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Mining Misery: Hope and Change Down Under
Saturday, 25 October 2008 11:02
by Chris Floyd

A well-educated, highly intelligent and articulate young progressive candidate promising hope and change -- and a withdrawal of troops from Iraq -- ousts a long-entrenched, hidebound, deeply corrupt rightwing faction from power. Once in office, he makes a number of symbolic gestures -- signing the Kyoto treaty, offering apologies for past national abuses of minorities, appointing women to prominent posts, etc. -- while governing as a pragmatic centrist, a "Third Way" figure in the mold of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, combining a heavily pro-corporate agenda and a commitment to a strong military and "humanitarian intervention" abroad, while retaining his party's traditional rhetoric, and a few vestigial programs, on social justice and economic fair play. Yet behind the fresh faces and the vigorous sweeping of new brooms, old evils and deep-delving corruptions keep churning on, abetted by the policies of the putative reformers.

A grim prophecy of post-election America? No; it's a look at what's happening now in that other trans-oceanic implant of ye olde British Empire: Australia.

John Pilger reports in the Guardian on how the government of the nation's bright, youngish Labor PM, Kevin Rudd -- who ended the long tenure of rightwing Bush factotum John Howard last year -- is continuing some of Howard's harshest policies toward the land's Aboriginal people, trying to squeeze the Aboriginals out of their last scraps of valuable land. 

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Of course, since Rudd and his party are so progressive, so showily sensitive to the dignity and human rights of long-oppressed people, their squeeze play partakes in none of the vicious, scarcely varnished racism that marked the Howard regime's punitive policies toward Aboriginals. No; the Rudd approach is drained of such primitive emotions. It is pragmatic, technocratic, a question not of racial inferiority but of "economic viability." But the goal is exactly the same as Howard's: getting rid of inconvenient darkies so you can steal their land and sell off its resources to big corporate interests.

Pilger begins with one of the Howard regime's most shameful campaigns against the Aboriginals: the hyped-up "sex abuse" scare campaign that ripped families and communities apart and gave the government -- which employed covert agents to whip up the frenzy -- carte blanche for draconian moves against the native people. As Pilger notes, the Rudd administration is employing more PR-friendly methods toward the same ends. From the Guardian:

The facts are not in dispute: thousands of black Australians never reach the age of 40; an entirely preventable disease, trachoma, blinds black children as epidemics of rheumatic fever ravage their communities; suicide among the despairing young is common. No other developed country has such a record....

Smear by media as a precursor to the latest round of repression is long familiar to black Australians. In 2006, the flagship current affairs programme of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Lateline, broadcast lurid allegations of "sex slavery" among the Mutitjulu people in the Northern Territory. The programme's source, described as an "anonymous youth worker", was later exposed as a federal government official whose "evidence" was discredited by the Northern Territory chief minister and the police....

Shortly before last year's election, Howard declared a "national emergency" and sent the army to the Northern Territory to "protect the children" who, said his minister for indigenous affairs, were being abused in "unthinkable numbers"....In May, barely reported government statistics revealed that of the 7,433 Aboriginal children examined by doctors as part of the "national emergency", 39 had been referred to the authorities for suspected abuse. Of those, a maximum of just four possible cases of abuse were identified. Such were the "unthinkable numbers". They were little different from those of child abuse in white Australia. What was different was that no soldiers invaded the beachside suburbs, no white parents were swept aside, no white welfare was "quarantined".

Having let a few crumbs fall, Rudd is picking up where Howard left off. His indigenous affairs minister, Jenny Macklin, has threatened to withdraw government support from remote communities that are "economically unviable". The Northern Territory is the only region where Aborigines have comprehensive land rights, granted almost by accident 30 years ago. Here lie some of the world's biggest uranium deposits. Canberra wants to mine and sell it.

Foreign governments, especially the US, want the Northern Territory as a toxic dump. The Adelaide to Darwin railway that runs adjacent to Olympic Dam, the world's largest uranium mine, was built with the help of Kellogg, Brown & Root - a subsidiary of American giant Halliburton, the alma mater of Dick Cheney, Howard's "mate". "The land grab of Aboriginal tribal land has nothing to do with child sexual abuse," says the Australian scientist Helen Caldicott, "but all to do with open slather uranium mining and converting the Northern Territory to a global nuclear dump."
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