To follow is a transcription of a talk given by Pala Molisa on the grounds of parliament in Wellington on May 1, 2015 in protest of the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in Australia. Speakers discussed this recent policy in the context of a longstanding white Australia policy, and Pala’s talk was proceeded by Metiria Turei’s, which pointed out that “there have been more children taken since the apology for the stolen generation, than were taken during the stolen generation”. Pala used his talk to encourage activists to continue to draw connections between historic and contemporary human rights abuses occurring in Australia, the Pacific, and globally as well as at home.
If you look at any social movement for social justice that had a significant impact in shifting and addressing some of the atrocities around the world, one of the defining features of all those social movements was first of all, an ability and a willingness to connect the dots between injustices that happen to one section of the community and injustices that are happening elsewhere within that particular country.
If you look at the country of Australia, the first atrocity that ever happened when the English set foot there was certainly the genocide of the indigenous peoples of that land; but there were also other atrocities that came along with that, including the atrocities of inequality that the class society was based on.
In fact, if you look at the history of Australia, it is not just a history defined by genocide and a white Australia policy, it is also a history largely defined by profound social struggles. Australia was the first state to ever win a 35-hour working week for its working peoples, its labourers. It has a history of standing up to imperialism; it has a history of supporting the liberal arts, liberal education institutions, freedom of the press. The problem though in Australia – as we also have had here in New Zealand, since 1984 under the David Lange-lead Labour Party government – is that those liberal institutions have been systematically rolled back.
We are still under that particular process of systematic rollback today, here in New Zealand. That’s why we have one in four children [270,000 children] in poverty, that’s why our schools are closing, that’s why our more remote communities are also closing. It’s part of the structural imperative of cost-cutting that is going on. It is an ugly reality to face, but the thing we must always muster the courage to do is to face certain realities.
One of the realities we have to start grasping is that these injustices do not come out of nowhere, they come out of underlying systems. They are a product of how our societies are organised. So I think it’s right to challenge the Australian government on what they are planning to do, to forcibly close 150 indigenous communities – that’s certainly wrong – but I think we also have to realise the ongoing policy of genocide, cultural genocide.
I understand that term is quite a strong sounding term. But look at the criteria under international law and under our conventions for the prevention and punishment of genocide: the policies that the Australian government is carrying out has and continues to meet that definition of genocide. So I do not think we are being hyperbolic when we say that what Tony Abbott is doing is genocide, and I think we also have to recognise that this has been a longstanding campaign.
Our Aboriginal brothers and sisters – I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how they do it, surviving in a country that purports to be a first world nation, that purports to be based on all these liberal freedoms and human rights, yet most of their policies are equivalent, as John Pilger states, to apartheid South Africa. They have the highest child suicide rate in the world. They have 5-8 times the incarceration rate of the height of the de Klerk-lead South African apartheid government. And those are not realities that affect all of Australia, those are the realities that affect our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
We need to keep paying attention to that wider context, and draw connections between what’s going on there and other injustices including here in New Zealand, and we need to continue to hold to the truth. Because we don’t have much power, and we don’t have much power when you compare the resources we have with the resources of the corporations and the corporate state that is carrying out these policies. The only thing we can hold fast to are moral imperatives: what Vaclav Havel calls the ‘power of the powerless’. It’s when we refuse to bend our principles to privilege and power, and we hold to truth and justice. I think that’s what we are doing here today and in solidarity with everyone else throughout the world and in Australia.