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Friday, October 26, 2012

John Pilger:Making the world a more dangerous place - the eager role of Julia Gillard

The Australian parliament building reeks of floor polish. The wooden floors shine so virtuously they reflect the cartoon-like portraits of prime ministers, bewigged judges and viceroys. Along the gleaming white, hushed corridors, the walls are hung with Aboriginal art: one painting after another as in a monolithic gallery, divorced from their origins, the irony brutal. The poorest, sickest, most incarcerated people on earth provide a façade for those who oversee the theft of their land and its plunder.

Australia has 40% of the world's uranium, all of it on indigenous land. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just been to India to sell uranium to a government that refuses to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and whose enemy, Pakistan, is also a non-signatory. The threat of nuclear war between them is constant. Uranium is an essential ingredient of nuclear weapons. Gillard's deal in Delhi formally ends the Australian Labor Party's long-standing policy of denying uranium to countries that reject the NPT's obligation "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament".

Like the people of Japan, Australian Aborigines have experienced the horror of nuclear weapons. During the 1950s, the British government tested atomic bombs at Maralinga in South Australia. The Aboriginal population was not consulted and received scant or no warning, and still suffer the effects. Yami Lester was a boy when he saw the nuclear flash and subsequently went blind. The enduring struggle of Aboriginal people for recognition as human beings has been a fight not only for their land but for what lies beneath it. Since they were granted a status higher than that of sheep - up to 1971, unlike the sheep, they were not counted - many of their modest land rights have been subverted or diminished by governments in Canberra.

In 2007, prime minister John Howard used the army to launch an "emergency intervention" in Aboriginal communities in the resource-rich Northern Territory. Lurid and fraudulent stories of paedophile rings were the cover; indigenous people were told they would not receive basic services if they did not surrender the leasehold of their land. Gillard's minister of indigenous affairs has since given this the Orwellian title of "Stronger Futures".

The tactics include driving people into "hub towns" and denying decent housing to those forced to live up to a dozen in one room. The removal of Aboriginal children has reached the level of the infamous "Stolen Generation" of the last century. Many may never see their families again.

Once the "intervention" had got under way, hundreds of licences were granted to companies exploring for minerals, including uranium. Contemporary politics in Australia is often defined by the power of the mining companies. When the previous Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, proposed a tax on record mining profits, he was deposed by a backroom party cabal, including Gillard, who reduced the tax. Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks reveal that two of the plotters against Rudd were informants of the US embassy, which Rudd had angered by not following to the letter US plans to encircle China and to release uranium for sale to US clients such as India.

Gillard has since returned Australia to its historic relationship with Washington, similar to that of an east European satellite of the Soviet Union. The day before Barack Obama arrived in Canberra last year to declare China the new enemy of the "free world", Gillard announced the end of her party's ban on uranium sales.

Washington's other post-cold war obsessions demand the services of Australia. These include the intimidation of Iran and destruction of that country's independence, the undermining of the NPT and prevention of nuclear-free zones that threaten the nuclear-armed dominance of the US and Israel. Unlike Iran, a founding signatory of the NPT and supporter of a nuclear-free zone Middle East, the US and Israel ban independent inspections. And both are currently threatening to attack Iran which, as the combined agencies of US intelligence confirmed, has no nuclear weapons.

The necessary inversion of reality and double standard require a "carefully orchestrated process", the US embassy is assured by an Australian official quoted by WikiLeaks. According to the US cables, there are enthusiastic "Australian ideas" for "dredging up" information to help discredit Mohamad El Baradei who, as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997 to 2009, repeatedly refuted US claims that Iran was building a nuclear weapon. The Director of the Australian Arms Control office is portrayed as a US watchdog, warning against "a slippery slope" of governments "exercising independent judgement" on nuclear matters. A senior Australian official, one Patrick Suckling, is reporting as telling the US that "Australia wants the most robust, intrusive and debilitating sanctions possible" against Iran. Suckling's victims are today mostly ordinary men, women and children.

On 5 October, the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance, which includes Aboriginal groups from across the country, gathered in Alice Springs. They called for a moratorium on all uranium mining and sales. Indigenous women made a special plea to Gillard, recently ordained by the white media as a feminist hero. No response was expected.

On 17 October, all the testaments of obedience and servility to the mighty patron finally paid off when Australia was rewarded with a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, known in Canberra as "the top table". The timing is striking. An attack by Nato on Syria or Iran, or both, has never been closer. A world war beckons as 50 years are marked since "the world stood still", wrote the historian Sheldon Stern. This was the 1962 Cuba missile crisis when the US and the Soviet Union came within an ace of nuclear war. Declassified files disclose that President John F. Kennedy authorised "NATO aircraft with Turkish pilots... to take off for Moscow and drop a bomb."

The echo today could not be clearer.

25 October 2012


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

John Pilger:Australia's Julia Gillard is no feminist hero

The Guardian's description of Australia's opposition leader Tony Abbott as "neanderthal" is not unreasonable. Misogyny is an Australian blight and a craven reality in political life. But for so many commentators around the world to describe Julia Gillard's attack on Abbott as a "turning point for Australian women" is absurd. Promoted by glass-ceiling feminists with scant interest in the actual politics and actions of their hero, Gillard is the embodiment of the Australian Labor Party machine - a numbers-crunching machine long bereft of principle that has betrayed Australia's most vulnerable people, especially women.

Shortly before Gillard's lauded rant against Abbott, her government forced through legislation that stripped A$100 from the poorest single parents - almost all of them women. Even Labor's own caucus reportedly regarded this as "cruel". But that is nothing compared with Gillard's attacks on Aboriginal people, who remain Australia's dirty secret, suffering preventable diseases such as trachoma (blindness in children), which has been eliminated in much of the developing world, and scourges that hark back to Dickensian England, such as rheumatic heart disease, even leprosy. I have seen Aboriginal homes in which 30 people are forced to live, because the government refuses to build public housing for them. Indigenous young people are incarcerated in Australian prisons at five times the rate of black South Africans during the apartheid era.

Gillard has continued with gusto the authoritarian and mendacious 2007 "emergency intervention" designed to push Aboriginal Australians off their valuable land and box them into "hub centres": a version of apartheid. She and her indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin have implemented this inhumanity in defiance of international law. In a speech last year, Gillard, like most of her predecessors, blamed the victims of Australia's unresolved rapacious past and present. I have just spent several months in Aboriginal Australia; and the views I have gathered from remarkable, despairing, eloquent indigenous women of Gillard and her "feminism" are mostly unknown or ignored or dismissed in this country. Watching Gillard address the United Nations last month and claim that Australia embraced "the highest ideals" of human rights law was satirical, to say the least. Australia has been repeatedly condemned by the UN for its racism.

Gillard came to power by plotting secretly with an all-male cabal to depose the elected prime minister. Kevin Rudd. Two of her conspirators, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, sought inspiration in the US embassy where Gillard enjoyed an unusually high approval rating. This was understandable.

Her views on aggressive war might be described as neanderthal if they were not Victorian; referring to the dispatch of Australian colonial troops to Sudan in 1885 to avenge a popular uprising against the British, she described the forgotten bloody farce as "not only a test of wartime courage, but a test of character that has helped define our nation and create the sense of who we are." Invariably flanked by flags, she uses such guff to justify sending more young Australians to die in faraway places such as Afghanistan, essentially as American mercenaries -- more soldiers have died under her watch than that of any recent prime minister. Her true feminist distinction, perversely, is her removal of gender discrimination in combat roles in the Australian army. Thanks to her, women are now liberated to kill Afghans and others who offer no threat to Australia. One Sydney feminist commentator was beside herself. "Australia will again lead the world in a major reform", she wrote. A passionate supporter of the Israeli state, Gillard in 2009 went on a junket to Israel arranged by the Australian Israel Cultural Exchange during which she refused to condemn Israel's blood-fresh massacre of 1400 mostly women and children in Gaza.

With political trickery reminiscent of the former arch-conservative prime minister John Howard, Gillard has sought to circumvent Australian law in order to send refugees who arrive by boat to an impoverished hell on isolated Pacific islands, such as Nauru. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, these people are "90 per cent genuine refugees". They include children who, as government studies show, go insane in such confinement.

Australian feminism has a proud past. With New Zealanders, Australian women led the world in winning the vote and were at the forefront of the struggle for equal pay. During the slaughter of the First World War, Australian women mounted a uniquely successful campaign against a vote for conscription - known as "the blood vote". On polling day, a majority of Australians followed the women. That is feminism.

16 October 2012


Friday, October 05, 2012

John Pilger:The life and death of an Australian hero, whose skin was the wrong colour

 
Arthur Murray died the other day. I turned to Google Australia for tributes, and there was a 1991 obituary of an American ballroom instructor of the same name. There was nothing in the Australian media. The Australian newspaper published a large, rictal image of its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, handing out awards to his employees. Arthur would have understood the silence.

I first met Arthur a generation ago and knew he was the best kind of trouble. He objected to the cruelty and hypocrisy of white society in a country where his people had lived longer than human beings had lived anywhere. In 1969, he and Leila had brought their family to the town of Wee Waa in outback New South Wales and camped beside the Namoi River. Arthur worked in the cotton fields for a flat rate of A$1.12 an hour. Only "itinerant blackfellas" were recruited for such a pittance; only whites had unions in the land of "fair go". Having not long been granted the vote, the First Australians were still not counted in the national census - unlike the sheep.

Working conditions in the cotton fields were primitive and dangerous. "The crop-sprayers used to fly so low," Arthur told me, "we had to lie face down in the mud or our heads would've been chopped off. The insecticide was dumped on us, and for days we'd be coughing and chucking it up." In 1973, a Sydney University study reported its "astounded" finding of fish floating dead on the surface of the Namoi River, poisoned by the "utterly mad, uncontrolled" level of spraying, which continued.

Arthur and the cotton-chippers made history. They went on strike, and more than 500 of them marched through Wee Waa. The Wee Waa Echo called them "radicals and professional troublemakers", adding that "it is not fanciful to see the Aboriginal problem as the powder keg for Communist aggression in Australia". Abused as "boongs" and "niggers", the Murrays' riverside camp was attacked and the workers' tents smashed or burned down.

Although food was collected for the strikers, hunger united their families. Leila would wake before sunrise to light a wood fire that cooked the little food they had and to heat a 44-gallon drum, cut in half lengthways, and filled with water that the children brought in buckets from the river for their morning bath. With her ancient flat iron she pressed their clothes, so that they went to school "spotless", as she would say.

The enemies Arthur and his comrades made were the Australian equivalent of those standing in the way of Martin Luther King's civil rights campaigners in the United States. They were the police, local politicians, the media. "Who in the town was with you?" I asked Arthur. He thought for a while. "There was a chemist," he said. "who was kind to Aboriginal people. Mostly we were on our own." Soon after the cotton workers won an hourly rate of A$1.45, Arthur was arrested for trespassing in the grounds of the Returned Servicemen's Club. His defence shocked the town; it was land rights. All of Australia was Aboriginal land, he said.

On 12 June, 1981, Arthur and Leila's son, Eddie, aged 21, was drinking with some friends in a park in Wee Waa. He was a star footballer confident he would be selected to tour New Zealand with the Redfern All Blacks Rugby League team. At 1.45 pm he was picked up by the police for nothing but drunkenness. Within an hour he was dead in a cell, with a blanket tried round his neck. At the inquest, the coroner described police evidence as "highly suspicious" and their records were found to have been falsified. Eddie, he said, had died "by his own hand or by the hand of a person or persons unknown". It was a craven finding familiar to Aboriginal Australians.  Everyone knew Eddie had too much to live for.

Arthur and Leila set out on an extraordinary journey for justice for their son and their people. They endured the ignorance and indifference of white society and its multi-layered political and judicial bureaucracies. They won a royal commission, only to see the royal commissioner, a judge, suddenly appointed to a top government administrative job in the critical final stages of the hearing. They eventually won the right to exhume Eddie's body, and suffered terribly in the process, in order to prove the true cause of death, and they proved it; his sternum had been crushed by a blow while he was alive. And they reaffirmed how common their story was. "They're killing Aboriginal people," Leila told me. "... just killing us."  Today, Aborigines are imprisoned at five times the rate of blacks in apartheid South Africa, and their death and suffering in custody is widespread.

In 2000, the New South Wales Police Minister, Paul Whelan, met Arthur and Leila in his office in Sydney and ordered an investigation by a specialist unit, the Police Integrity Commission. He promised them that this "would not be the end of the road".  There was no serious inquiry and the minister retired to his stud farm. He has returned none of my calls.

Leila could not read, yet this remarkable woman memorised almost every document and judgement. She died in 2004, broken hearted. Incredibly, Arthur reached the age of 70 when most Aboriginal men are dead by the age of 45. In a typical case this year, CCTV footage in Alice Springs police station showed a policewoman cleaning blood off the floor while a stricken Aboriginal man was left to die. Australia, said Prime Minister Julia Gillard on 26 September, deserves a seat at the top table of the United Nations because it "embraces the high ideals" of the UN. No country since apartheid South Africa has been more condemned by the UN for its racism than Australia.

When I last saw Arthur, we walked down to the Namoi riverbank and he told me how the police in Wee Waa were still frightened to go into the cell where Eddie had died and had pleaded with him  to "smoke out" Eddie's spirit. "No bloody way!" Arthur told them.

Peace to all their spirits; justice to all their people.

With thanks to Simon Luckhurst, Roderic Pitty & Robert Cavanagh

4 October 2012