and campaigned relentlessly, even inside the ALP against it. Whether you recognise it or not, and maybe the blinkers that you wear in viewing the political world stop you seeing it, Jenny Macklin and the Labor Government are unwinding the intervention in ways that I have previously indicated. Throwing out slogans, as Bob says, doesn’t help or solve anything. Bob is right, you need to do some work on understanding the dialectics of the political process.

  43. Wombo Says:

    With due respect to Jenny, Beattie only stood up to the police after mass rallies around Mulrunji’s death were organised – led by Socialist Alliance member Sam Watson and members of Mulrunji’s family and other leaders of Palm Island – and descended on Qld Parliament. Most notably, several hundred vocal protesters outside Parliament – with a petition – when Beattie was being sworn in.

    And don’t forget that Hurley – the only policeman charged over a black death in custody for around 20 years – got off in a fairly transparent miscarriage of justice, and Palm Island resident Lex Wotton is still facing charges (there will be a defence protest in Brisbane on April 4)…. Not the best outcome.

    Togs needs to calm down a bit, he’s misrepresenting himself and – on this blog – that leads to the danger of misrepresenting the SA and DSP. A lot of his points are valid – even if he’s taken them a bit far – but need to be put in context a little, something which I don’t have time for a detailed response right now.

    While Jenny’s also correct in pointing the finger at the past 12 years of Howard as the biggest problem in ATSI affairs, it has to be remembered that the ALP-led approach beforehand provided a fair bit of ammunition for the reaction that followed.

    My point is, to use CDEP as an example, that while well-meaning and partially-effective programs are definately better than nothing – or outright attacks – what aboriginal australia needs today is a genuine program that eliminates the disparities they suffer from.

    CDEP has its own failings and flaws. The low rate of pay is problematic, not merely because it resembles Work For the Dole (which it does, while still being considerably better), but because the rate COULD be higher, if governments were genuine about investing in aboriginal services, education, training, employment, communities, self-governance and self-determination.

    While it does provide ‘employment’, and a break from “sit-down money”, all too often it fails to translate into anything more than a small set of pre-determined jobs (rangers, artists, etc). Once again, any government serious about fixing this problem – and the problems that flow from it – would be immediately engaging in honest discussions with communities (who have been calling for improvement for years) about how to fix it.

    This was lacking in the last ALP government, and the weaknesses were exploited by the Coalition. The weaknesses could, of course, be partially blamed on the lack of a real ATSI representative body (ATSIC being vulnerable to attacks from all sides), but the stumbling blocks which that process encountered can be placed firmly at the ALP’s feet.

    As I’ve mentioned, at the protest in Canberra, a delegation met with Macklin. In the demands we presented her, we not only called for the restoration of CDEP, but for CDEP to pay award wages. Meanwhile, the NAA is the first step towards a new representative ATSI body, and it continues to evolve.

    Will the ALP respond appropriately, and really listen to the voices in the community? Or will it go through the motions once again? I think the latter, but – and definitive politics aside, as a member of Socialist Alliance – I certainly hope that Labor comes through. While Socialists in most parts of Australia can afford a certain luxury over results, the same cannot be said for the crisis Howard has created in the NT.

    And if these harvests fail, Labor will certainly reap the winds…

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