Moving and interesting events in indigenous politics
The significantly changed state of affairs in indigenous politics in Australia has been reflected in the opening of the Australian parliament.
The first event was a moving, colourful elaborate and unprecedented welcome to country at the opening of parliament on Tuesday. That’s a very big change in Australia.
The second event was the moving, carefully worded, and rather spectacular apology to the stolen generations delivered by the new Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, this morning.
The enthusiasm of indigenous people, including those from the National Indigenous Convergence, who packed the galleries of parliament, was extraordinary. The often rather low-key and occasionally colourless Rudd delivered a moving and impeccably sensitive speech, as far as it went.
He avoided any commitment to compensation, and his detailed commitments to concrete improvements for indigenous people were limited, but the very act of delivering the apology in forthright terms reflects an extraordinary change in Australian politics.
The new leader of the Tory opposition, Brendan Nelson, by contrast with Rudd, showed the inability of the conservatives to change direction. He seconded Rudd’s resolution but his speech consisted largely of reiterating the full Tory program of support for all aspects of previous Coalition policy, particularly the failed military-style intervention in Northern Territory indigenous communities, including the proposals to push indigenous people off welfare and to close down the CDEP employment scheme.
These Tory policies were implicit in Nelson’s preaching about the need for indigenous self-reliance. He also defended many of those who removed indigenous children from their families in the past, as being well-intentioned.
He waxed lyrical about past Australian wars (despite the fact that indigenous veterans of those wars usually faced discrimination in many aspects of their lives on their return). Nelson has the unenviable job of placating his parliamentary right wing and Liberal-supporting culture warriors such as Keith Windschuttle, whose attack lately has been to claim that his research shows no government records of illegal forced removals. (This underlines the trickery that’s fundamental to Windschuttle’s methodology in his writing about indigenous dispossession, both in the distant past and more recent history. Literally dozens of removed indigenous children, now adults, have told their stories on television in the past week or so, totally crushing Windschuttle’s reliance on so-called documents.)
As Nelson’s speech moved to its crescendo, hundreds of indigenous people in the parliamentary gallery and watching on large screens outside turned their backs on Nelson.
Kevin Rudd and indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin are involved in a certain amount of Bonapartism dictated by the Labor Party’s constituency, which includes the whole 600,000 people of indigenous Australia and the whole left half of Australian society.
Rudd and Macklin are under strong pressure from indigenous forces in and around the Labor Party, and the broad left of the indigenous community (which is probably a substantial majority of that community) to reverse the most reactionary features of the Howard government’s NT intervention. This pressure is exerted by means such as the very successful indigenous convergence outside the parliament and the vigorous activities of indigenous members and supporters of the Labor Party, including the indigenous MPs and ministers in the NT parliament.
It was interesting to see on television the response of respected left indigenous leaders such as Mick Dodson and Anita Heiss, herself a stolen child. They were very moved by Rudd’s apology and said it didn’t go far enough but it was an excellent start.
That’s the obvious line of march chosen by the broad left in indigenous Australia.
From that point of view, the usually very perceptive John Pilger has made a rather serious political error in his statement that the apology and associated ceremonies are a waste of time.
That’s clearly not the way the substantial broad left in indigenous Australia, and in Australia as a whole, views these developments, and it offers no practical line of march to advance the struggle.
I’m strongly inclined to fall in behind the line of march suggested by indigenous leaders such as Mick Dodson and Anita Heiss.