The Guardian 23 March, 2005


ATSIC axing won't stop the struggle

The decision of the Howard Government to disband the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission (ATSIC), after spending years undermining it and its leadership, puts the clock back to the days of assimilation, a policy that was aimed at destroying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and submerging by force the original owners of the Australian continent into the culture established by the occupying British colonial forces.

ATSIC was the first popularly elected, national organisation of Indigenous Australians and it undertook many educational, housing, health and legal programs on behalf of its people. It gave them hope and experience in running their own affairs. It assisted them in many land rights struggles.

And there's the rub as far as the Howard Government is concerned. This government would like to turn the clock back to terra nullius, the policy that claimed Australia was an unoccupied, "empty land" when the British arrived. This policy was part of a program of genocide carried out by successive governments for more than 200 years.

Today the Howard Government is reinforcing this history of racism and dispossession. In the area of welfare payments, for example, payments to Indigenous Australians are being made conditional on the fulfillment of particularly intrusive government imposed obligations.

These developments are a savage blow to Indigenous people, to their hopes and their struggle for recognition, for land rights and for the strengthening and practicing of their culture.

What is certain is that Indigenous Australians, having once had their own democratically elected and accountable organisation, will not capitulate to the government's vandalism. Their struggle, alongside all the working people of Australia, will continue.

The hard road to Irish peace

It is now 10 years since the Irish Republican Army initiated a ceasefire and Sinn Féin started negotiations with the British Government and Northern Ireland political parties for what has become known as the peace process.

In these 10 years it has become clear to any unbiased observer that neither the British Government nor the religious right wing in Northern Ireland want peace or a united Ireland. They are determined to retain the northern counties as a British colony.

There are now more British troops in Northern Ireland than in Iraq. "What does that tell you about the intentions of British securocrats?" asked Martin McGuinness, a leader of Sinn Féin in an interview last week on the ABC Lateline program.

A vicious campaign is now underway against the IRA and Sinn Féin to trip up the peace process. While ignoring the presence of the British troops and the armed "loyalist" groups, a demand is being pressed in the US, Britain and Australia that the IRA should disarm unilaterally.

Another factor that is impelling those who want to bring an end to the peace process is the fact that Sinn Féin is achieving remarkable electoral successes. Martin McGuinness told ABC's Lateline that Sinn Féin had achieved a "huge increase in support" in the last European and local government elections in the south. He pointed out that when Gerry Adams stood in West Belfast, he got more votes than any of the other 650 MPs elected to Westminster.

Rejecting the smear campaign, Martin McGuinness said that "Sinn Féin understands that the task of bringing an end to all armed groups is a very difficult one but we're working to achieve that because we want to see all of the armed groups, including the IRA, out of the equation".

Expressing confidence in the peace process McGuinness said: "I think the peace process has been hugely successful. We have transformed the political and security situation but there is still work to do".

Sounding a warning to all supporters of freedom and justice for the Irish people Tony Jones declared that "There's pressure in the United States and there will be pressure inevitably in Australia to ban Sinn Féin from fundraising in those countries". This could be done by declaring Sinn Féin a terrorist organisation under the sweeping anti-democratic laws already adopted by the Australian, British and American Governments, a proposal already pushed by those opposed to an independent, united Ireland. Or Sinn Féin could be added to the "Consolidated List" in Australia, making it illegal to have any financial dealings with it — including buy a publication or pay to hear Gerry Adams talk at a fundraising function.

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