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The conservative assault on First Nations justice



January 26 · Issue #27 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
In today’s Invasion Day issue we show how the right weaponises language to prevent Indigenous justice, take a look at the composition of Angus Taylor’s emissions cuts “expert panel” (hint: they’re all terrible) and reveal why Brazil has charged journalist Glen Greenwald.
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Enjoy the issue!
Guy Mosel, editor

The conservative assault on First Nations justice
by Guy Mosel
Photo: Julian Meehan | Flickr
Photo: Julian Meehan | Flickr
In his Sir Robert Menzies Lecture in November 1996, Prime Minister John Howard, fresh from vanquishing Labor, argued that “the balance sheet of our history is one of heroic achievement”. He added:
The ‘black armband’ view of our history reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.
The expression “black armband view of history” was originally coined by conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey, who Howard was a big fan of. It’s become the ultimate “get out of jail free” card for anyone downplaying the violent dispossession of First Nations people at the hands of British settler-colonialists, the ramifications of which still play out 250 years later.
While many on the right reject the notion that Britain “stole” lands, and others still deny the atrocities and attempted genocide that followed, the “black armband” admonition allows conservatives to concede those points and then turn it back on activists and their allies by accusing them of living in the past.
For conservatives, everything is better now and we should all just move on. As Howard said later in that Menzies address:
“The debate over Australian history, however, risks being distorted if its focus is confined only to the shortcomings of previous generations. It risks being further distorted if highly selective views of Australian history are used as the basis for endless and agonised navel-gazing about who we are.”
Of course, if your standard is massacres and genocide then sure, things are better. And if you believe that things are better, then anyone taking a black armband view becomes “unhelpful” or “counter-productive” to the furthering of the Australian project. Worse than that, they’re being disrespectful to the good white people who have worked so hard to lift Indigenous Australians to their exalted level.
This is how conservatives in the Howard and post-Howard eras have crushed any attempts at justice, reconciliation and treaty: by framing them as an attack against a country that has moved on from its mistakes of the past.
Facing the truth
But we haven’t moved on, as anyone who takes an even cursory interest in First Nations issues would know.
The life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is 11 years, and it’s widening.
The Indigenous child mortality rate is 2.4 times higher than the non-Indigenous rate.
Nine in 10 Indigenous people do not have financial security and half are suffering severe financial stress.
More than 400 Indigenous people have died in police custody since 1991’s Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody, and the Indigenous incarceration rate has doubled since then. In fact, Indigenous Australians are the most incarcerated people on Earth and Indigenous children are 17 times more likely than other Australians to be in detention.
Indigenous children are also killing themselves at an alarming rate. Suicide was the leading cause of death among Indigenous children in 2017.
Yet these stark and shameful truths are continually obfuscated by the right’s race warriors. Whether it’s Mark Latham calling for DNA testing to prove Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, the Murdoch papers’ unified opposition to the Uluru climbing ban, or Andrew Bolt’s campaign against Bruce Pascoe, they all serve to do one thing: absolve White Australia from responsibility.
This amounts to an outright denial of history. It’s a sick endeavour, orchestrated and carried out by white supremacists who believe in the inferiority of Indigenous Australians and who yearn for the colonial days of yore when a white man didn’t have to feel guilty.
We have to be better than that. Reconciliation and justice demand it.
As former Federal Court judge and founding president of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Marcus Einfeld once wrote, “Rather a black armband than a white blindfold to shut out the truth.”
The week in review
Bad news… The Business Council of Australia, the Minerals Council of Australia, the Australian Institute of Petroleum, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association – these are just four of around 40 mostly pro-fossil fuel bodies hand-picked by Minister for Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor for his “expert panel” on emissions cuts. The composition of the panel, chaired by BCA president Grant King, had remained a closely guarded secret until Renew Economy obtained the list under a Freedom of Information request. No environmental groups were invited to make submissions.
Good news… Worimi businesswoman and conservative activist Josephine Cashman’s attempt to have charges laid against Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe for falsely claiming to be Indigenous has fallen flat, with the AFP finding no evidence of any offence. As for Cashman’s proposed “register” of Indigenous Australians, let’s hope that nasty fascistic brain-fart evaporates into nothing.
Jeff Sparrow has written a good piece about why conservatives seem so keen to smear Pascoe.
Bad news… Brazilian prosecutors have charged American journalist Glenn Greenwald with cybercrimes for “guiding and encouraging” the hackers who obtained text messages that Greenwald relied on for his damning reporting on corruption at the highest levels of the Bolsonaro government. It’s the latest in a series of personal attacks on Greenwald and his family, which included being slapped on a live radio broadcast by a Bolsonaro supporter.
The nature of the charges are reminiscent of the allegations levelled at Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who remains in Belmarsh Prison awaiting the outcome of an extradition hearing next month. WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said during the week that the Trump administration is claiming that the First Amendment does not provide press freedom protection to foreign nationals like Assange.
Good news… A new method of killing prostate, breast, lung and other cancers has been discovered by a team at Cardiff University. The researchers have identified a T-cell in the blood, an existing part of the human immune system, which could be used to target all cancers. It’s early days yet but the boffins say there is “enormous potential” in the findings.
Conviction politics
Why the US needs a working-class media
For your bookshelf
On Red Earth Walking, by Anne Scrimgeour
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, by Anita Heiss
"When injustice is law resistance is duty" t-shirt
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