As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we are often told that we are the problem. We are what is wrong with society and we should just conform to the dominant structure “because it works”. The fact is that it doesn’t work.
Many of the people who use this line are often people who really have no idea what kind of lifestyle we live on a day-to-day basis. You often hear “I can understand why children were/are being taken away by their families because there’s nothing they can do to benefit them.” Or, “Nobody wants to see communities being closed down but we cannot afford to continue to fund them if they choose to live that lifestyle.”
The thing is, I would probably believe these excuses if, in the process of making these statements, the current government hadn’t actually doubled the national deficit and simultaneously cut funding to the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Medical Service, Aboriginal Housing, or had not cut the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ITAS) last year.
You see, while the people who hold our living conditions in the palm of their hand tell us what is best for us, there were 701 Aboriginal deaths in custody in the space of 7 years with a 150% increase since 1991. On top of that our youth suicide rate has increased putting us as the highest suicide demographic in the world.
Most will tell us that we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get to work. Well… we would if there were employment opportunities and health services for us. We would if there wasn’t a fear that we would be detained for infringements such as offensive language rather than actual criminal offences in public so many non-Indigenous people take for granted. In fact while everyone is jumping up and down about police brutality in the U.S.A, Aboriginal people are 8 times more likely to be subject to the same circumstances in this country.
If you see these same issues that I see and the same demographic of people consistently living below the poverty line in a 1st world country like this one, ask yourself if we are actually the problem.
General Secretaries’ Report
In February this year, Max and I were two of twenty-six University of Sydney students chosen to attend the 50th Anniversary commemoration tour of the 1965 Freedom Ride, travelling to Dubbo, Walgett, Moree, Bowraville and Kempsey. We listened to stories about how the original Riders, led by Uncle Charlie Perkins, drew attention to racial discrimination in these communities, and the gains that were made for Indigenous rights after the Ride (including the 1967 referendum).
We learnt about the positive changes that have happened in these communities over the past fifty years, but also saw the many grave issues which they still face, spanning health, employment, education and interactions with the criminal ‘justice’ system.
Australia could soon face another referendum—this time, calling for the elimination of racial discrimination towards Indigenous peoples from the Constitution, especially through a clause to “preserve the Australian Government’s ability to pass laws for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
The Recognise campaign driving the call for constitutional recognition has the bipartisan support of the Australian parliament. However, the continued dispossession and colonisation of Aboriginal communities is still alive and well—one need look no further than the attempts of Western Australia’s Liberal government to shut down nearly one hundred and fifty remote Indigenous communities. Further, the 2015 budget failed to undo many of the devastating cuts to vital services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health, law, employment and education in 2014. To what extent will constitutional recognition contribute to tangible, meaningful change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples if the current actions of governments indicate they can’t even deliver on their commitment?
It’s not enough just to say we’re committed. We must act on this commitment by ‘walking the talk,’ guided by the communities themselves.
In a similar vein, merely celebrating the 1965 Freedom Rides does not itself do justice to the legacy of its vision: working actively to combat the ongoing reality of racial discrimination that Indigenous communities face. If the University is proud to claim the Freedom Riders as its alumni, it must also act on their vision, which continues to be of pressing significance today. This is a legacy the students on the 2015 Freedom Ride are keen to continue.
Vice Presidents’ Report
There’s a page on Facebook called ‘USyd Rants’. True to its name, it is an anonymous clearinghouse for the disenchanted and disillusioned. It is a strange psyche: its currency of approval, likes, ensures that the opinions widely liked are widely shared. Its anonymity ensures unpopular posts disappear without any criticism directed to their author, and successful posts flourish – with their creator, inevitably, accepting accolades from an adoring Facebook public.
Hundreds of rants are posted each day: from tediously specific condemnations (“[t]o the people sitting in the back third of the room in BUSS1030 on Tuesday afternoon”) to strangely generic commentaries on life (“Is God Dead?”, a question I can only imagine was posed either by an extraordinarily angsty teen or a second-year Philosophy student seeking ad-hoc essay help).
Unfortunately, its coverage doesn’t end there. Safe in its namelessness, USyd Rants is a petrie-dish for the self-declared ‘disenfranchised’ to sound off on feminism (“fuck feminism!” is a regular contribution), international students (“Stuck with ANOTHER international student in my group, FML”), and even Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (“Lazy fucking Abos near Redfern, stop barking at me”).
For this Indigenous Honi, I thought it was important to reflect on this unique form of discrimination. Comments that are – in any other context – vile and unacceptable – comments we would never attach our name to – can be shared quickly, freely, easily, with no harm to personal reputation whatsoever. Discrimination – whether it is subtle or even unconscious, or anonymous and caustic – is real and entrenched.
Gendered violence is at crisis-point; international students are routinely exploited, and promptly abandoned, by our own University; and the Redfern Tent Embassy faces imminent eviction. You don’t need to look at ‘USyd Rants’ to see it. I wish you did. I want to believe that these ‘rants’ are rare and repressed; reading this Honi, I fear that they are not.
Thank you to Madi McIvor – the editor of this Honi, and my brilliant co-Vice President – who has slaved for weeks over this edition: it is uncomfortable, illuminating, and shocking at all once. Sometimes we need to be. I hope that you, too, realise that this – the way we consider, think about, and treat others – must change.
Campus Refugee Action Collective Report
Events of the last few weeks demonstrate the extent to which, if it goes unchallenged, cruel refugee policy will be the bipartisan standard. The Campus Refugee Action Collective (CRAC) held a pro-refugee speak-out outside opposition leader Bill Shorten’s pre-budget address on campus in recent weeks, where we spoke to many attendees, including Labor members, about the need to end offshore processing. After his address however, Shorten made clear that a Labor government in power would be determined to stop the boats. He even refused to rule out boat turn-backs. Shorten uses the same flawed ‘saving lives at sea’ argument as the Liberals. Stopping boats doesn’t save lives, it kills.
Treasurer Joe Hockey seems to think stopping the boats has a somewhat different effect. After the recent budget, Hockey said that the Liberals’ “have stopped the boats…As a result, we are saving more than $500m from closing unnecessary detention centres and…the costs of processing new boat arrivals.” Savings certainly could be made by closing unnecessary detention centres: refugees could be welcomed and processed in the community, saving the government more than $7 billion on offshore detention.
Instead, the Liberals’ real strategy for saving ‘costs’ is to bully and bribe our poorer neighbours. Alongside a coincidental $40 million “aid” packet, Australia has hitched a deal with Cambodia for refugee resettlement. CRAC held a forum on campus last week to expose the true nature of the ‘Cambodia solution’. Cambodia is the 48th poorest nation in the world and has repeatedly refouled refugees– a group of Uighur refugees, from Muslim minority persecuted by Chinese govt. were sent back to China– the next day China handed over $1 billion in aid.
The Cambodia deal is essentially a way for the government to plug up the holes in its offshore processing system which has been in crisis since day one. But the contradictions in the government’s policy are insurmountable – the boats continue to arrive, because asylum seekers are just as desperate now as they were before. We should not be shifting our responsibilities on to desperately poor countries, effectively bribing them to cooperate with Australia to undermine international human rights treaties.
The Campus Refugee Action Collective is campaigning to end offshore processing and mandatory detention. To turn the tide on public opinion and pull down the fences, we need to build the campaign everywhere. We encourage all students to get involved with us – we meet every Monday 11am in the SRC.
Wom*n’s Officers’ Report
Xiaoran Shi and Subeta Vimalarajah.
The Sydney University Wom*n’s Collective acknowledges that our activism and meetings take place on Aboriginal land. Those of us who are non-Indigenous recognise our complicity in the continuing colonisation of Aboriginal land. As feminists, we know that our fight for equality is meaningless if the experiences and contributions of Aboriginal women are not centred and recognised. We understand that the structures that oppress women, trans and non-binary people, are inextricably linked to those that have oppressed Aboriginal people.
We regret that the history of feminism has consistently failed to recognise the place of Aboriginal women. We note that in Australia, when the suffragettes claimed to have won the vote for all Australian women in 1902, this did not include Indigenous women. It was not until 1962 that Aboriginal women were given the right to vote with Aboriginal men. We as a collective do not recognise 1902 as the date of women’s suffrage in Australia, but 1962. This pattern repeats itself through history. Little space in history has been given to Aboriginal women who have lost their families to the Stolen Generations and who have constantly fought colonisation whilst having their culture forcibly stripped from them. We look to policies like the Northern Territory Intervention that illustrate how governments have paternalistically claimed to be “protecting” Aboriginal women whilst furthering their neo-colonial agenda.
Beyond history, we look to the current state of feminism. When the pay gap is quoted and provokes anger, it is rarely qualified by the effect of race. We know that the pay gap does not represent the structural disadvantages Aboriginal women face—we cannot even find the statistic that does. When Rosie Batty recently spoke out about domestic violence, feminists commended her. When Aboriginal women like Amy McGuire want to do the same thing, they must fear that their concerns will be used as a weapon against their community. These are not isolated areas in feminism; we can see this pattern repeated in every “feminist” issue.
Stereotypes about aboriginal communities are still pervasive and ridiculous, particularly those that suggest Aboriginal culture is inherently sexist. The Aboriginal feminists we know are strong, powerful activists. We look to our own community at Sydney University and to the amazing Aboriginal women we know. In the SRC we specifically recognise Madison McIvor (USYD Vice President) and Laura Webster (SRC Executive). Thank you for being wonderful friends, activists, feminists and educators. We are humbled by your greatness and cannot wait to see all the wonderful ways in which you will both make the world a better place.