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John Passant

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April 2011
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Racism blooming in the Red Centre

In the last week, the mainstream media has found renewed interest in the state of Indigenous affairs in the Northern Territory. A fair-minded individual might think that they were finally taking up the outrageous apartheid laws that see Aboriginal people receive part of their welfare payments as rations, or perhaps reporting on the failure of government housing programs to provide Indigenous communities with anything near adequate housing. But, of course, such things are too much to ask for. Rather, the liberal media has again been working itself into a frenzy in its attempts to whip up anti-Aboriginal racism.

In particular, much of the media attention has focussed on the town of Alice Springs. Over the last few weeks and months a racist campaign, led by a group of “concerned citizens” known as Action for Alice, has been waged against Aboriginal inhabitants. The group – made up of local business owners such as spokesperson Geoff Booth – has called for greater police powers and measures to stop Aboriginal people from obtaining alcohol. They have also called on people to partake in vigilantism to stop crime in Alice Springs.

In early March, Action for Alice ran paid advertisements on NT television so offensive that the term “thinly veiled racism” seems woefully inadequate. The ads featured images of Indigenous people on the streets of Alice Springs, and called on the NT government to “take action” against crime.

Lest you should get the wrong idea, Geoff Booth helpfully explained to the ABC’s 7.30 program that this was because most of the crime in Alice Springs was committed by Aboriginal people, and that the government should introduce a policy of zero tolerance so that Aboriginal youths could no longer get off with “twenty dollar fines”. But fear not – he also assures us that Action for Alice has no intention of “going out and targeting a certain group” (unless that group happens to be Aboriginal people, one assumes).

The racist fear mongering seemed to hit a high last week when Gerry Wood, the local Member for the Northern Territory legislative assembly, called for the complete removal of welfare payments for Aboriginal people in the Territory. The liberal media such as the ABC and Melbourne’s Age were happy to dedicate ample space to Wood’s vile racism. This space wasn’t provided to criticise Wood of course – but rather to present a “fair and balanced” report where his reactionary diatribe was quoted at length. Enter the block quote, courtesy of The Age:

We are bringing up generation after generation of Aboriginal people who have never worked properly. Maybe they have worked a little, but on the whole they have never worked[…] Their kids see that as the norm and their grandkids see that as the norm. I am more and more convinced that we have got to get rid of welfare [T]erritory-wide.

Wood goes on to describe Centrelink payments as “sit-down money”, and implied that Aboriginal people don’t work because they have it too good on the dole. Personally, I can’t help but see the irony: the description of measly welfare payments that leave you living well below the poverty line as “sit-down money”, coming from a parliamentarian who gets paid more than $120,000 a year (plus benefits!), and whose main contribution to society seems to be whipping up anti-Aboriginal racism. Who gets this “sit-down money” here?

But in the Red Centre, racism pays well and helps you get re-elected. This fact can be seen in the response of the Territory’s ALP government. The ALP has been put under a lot of pressure by racist groups such as Action for Alice, who accuse the NT government of being soft on crime and imply that the problems stem from the ALP’s failure to take hard enough action against Aboriginal people in the town camps. Action for Alice has also accused government ministers of leaning on Imparja television to get the group’s racist ads off air.

In what I can only assume was a moment of confusion, ALP Chief Minister Paul Henderson suggested that if Action for Alice were so concerned about social disharmony, perhaps they should stop spending their money on inflammatory ads and start spending it on social welfare programs. But the ALP government has quickly stopped making such statements, preferring instead to say meekly that Action for Alice is undermining the tourism industry, while at the same time rushing through legislation that accedes to the racists’ demands to make alcohol consumption in the NT highly regulated. In the middle of such racist fear mongering about the amount of alcohol consumed by Aboriginal people, these moves by the ALP are a capitulation to and an entrenchment of the racism that is so pervasive in Alice Springs.

The social problems that exist in Alice Springs are being exacerbated by the racist Northern Territory Intervention. Mary Williams is an Aboriginal woman living in the Little Sisters town camp in Alice Springs. She is one of 15 people in the town camp with a full-time job – out of a population of around five hundred. Those in the town camps who used to be employed in Community Development Employment Projects prior to the Intervention now have few options since the program has been massively wound back.

On top of this, the town camps in Alice Springs have experienced an influx of “Intervention Refugees”, as people are forced out of remote Aboriginal communities due to lack of services and opportunities because the Intervention cut off their funding. The Aboriginal town camps in regional centres like Alice Springs have insufficient housing to accommodate these people, and are sites of endemic poverty. There are few employment opportunities for the Aboriginal people who end up in Alice, so those forced into the town camps get trapped in a cycle of unemployment and poverty.

The victims of the Northern Territory Intervention then become the scapegoats for groups like Action for Alice. The supposed “solutions” espoused by people like Geoff Booth and Gerry Wood are nothing more than racist fear mongering, which only further marginalise and oppress Aboriginal people.

One of the most sickening things is that people like Booth make a fortune off of stolen Aboriginal land. Booth owns three pubs in Alice Springs, and is dependent on a tourism industry that commodifies Aboriginal culture for consumption by tourists.

It strikes me that perhaps the fairest solution to the problems of both Booth and the town camps would be to expropriate Booth’s businesses and give the proceeds to the traditional owners. It would be far short of what is necessary to reverse years of racism and government policies of deliberate neglect, but it would certainly be a start.

This article, by Kyla Cassells, was first published in Socialist Alternative on 4 April.



Comment from rob
Time April 13, 2011 at 9:59 am

I think maybe the person who wrote this article should actually move to Alice Springs to see what is happening here. Mr Booth had a few fair points, maybe not put out in the right way of course!

Comment from peter piper
Time April 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm

why would the aborigines have to work when they are paid to sit under a tree and drink beer?

Comment from John
Time April 13, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Ah, peter the racist returns.

Comment from Calligula
Time April 14, 2011 at 12:30 am

No John,
That piper –
It isn’t racism.
It is his anonymity.
Worse, the dickhead has a ‘beer’ mentality.
No hope of him ever thinking large.

No hope of him ever comprehending that he doesn’t actually think – rather merely reacts to stimulus like some protozoan given an electric shot.

He’s too bloody stupid to see the obvious.
If I was black out there – I’d be sitting under a tree rather than being exploited by bastards like him.

If someone offered me a beer after the sun went down past the yardarm – I’d drink it too.

Of course it has gone beyond that.
No hope of it going otherwise when the best survival technique is to sit under a tree and drink a beer when you feel like a bloody beer.

But arseholes like piper creep out there and sell people beer flavoured turpentine and God know’s what else.
As the good Lord said – “ deliver unto me the pipers of the world and I shall ream them out unto the stage that they shall nevermore sit down themselves – nor will they cause any man any bother for the next eighty years”.

When will wankers like piper ever learn.

Of course I bloody well hate it when some stupid black bastard gives me grief.
But for shit’s sake that doesn’t mean I blame every man jack of the original people for the fact that they are not universally infallible.

In fact, from our angle it is infinitely better to – what?
To say something incredibly stupid?
Expect a First Nation person to care about me?
Expect them to treat me with respect?

I’d like them to do that but I doubt whether I honestly deserve any consideration at all.
When I consider how our alleged white civilization is going it has me completely stuffed as to how decent and patient our original people are.

I have come to realise how rotten our system is.

I cannot begin to understand how the first people must hate us as we confidently swan through life leaving them in shitter’s ditch.