radical Black activist elected to ATSIC

Paul.Benedek at SPAMBTFinancialgroup.com Paul.Benedek at SPAMBTFinancialgroup.com
Tue Dec 14 17:58:55 MST 1999

An interesting development here.......

Outspoken radical Aboriginal activist Murandoo Yanner has been elected to ATSIC - the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. ATSIC has, until now, been dominated
by a "Black bureaucracy", usually hand-picked and groomed by the government of the
day, and beholden to their needs. However, even with a Liberal Party backed candidate
in the leadership, ATSIC has proved a (all too small) headache and a brake on the
government's attacks on Aboriginal rights. With Yanner, it will be far more
interesting - that is, if he gets to serve, as the government is trying to exclude
him. To get a sense of what Yanner is about, here are quotes from the article.......

"If it's [Yanner's election - PB] doing anything, it's sending tremors of fear and
shock and disbelief through the bureaucracy because I am the one blackfella that is
finally going to shake it up and make it better for our people.

"That's what they're are scared about. All of the fatcats that have been living in
their bureaucracy, well, D-Day is coming for those people and that's why they don't
want me on ATSIC.

Below is
1. an article from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Yanners election and
Govt moves to block him
2. an article from Green Left Weekly with quotes from Yanner supporting East Timorese
3. an article from GLW with Yanner attacking the federal Govts attempts to hijack


Govt expected to block Yanner from ATSIC board

The Federal Government is expected to block a prominent Queensland Aborigine from
sitting on the national board of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission

Carpentaria Land Council coordinator Murrandoo Yanner was elected as a commissioner of
ATSIC in Cairns yesterday.

The commission has confirmed Mr Yanner's appointment does not take effect until the
Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister, John Herron, signs off on it.

But it is understood Mr Herron has received legal advice that Mr Yanner is ineligible
to serve as a national commissioner with ATSIC.

That is because of laws which state anyone convicted of a criminal offence carrying a
sentence of more than 12 months cannot hold a position on the board of the commission.

Earlier this month, Mr Yanner was given a suspended 18-month jail sentence for
assaulting four people at the Burketown Hotel, two years ago.

Mr Yanner says he was fairly elected by his own people and the Federal Government
should respect that decision.

"I am currently the commissioner for the Gulf, north-west and Cape York as of this
moment, as I speak," Mr Yanner said.

"If it's doing anything, it's sending tremors of fear and shock and disbelief through
the bureaucracy because I am the one blackfella that is finally going to shake it up
and make it better for our people.

"That's what they're are scared about. All of the fatcats that have been living in
their bureaucracy, well, D-Day is coming for those people and that's why they don't
want me on ATSIC.

"It's got nothing to do with the suspended sentence, that's simply an excuse."

Outspoken Aboriginal leader Murandoo Yanner told Green Left Weekly on September 8 that
Australia's indigenous people, "neighbours to the East Timorese", believe the genocide
that is occurring there is atrocious. "No wonder Howard cannot apologise to the people
that have already suffered genocide in this country, when you consider his behaviour
toward the East Timorese in the last week or so", he said.

"The man is standing by politicking while, before his very eyes in the media, people
are being hacked to death by the truckload with machetes.

"Who will help us, the Aboriginal people of Australia, if that should ever occur here,
if we take no interest in what happens to human beings just on our front doorstep? I
think it's absolutely cowardly of Howard and Bill Clinton, his mate [not to act]."

Yanner said that he would welcome "any and all refugees from East Timor on behalf of
my people. We are inviting them to this country should they need to flee. If they come
`illegally' in boats, then they can argue that the indigenous people of this country
invited them, so they are not extradited back to death.

"It's a real eye-opener, and exposes Howard's racial motives, that he would agreed to
bring to this country -- justifiably and good on him for it -- 4000 Kosovar Albanians,
but will only allow a few Timorese.

"With the same amount of money that was spent on the Kosovar refugees, we could bring
12-15,000 of our closest neighbours straight here. They have family in this country.
We could accommodate them."

How Howard hijacked reconciliation
By Kim Bullimore

So what did Prime Minister John Howard sincerely regret? What exactly did he consider
"blemished" when he moved his motion of reconciliation on August 26? Was it the rapes
of indigenous women? The murders and massacres? The dispossession, racism, bigotry,
starvation? The genocide?

John Howard's speech and motion were supposed to take the reconciliation process
forward, but with an amazing sleight of hand he did not actually state what he or the
government "sincerely regretted". Instead, he spoke about "the most blemished chapter"
of Australia's history, about understanding how "our fellow Australians who are
indigenous feel about certain practices".

The prime minister used most of his speech to tell Australians what a tolerant country
indigenous people live in. The speech had little to do with indigenous people and
everything to do with providing a smokescreen for Howard's past and continuing attacks
on Aboriginal Australia.

Howard sought to justify his position that the present Australian government should
not take responsibility for the racist practices of the past and that the perpetrators
of these injustices should not be held responsible either. According to Howard, we
should not "forget that many people who were involved ... felt at the time that those
practices were properly based".

"The purpose of the motion is to generically express in relation to a number of issues
the regret that the people of Australia feel", Howard explained.

According to Aboriginal leader Murrandoo Yanner, the motion is a long way from what is
needed. It does not recognise Aboriginal sovereignty or the place of indigenous people
in Australia. Yanner told Resistance magazine that it "doesn't come anywhere near
addressing the guts of the problems that Aboriginal Australia faces".

Yanner, who is a leader of the Ganglidda people and the head of the Carpentaria Land
Council in Queensland, went on to say: "You can see that the living conditions have
not improved under this government; they have gone backwards.

"Across Australia the number of deaths in custody has only risen since the 1991 Royal
Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The incarceration and suicide rates,
which are already amongst the highest in the world, have risen under the Howard
government. Actions speak louder than words."

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that the major reasons
for the deaths was the "grossly disproportionate rates" of Aboriginal people in
custody -- 20 times more than the rate for non-indigenous people.

The report covered a nine-year period and found that all of the Aborigines who died in
custody had died prematurely and that their "Aboriginality played a significant, and
in most cases, the dominant role in their being in custody and dying in custody".

The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, which was set up in Western Australia at the
conclusion of the 1991 royal commission, recently published figures which reveal that
things are getting worse. The committee reported that the incarceration rate of
Aboriginal people had doubled and that suicides in custody had risen 240% between 1980
and 1998, Aboriginal deaths being the largest portion of this increase.

The health of Aboriginal people remains a national disgrace. Life expectancy for
Aboriginal people is 20 years less than non-Aboriginal Australians and is considerably
worse in comparison with other indigenous peoples in countries such as Canada, New
Zealand and the United States. While the Aboriginal infant mortality rate has
declined, it is still three times higher than the national average.

Aboriginal land rights are another area where actions have spoken louder that words.
Under the Howard Coalition government, Aboriginal land rights have regressed to the
point where Australia became the first Western country to be asked to explain its
racial policies to the United Nations.

The Howard government was forced to send a representative to the UN's Committee for
the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) following its attempt to extinguish
native title with the Wik legislation and its failure to appoint a new Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commission.

On March 19, CERD found that the Australian government was in breach of its
obligations under the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Convention and recommended
that the Australian government suspend the implementation of the 1998 amendments to
the Native Title Act. The committee found that the government had failed to involve
indigenous people in negotiations.

As a result, CERD urged the government to reopen discussions with indigenous
Australians, which the government refused to do. The Howard government disputed the
findings and chose to ignore the majority of its recommendations.

Two days after Howard moved his motion of "sincere regret", the former Aboriginal
social justice commissioner and "father of reconciliation", Pat Dodson, gave the
annual Lingiari Lecture (named in honour of Aboriginal rights campaigner Vincent
Lingiari, who fought a 10-year battle for recognition of Aboriginal land rights).
Dodson said: "How we could contemplate signing any document of reconciliation while
our government stands accused of racial discrimination by the UN CERD is absurd to

Dodson described Howard's motion of regret as a "Paddy McGuinness version of regret"
because it "has not said sorry to the stolen generations or offered to deal with the
issue of restitution in any other way than to suggest that the stolen generations try
their luck in the courts, where the same `sincerely regretful' government will
continue to oppose them".

Yanner and Dodson are not the only Aboriginal voices rejecting Howard's regret. A
joint statement signed by Yanner, Dodson, Richie Ah Mat (Cape York Land Council),
Galarrwuy Yunupingu (Northern Land Council), Peter Yu (Kimberly Land Council) and
others asked Australians not to "be caught up in this hasty and disgraceful pretence
when the indigenous peoples have already suffered so much indignity".

Yanner told Resistance: "This deep and sincere regret stuff has become the biggest
joke in Aboriginal Australia ... Whenever we are in a meeting and if someone does
something wrong, we all now say, `I deep and sincerely regret that I can't say sorry'.

"On the one hand, that's good", Yanner continued, "because it shows the weakness of
Howard's message, it certainly makes a mockery of Aden Ridgeway, Lowitja O'Donoghue
and Gatjil Djerrkura. But on the other hand it is a shame that such an important
message has been turned into a joke. Nobody has taken seriously Howard's weak attempt
at apologising."

The term "reconciliation" has been appropriated by Howard as part of his government's
attempt to justify the continuing discrimination and oppression of indigenous
Australians. Howard's version of "reconciliation" is not about two equals coming
together and moving forward, but about forcing indigenous Australians to reconcile
themselves with their racial oppression.

Yanner argues that the reconciliation process has "become a tool of the right and the
capitalist structures that continually enslave Aboriginal people".

Yanner told Resistance that now is not the time for reconciliation: "At the moment you
have Aboriginal people with the highest infant mortality rate, highest suicide and
incarceration rates. With these figures how could Howard be serious? The Howard
government has hijacked the process. They no longer want to talk about Aboriginal
sovereignty or land rights, social justice or human rights. Its all about giving a
glowing endorsement to Howard before the Olympics."

Yanner continued: "The thing that unifies most Australians is poverty ... It is clear
the majority of Australians -- whites, ethnic communities and Aboriginal people --
live in a condition of poverty because they are dependent on their masters for low
wages or wages that are being constantly undermined ...

"Both [black and white] work hard, we both live very poor lives, we both have trouble
getting health benefits, we both suffer enormously from lack of land and lack of
wealth in a country where 5% hold 90% of the wealth ... I think if people addressed
that, as poor people, and overthrew the unjust and unfair capitalist system that
really exploits the majority, we could see a lot more reconciliation -- you would not
be reconciling because of differences but because of commonalities".

Howard's reconciliation process has nothing to do with justice or equality for
indigenous people. It has everything to do with continued oppression and exploitation.
Howard has attempted to whitewash the past and the real injustices suffered by the
indigenous population of Australia.

Until justice for indigenous people is achieved, reconciliation will not be possible.
Real reconciliation means taking action against the racism which exists in Australia
and is supported by the current government.

[Kim Bullimore is an Aboriginal activist and a member of Resistance at the University
of Canberra.]

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