SRC Reports, Week 11 (Indigenous Edition), Semester 1

All your SRC news from Week 11.

A note from the Editor-in-Chief: Madison McIvor

In the spirit of encouraging the expression of opinions and providing a space for dissenting views, I decided to ask the writers of this week’s SRC Reports to reflect on the issue of constitutional recognition.

It is vital that we as a country give this possibility the consideration it warrants, in light of the continuing injustices Indigenous people face every day.

While it is my view that constitutional recognition is necessary to begin to remedy injustices of the past, we must consider: is it possible that constitutionally entrenching the significance of Australia’s first People could cause them further disadvantage? At first glance, the clear answer is ‘no’.

However, given the tendency of governments to pander to the short-term desires of the majority, constitutional recognition lends no guarantee that Indigenous affairs will continue to receive the same level of already inadequate attention and funding.

Perhaps I’m cynical, but realistically, why would a government bother allocating more resources to tackling serious issues that affect Indigenous people now, when the Australian population thinks that the ‘Black Box’ has already been ticked?

It only makes sense that governments would gloss over these problems and move onto the next big vote winner.

In this climate of political insincerity, will constitutional recognition push Indigenous people further behind in Australia’s history, or will it bring current shortcomings into focus and create pressure for improvement? The SRC offers some of their views on this contentious issue.

President’s Report: Jen Light

Well last week’s budget was sickening to watch, whilst many of the announcements were anticipated it was still incredibly disheartening

A sector that hasn’t been constantly on the news about cuts and changes, yet has still suffered a drastic blow in the 2014 budget is Indigenous Australia. The budget will see cuts to Indigenous spending by more than half-a-billion dollars over five years. 

The rhetoric of the so called ‘deficit crisis’ by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey is creating a new class, the lowest class as the cuts are attacking those who need support the most. The budget is eliminating funding to programs that are society building and life changing.

The obsession for savings is causing a cut to 150 indigenous programs, grants and activities addressing multitudes of social issues. These programs will now be amalgamated into 5 Government programs. This change will result in $409.2 million cuts to the sector, but more importantly a huge loss to the Indigenous community and the education of Indigenous culture to much of the Ignorant Australian population.

The budget announced cuts of $10 million over a 4 year period from Indigenous languages, one of the 150 program’s to be cut. Since white settlement there has been hundreds of Indigenous Australian languages lost. The Government should be investing more into Indigenous languages and culture not the opposite. This position continues a barrier between the understandings of Indigenous culture by the mass Australian population, a barrier that should have been removed decades ago.

The combination of these cuts and Tony Abbott’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, which many believe would give a green light to hate speech, is a frightening concept. The last few weeks has felt like a trip back to the past.

When Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey continuously talk about investing in the infrastructure of Australia, they are forgetting about the social infrastructure that this country desperately needs.

Education Officers’ Report: Ridah Hassan & Eleanor Morley

The 2014 budget confirmed all our worst nightmares; the Liberals want to deregulate university fees from January 2016, meaning that universities charge what they like for their degrees. Some experts saying that this will see fees skyrocket up to over $100,000. The budget also included attacks on healthcare and welfare, and the cutting of $500 million from Indigenous programs and services over the next 6 years.

It’s time for students to stand up and oppose these drastic attacks. Our protest on Q&A was a start, continued by our action against Liberal Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop who was given the welcome she deserved whens she had the gall to visit campus last week. Our next chance will be the national day of action against fee hikes and moves to the US model on Wednesday May 21. We’re meeting at 1.30pm outside Fisher Library, and everyone needs to be there! The fight for our education has never been more urgent!

The rest of our report goes to Indigenous activists who shared their thoughts last year on Constitutional recognition and they key issues facing Aboriginal people today:

“Things are no different from back in the days when the pastoralists took away our lands; actually things are getting worse. I honestly believe that it is getting worse. Standing up and fighting back is important. Fight and don’t give up, don’t let them win. This is our country, our land and it has been taken from us. Remember your identity, where you come from and never forget that you are Aboriginal and be proud. Stand up and be proud, all you Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.”

Ngarri, from Western NSW, second generation stolen

“We are here to represent where we are from and to stand up for ourselves. It is important to stand up so that people know who we are and what our culture is and to get our rights. We are fighting for our land. The government is taking our land.”

Amelia and Sherrie, Kamilaroi clan

“If within two years Rudd writes Aboriginal people into the constitution, I think that it will very much extinguish the rights of Aboriginal people in terms of sovereignty… We will become part of the Australian state, and therefore we would lose the basis for treaty and we would lose the basis for land rights – it’s going to be the biggest theft in the history of Australia.”

Sharon Firebrace, Yorta Yorta woman, long-term activist and member of the stolen generation.

General Secretary’s Report: Mariana Podesta-Diverio

Every SRC meeting (of the Council and Executive) begins with a Welcome to Country. “We meet on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation”. At the front of regular editions of this publication reads something along the lines of “Honi Soit is printed and distributed on [this] land”. The Welcome becomes a standard part of the process, another rung in the step-ladder of any remotely progressive bureaucracy.

It reminds us that we are the beneficiaries of a brutal and ongoing occupation of Indigenous land. It reminds us that the people dispossessed by British colonisation face ongoing structural disadvantage. Innumerable governments have consistently failed to address the racial inequality that permeates Australian society.

The importance of this act becomes easy to forget, with the standard phrasing mechanically etched into our minds. Of course, it is highly important. But the Welcome is not enough. It is not an excuse to turn a blind eye to the ongoing struggles faced by the Indigenous population. We are not simply meeting on the land of the Gadigal people; if we are not allies to Indigenous Australians and if we do not engage in activism and the fight for justice, we are a part of the system that continues to oppress Indigenous Australians.

Non-Indigenous Australians are the beneficiaries of stolen land, genocide, and ongoing racism against a disadvantaged group. And I’m not just talking about the things that happened decades ago. The NT intervention, one of the most disgusting government initiatives in recent times, has gone ahead in our lifetime. The way Australia has treated its Indigenous population is embarrassing.

We must never forget this, particularly as young people. Get involved in fighting for justice. Educate yourself. Offer support instead of unsolicited advice. Be aware. We live, learn, and work on land that was stolen. It always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

The Stop the Intervention Collective, Sydney (STICS) meets at 6pm on Monday nights, NSW Teachers Federation Building, Level 1, 23-33 Mary Street Surry Hills. Follow the Indigenous Social Justice Association on Facebook for updates on their regular meeting times.

Vice President’s Report: Laura Webster

Constitutional recognition is something that Indigenous peoples have been asking for since the creation of said document. Many believe that it is the right step forward to address the discrimination and historical exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The constitution is a long document and there are very few people on earth that have actually read it (because why the hell would you? It’s not exactly light reading).
It is for this reason that sections perpetuating racism and racist policies are still induced and have not been repealed. Some members of the community would argue that instead of constitutional recognition, we should be fighting for self-determination rights. I would argue they are not mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand.

Constitutional recognition is not just a symbolic gesture; it is a step that finally and rightfully recognizes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia. It is an act that allows both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to address and reflect upon the historical oppression of Indigenous peoples and move towards reconciliation. It also allows the opportunity to add a section that prohibits discrimination based upon race, sexuality and gender. An overwhelming amount of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples believe that constitutional recognition will have a positive impact upon their lives and provide greater historical recognition of the struggles of Indigenous peoples. It also serves as one of the most promising and powerful gestures of repentance and reconciliation. With this in mind, doesn’t it seem logical that constitutional recognition is not only the next step in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, but is also a necessary step?

Despite the social and economic disadvantages we face as a people, we remain the oldest race on earth. We have survived everything that history has thrown our way and we should be afforded the respect and recognition that comes with such a feat.

Welfare Officers’ Report: Oliver Plunkett, Brendan Wylie, Chiara Angeloni & Philippa Specker

In Australia, the common refrain is that representative democracy is what ensures outcomes for those who in any other political system would be oppressed. It comes as no surprise, then, that in 2005, after just 15 years of budding representative democracy for indigenous Australians, ATSIC was abolished- with Howard declaring that “the experiment in elected representation for indigenous people has been a failure.” Naturally, it failed because it offered an institutional challenge to white imperialism, rather than the supposed claims of indigenous democracy being “corrupt” and “male dominated.” For those who voted to abolish ATSIC, apparently these are idiosyncrasies that Australian Parliament has at no point suffered from.

And now, close to 20 years after the abolition of ATSIC, we have seen what a political landscape devoid of decision-making by Aboriginal communities has resulted in. Political gains have regressed to the point where Tony Abbott is now the Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

His latest action in this capacity is to propose a budget that will starve the poor by destroying what remains of our already strained welfare state. Firstly, the Liberals want to shatter the universal healthcare system by introducing a Medicare co-payment – where we will have to pay $7 every time we visit a GP, the emergency ward, pathology or get an x-ray. In addition, the Abbott government wants to tighten welfare restrictions for the disability pension, while also introducing punitive measures for people under 30 on Newstart, such as a six month waiting period to start receiving payments. Now, a 24 year old on Newstart will lose $2496 a year while someone on $200,000 will lose $400 a year.

Discussion of land rights and treaties have been long abandoned, where instead we focus on preserving a welfare state that only makes possible a life of subsistence. In the supposed quest for a surplus, even this modicum of support for those who have been occupied for centuries could be slashed. This is an egregious injustice amongst one of many injustices that is arousing the political consciousness of students, who condemn this government’s agenda. This is not just one step in the wrong direction- but one of many. Let’s halt them in their tracks. Join us outside Fisher Library at 1:30pm this Wednesday for an Emergency Budget Rally before we march to the main convergence at UTS at 2:30pm.