What kind of a country do we live in today? When a government believes that it can wipe away Indigenous self-determination with a stroke of a pen, without consultation, without any respect for the owners and custodians of the land and waters, it is a sign that they believe the racism inherent in this country is so great that they will get away with it.
These are testing times, these are dangerous times. The coming election will be a measure of how racist this country has become – or perhaps how racist it has always been. If Howard and his cronies are returned it will be a return to terra nullius, a return to assimilation, a return to cultural genocide.
The federal government’s decision to extinguish ATSIC and replace it with nothing more than an unelected, hand-picked advisory committee is nothing more than a racist attack on Indigenous peoples of this nation. This is a return to the bad old assimilation days when Indigenous people had no say in their future and suffered from the whims of the colonial masters. This is a violation of Indigenous Voice and Indigenous Say. This is a violation of the growing trust that was emerging between our peoples.
A national representative Indigenous body is needed to meet the needs of Indigenous people, provide for Indigenous self-determination and enable appropriate input into government policy. To abolish ATSIC without replacing it with another mechanism for Indigenous people to have a say into federal policy would further disenfranchise the Indigenous community.
At a time when there is a health crisis in the Indigenous community and a stalling of the reconciliation process, the federal government’s announcement is a further indication of its intention to drown Indigenous people in the "mainstream". Comparisons with other nations which have formal mechanisms respecting Indigenous self-determination and rights demonstrate that to achieve better health and socio-economic outcomes Indigenous people must have an effective voice.
Indigenous voice must be protected, we all have the right to have a say in what happens to us. We must not let the government take this right away from Indigenous people. We must not let them throw our Indigenous brothers and sisters to the wolves of the Canberra bureaucracy. A fair go for Indigenous people means equal treatment not same treatment. Same treatment will abandon Indigenous people to their current levels of disadvantage. Mainstreaming is assimilation, mainstreaming is what my community did to the stolen generations. If Howard’s fatal solution to Indigenous Affairs, Indigenous Voice and Indigenous Say gets through parliament, that is the death of the process of reconciliation
I call on the people of Australia to resist this attack on the values and aspirations of all of us. I call on the Labor Party to block the legislation. I call on all of us to ring, write and visit our Senators and local members and let them know that the millions of people who walked for reconciliation are going to march on Canberra if need be and stop Howard’s Fatal Solution.
This government is not just an insult to Indigenous people; it is an insult to all of us.
It’s time to take a stand. It’s time to throw off the shackles of our neo-colonial masters. It’s time to restore the trust between our peoples.
This is part of Peter Lewis’ presentation to the inaugural Golden Key lecture: "Indigenous Politics after ATSIC: Where now for Self-Determination, Reconcilliation and Native Title?" Szental Theatre, La Trobe University, Thursday 5 August at 1pm including a "Bush Tucker BBQ" put on by the Ngan-gi Bagora Indigenous centre at La Trobe University.
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