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War and peace: the Government’s engagement with Indigenous realities

By Andrew Jakubowicz - posted Wednesday, 18 July 2007

When the forebears of the now dominant society in this land first arrived here, they did so ready for - and bent on - overcoming, subsuming - and if need be - eradicating the local population should it resist.

In India a capitalist corporation, the British East India Company, insinuated itself into the interstices of the local political system, and then engaged in protracted subversion to secure and ensure its domination. In North America, the first (armed) settlers were fundamentalist religious refugees. But in Australia it was the armed might of Britain led by the Royal Navy that took hold. The invaders and their descendants have been in a variable state of war with local populations ever since.

The Northern Territory Little Children are Sacred Report shows the damage the war has wrought on its targets. The Prime Minister’s intervention shows that the war remains ongoing, though this time an attempt is to be made to bring it to conclusion by the eradication of any remaining Indigenous autonomy.


Australia is very much an empire project in constant evolution. The empire was born in the heat of the summer of 1901. It is flourishing in the winter of 2007. Around us in the Pacific, Australia has helped to create, and ensured the continuation of, a buffer zone of failed states, incapable of threatening Australia, or indeed of helping themselves. On its borders, Australia polices entry with violent zeal, using the armed forces against drifting refugees, traditional Indonesian fishermen, and anyone else who transgresses the defence force field.

Now the focus is turning inward - having hardened the borders, and sought to destroy multiculturalism in favour of a return to assimilationism (a policy once aimed at both immigrants and Indigenous people), the government directs its energies to its last remaining agenda item, finally extinguishing the sniff of Indigenous sovereignty over the lands taken from them by its forebears.

Here three characteristics of the government world-view coalesce:

  • manipulation of public emotions through the use of cognitive dissonance techniques reminiscent of the “be alert but not alarmed” campaign of 2002-2003 that preceded the unpopular commitment to the war in Iraq;
  • tapping into the ideologies of racism embedded as a rationale for the wars against the Indigenous people over the past 200 years; and
  • a long term goal to eradicate what can be referred to as “Indigenous exceptionalism” from the Australian political agenda, so that there is no recognisable difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in terms of rights, lifestyle and aspiration.

Sexual abuse of Indigenous children is horrific. It has been going on and been reported on for a long time: indeed its unpoliced history demonstrates yet another of the war’s weapons of neglect and disavowal. Its horror adds to the combined effects of high infant mortality, chronic ill health, and low life expectancy.

Now it has been seized on to make Indigenous issues immediately, but only temporarily, salient for all Australians. The spurt of moral outrage it engenders fuels the militarisation of the strategy. This emotional rush sweeps away any memory of past government or societal failure, and reawakens the missionary position with its consequent removal of the next generation of Indigenous children from parents, land and culture.


The emotion celebrates the stolen generation strategy as a victorious sally in the long war against the Indigenous people, a war soaked with blood and degradation. It justifies recovering for the invaders the land ceded to the Aboriginal people through the partial peace associated with land rights.

Now the current weapons mobilised in that war, the new psychological weapon of violent pornography, and the longer-term biochemical weapon of alcohol - these real weapons of mass destruction - are “discovered” and the Indigenous people have to be saved from them.

Once the Australian population is locked into position behind the new war, it finds that it cannot shake itself loose - its decision to sanction the initial violence with approval carries its own consequences of ongoing acquiescence (qua Iraq).

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About the Author

Andrew Jakubowicz is a professor of sociology at the University of Technology Sydney. He blogs for the SBS program CQ:

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