Workers Vanguard No. 1041
7 March 2014
Fears of a New Stolen Generation Grow
Racist Capitalist State Snatches Aboriginal Children
The following article is reprinted from Australasian Spartacist No. 222 (Autumn 2014), newspaper of the Spartacist League of Australia, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
“Our children are being removed at such a rate that I feel really sick in the stomach every time I look at the stats.” So declared Auntie Lorraine Peeters, a member of the Stolen Generations, at a Melbourne forum last year. According to government figures, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up a third of those removed from their families and are ten times more likely to be in “out-of-home care” than other children. At 30 June 2012 there were 13,299 Indigenous children in “care” across Australia, most enforced by government agencies. This is almost a five-fold increase since 1997 when the damning Bringing Them Home report detailed the horror faced by tens of thousands of Indigenous children brutally torn from their families by successive capitalist governments over more than one hundred years.
Fears that another Stolen Generation is occurring are very real. The backdrop to this scandal is the police and military occupation of Northern Territory (NT) Aboriginal communities, launched by the federal Liberal/National Coalition government of John Howard in June 2007 and strengthened and expanded under the subsequent Rudd/Gillard ALP [Australian Labor Party] governments and now the Abbott Coalition government. The “NT Intervention” was orchestrated around a witchhunt over “child sexual abuse,” with Howard declaring “a national emergency in relation to the abuse of children” in these communities. It is a bitter irony, all too predictable, that capitalist state intervention in the name of “protecting children” has resulted in its opposite.
Following the announced takeover, Pat Turner, a former senior Indigenous public servant, aptly remarked, “this Government is using child sexual abuse as the Trojan horse to resume total control of our lands” (Sydney Morning Herald, 28 June 2007). The crude land grab that followed has served the interests of the bourgeoisie, who want unrestricted access to the mineral riches on vast tracts of land where Aboriginal communities were allowed some measure of self management, albeit in conditions of great privation. The occupation of their communities has brought more devastation to Aboriginal lives, ensnaring people in an ever-widening net of state control and oppression.
Alongside punitive welfare “quarantining” [in which the government determines how welfare recipients spend at least half of their payments] and puritanical bans on alcohol and pornography, came demeaning “medical examinations” of Aboriginal children and youth. Of the thousands “examined,” barely 0.5 percent were assessed as “at risk” of neglect or abuse, while 40 percent were referred to specialists for poverty-related health problems. A 2008 review of the Intervention by the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency reported there was no “spike” in child abuse prosecutions, but there was “a noticeable increase in the number of prosecutions of teenage relationships.” We oppose the state’s attempt at social regimentation, whether through censorship, anti-sex witchhunts or mandatory reporting of “under-age” sexual activity. Against the reactionary “age-of-consent” laws, we uphold the principle of effective, i.e., meaningful, consent. It is nobody’s business, least of all the state’s, what sexual activities people engage in as long as it is consensual.
The state’s prurient interference in the private lives of Indigenous people has had devastating consequences. Clifton Pamkal, a 22-year-old man from Arnhem Land, was allegedly driven to suicide in August 2008 after his loving relationship with his 15-year-old girlfriend made him a target of the state. The NT Family and Children’s Services reported the couple to the police. The police then charged Clifton with multiple counts of “carnal knowledge.” When the police found out that Clifton had gone back to his community in order to be with his girlfriend, they locked him up for breaching bail conditions. After escaping custody, Clifton became the target of an extensive police hunt. He was found dead the next morning. The police didn’t bother to tell his mother, in hospital in Darwin, until some 12 hours later.
The coroner’s report into Clifton Pamkal’s death noted that it was likely the young man “was concerned he would be locked up for many years.” This is a valid fear given that Indigenous people are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than other Australians. Juveniles are 28 times more likely to be detained! Roughly 2.5 percent of the total population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders made up 27 percent of all prisoners at the end of June 2013. The largest group is in the 25-29 year age group. Meanwhile suicide rates are soaring and gruesome deaths in “police custody” are an all-too-familiar occurrence for Aborigines, who know from daily experience that the greatest instigators of violence are the armed, uniformed gangs of the capitalist state.
Australia—Racist Hellhole for Aborigines
Unrelenting oppression is the ongoing daily reality for Aboriginal people. And even more so for those in remote communities deemed “unviable” by the capitalist rulers. Aboriginal people face a life expectancy ten years lower than other Australians. They are largely excluded from jobs, with employment for those aged 15-64 years falling to little more than 46 percent according to 2011 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. While horrendous infant mortality rates have reportedly fallen, as the recent documentary film Utopia by liberal journalist John Pilger graphically depicts, the horrendous “Third World” living conditions of Aboriginal communities continue unabated. Many remote communities lack basic infrastructure, face overcrowding in homes and other indices of poverty, including endemic, chronic health issues such as rheumatic heart disease, trachoma and malnutrition. The very real social pathologies of domestic violence, abuse of children and drug addiction exist throughout capitalist society, but are exacerbated by the brutal enforced marginalisation of Aboriginal people.
Far from assisting the most oppressed and downtrodden, much of the paltry budget for Aboriginal Affairs goes towards enforcing intrusive, repressive measures to take control of Aboriginal lives. The degrading “income management” scheme forced on some 20,000 Aborigines in the NT has only made their lives harder. The Abbott government is building an army of truancy officers to police black youth as opposed to providing decent education or jobs training. Dollars are spent on sending government bureaucrats to inspect derelict, overcrowded housing as opposed to actually building decent homes and providing basic sanitation and clean water. Racist contempt for the rights, health and lives of Indigenous peoples is not an aberration of a particular official or governing party, but is woven into the very fabric of the bourgeois state.
“Something like 35 percent of children removed, are removed for neglect,” reported Frank Hytten from the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) in November last year. “But neglect can be seen as a cultural issue.... It just means things like kids playing barefoot or kids sleeping on the floor,” he noted, concluding, “abject poverty is probably the single biggest issue that creates a lot of this” (www.sbs.com.au, 16 November 2013). In a raid on a house in one remote NT community, five children were removed by “child protection” officers. They were flown hundreds of kilometres to Darwin, separated and placed with carers who did not speak their language. Others report that newborn babies have been taken from mothers in hospital.
Under the codeword “neglect,” infants can be and are being taken away if health workers report a “failure to thrive.” One woman faced the devastation of having her one- and two-year-old children taken away when they lost weight and ended up in hospital. Both had feeding problems and were being fed via liquid to gain weight but feeds were missed despite the mother’s efforts to do everything right. One health worker noted that if the mother had just been given some basic support, this situation would never have happened. The legal requirement for health workers to report possible “neglect” seeks to turn doctors and nurses into auxiliaries of the police. It can also drive parents to avoid seeking medical help for their children when it is needed for fear of the consequences. Applying a punitive response to the symptoms of poverty revives the paternalistic interference that was used to “justify” the Stolen Generations.
Racism—Bedrock of “White Australia” Capitalism
Australian capitalism was founded on the historic genocide, uprooting and dispossession of the Aboriginal peoples, alongside anti-Chinese pogroms and driving out of other non-“Whites” in the early 1900s. Unrelenting racist barbarism against the Aboriginal peoples was intended to render the Aboriginal population extinct. Massacres and disease, along with the violent suppression of heroic Aboriginal resistance to colonial invasion, wreaked devastation on Aboriginal populations, as they were driven further off their lands.
The Australian rulers justified their brutality by declaring that the Aborigines were a doomed population that would die out. To this end, they pursued a conscious policy of “forced assimilation” towards those of mixed race. The Stolen Generations abductions were central to this, deliberately designed to smash cultural continuity between Indigenous generations. Under state Aboriginal Protection Acts, Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their families and placed in children’s homes, missions or foster care. Many never saw their parents or siblings again. Multiple generations of some Aboriginal families have not known their parents. Punished for speaking their native language, their customs suppressed, children were subject to the absolute control of the institutions’ administrators, with the “Chief Protector” their legal guardian. Once old enough, they were forced to slave as domestic servants or farm labourers for white families.
Such “Protection Acts” also condemned others to be virtual prisoners on reserves or church-run missions. Health, housing, employment, marriage, care of children were all subject to the mission-keeper or reserve manager. Those Aborigines not on reserves were forbidden contact with family who were, and the protection boards had the power to remove people to or from reserves. Aborigines on missions worked solely for rations; those not on missions had their wages taken by the government “in trust.” Hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid wages were stolen from Aboriginal workers last century, along with misused trust funds, unpaid child endowment, workers’ compensation and deceased estates.
It is estimated that more than 30 percent of all Aboriginal children were stolen from their families between 1910 and 1970. Almost all Aboriginal families and communities were affected. While the laws may have changed, the removal of Aboriginal children continues today. Many have noted with alarm that the rates of removal outstrip the years of the Stolen Generations. Behind this grim statistic is the grinding oppression and intense social degradation under racist Australian capitalism. It highlights the hypocrisy of then Labor PM [Prime Minister] Kevin Rudd’s “Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples” in 2008. Intended to sugar-coat the NT Intervention, it was yet another cruel hoax foisted on Aboriginal people.
For a Class-Struggle Fight for Aboriginal Rights
Capitalist governments have been ratcheting up attacks on workers’ jobs, wages and conditions while eroding unemployment benefits, health care and other social services. Whipping up racism and nationalism as a wedge against a fighting workers movement, they scapegoat and stigmatise the most marginalised in society in order to bolster capitalist class rule. Aborigines, small in number and largely excluded from the working class, are a vulnerable target. In attacking Aboriginal rights today, the bourgeois rulers aim to make it easier to further their attacks on the working class. Indeed the welfare quarantining that was first foisted on Aboriginal people has now been extended to oppressed working-class communities in some cities. Workers have a vital interest in fighting in defence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is inseparable from the fight for their own class interest.
With its unique role at the point of production, the working class holds enormous power in this society. Most importantly, it is the only class with both the social power and historic interest to end the system of capitalist exploitation. For the unions to become weapons of struggle they need a class-struggle leadership that mobilises the integrated workers movement behind the cause of all the oppressed. This includes defending Indigenous people against racist state terror, consistently championing their rights and supporting their attempts to regain some of the land stolen from them by the capitalist rulers. A class-struggle leadership of the unions would lead workers in a fight for full legal equality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, for massive programs in housing, health, education, and basic services, and for jobs for all, at union conditions and equal wages!
Giving a taste of the kind of social power that can be brought to bear was the action of unionists in August 1996 during a protest opposing Howard’s anti-union and welfare attacks by some 35,000 outside Canberra’s Parliament House. When cops attacked an Aboriginal contingent that was leading a 6,000-strong march into the main rally, unionists came to their defence, forcing the cops to retreat into Parliament House, where they were besieged for two hours. In vile contrast to this exemplary defence action, the ACTU tops joined the subsequent witchhunting frenzy whipped up by a ruling class horrified at the sight of unionists defending Aborigines. They fingered the anti-racist militants to the state. Their class betrayal highlights the pernicious role of the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucrats. Joined at the hip to their ALP parliamentary “mates,” they act as a transmission belt for, and reinforcement of, backward consciousness in the proletariat.
A class-struggle fight, in opposition to Laborism, is the key to winning away the proletarian base of the ALP to a revolutionary party that stands as a tribune of the people. Opposing every manifestation of capitalist injustice and oppression, such a party will strive to transform the proletariat into a conscious instrument for socialist revolution. It will take socialist revolution to open the road to a society that serves human need, not the profit of the privileged few. As we state in the program of the Spartacist League of Australia (October 1998):
“Only the destruction of capitalism can hold out the possibility of voluntary integration, on the basis of full equality, for those Aboriginal people who desire it, and the fullest possible autonomy for those who do not, and make it possible to address the special needs created by more than two centuries of injustice and oppression.”
Make the unions weapons of struggle! For a class-struggle fight for Aboriginal rights!