In 1788 down Sydney Cove,
The first boat people land
Said sorry boys, our gain's your loss,
We re gonna steal your land
(Kev Carmody, Thou Shalt Not Steal)
Recent news about the Curtin
and Port Hedland Immigration Reception and Processing Centres in north
Western Australia set me thinking about invasions, Canberra's relationship
with Asia and the Indian Ocean, and locking people up.
Media reports talked of riots,
ringleaders and troublemakers inside the ACM-run concentration camps.
But it sounded more like resistance and desperation at their conditions,
created by a barbaric immigration and mandatory detention regime.
I vividly remember my own
disturbing 1986 visit to Western Australia.
In this state bordering the
Indian Ocean, a woman told me about her friend who liked Indian food
but hated Indian people.
A man raved about the need
for a big fence to be built across the Top End to keep the Indonesians
and Chinese from invading.
Packs of white men from Perth
and elsewhere in the south swarmed up the coast, boasting loudly about
seeking fights with black people.
Police were loading Aboriginal
people who had been sitting under a tree into a police van as I arrived
in Broome. On Perth's streets the same blue uniforms harassed young
In Broome, I first heard
about Jandamarra. In the 1890s, this Bunuba resistance leader struggled
against the white invaders who sought rich grazing lands in the West
Kimberleys around Derby. The colonisers slaughtered or enslaved untold
numbers of Indigenous People. Jandamarra surely ranks alongside other
anti-colonial heroes in his campaign to block the advance of the settlers
and defend his people's territory.
As we listen to daily rhetoric
about the "war on terror", we should remember that Australia
has known many wars of terror. And that people have and always will
resist terror in its many forms.
Australia's disgusting mandatory
detention for visa-less people needs to be viewed against a clear understanding
of what this country is based on. M. Shahid Alam s description of Israel
as a colonising project based on lies could apply equally to Australia.
With all the recent hysteria
about a nonexistent armada of boat people heading for Australian waters,
we should be asking how and when the invaders came to see themselves
as the invaded? When did the colonisers get to talk about themselves
as the colonised?
Near Derby, some 50km from
the old RAAF Base at Curtin which now houses around three hundred and
thirty detainees, is a hollow boab tree which was used for locking up
Indigenous prisoners, several at a time. In Jandamarra's day, during
the ruthless murderous war of terror which police troopers and settlers
conducted against his people, Derby gaol was a large galvanised iron
shed with a central post to which prisoners were chained at night. (Jandamarra
and the Bunuba Resistance, Howard Pedersen and Banjo Woorunmurra).
Yes, Australia's governments
like locking people up. Some people. Amit Baruah asked in The Hindu
(2/09/01): Is Australia a white fortress? Would the Australian Government
have denied white farmers escaping "persecution'' in Zimbabwe permission
to land on Christmas Island? Overstayers and visa-violaters from English-speaking
countries don t get incarcerated in hellholes like Curtin and Port Hedland.
WA and Northern Territory mandatory sentencing laws for petty property
crimes have led to the jailing of mostly young Indigenous people.
In the demonising of detainees
we can see similarities with the language used to justify the treatment
of Indigenous Peoples. And with responses to Asians in 19th century
Back then, camel herders
and camels were brought from British India and the Middle East to open
up trade routes in the interior. The Afghans formed the backbone of
communications and supply routes, and numerous expeditions searching
for new mineral wealth, encountering appalling racism and exclusion
from white society.
Western Australia had an
Anti-Afghan League in the 1890s, when camelherders were transporting
food and water in the Coolgardie goldrush. Journalist Gilbert Probyn-Smith,
in evidence to WA's Parliament about Afghans in the area claimed that
many were still in sympathy with those Afghans who fought the British
during the Second Afghan War -- they were traitorous by nature. He warned
of the peril to Australian lives if a Jihad (holy war) were to be proclaimed
somewhere in the Muslim World. So what's new about the recent rabid
racism on talkback radio and letters to the editor? Or former Defence
Minister Peter Reith's claim that the unauthorised arrival of boats
on Australian territory can be a pipeline for terrorists to come in
and use your country as a staging post for terrorist activities.
Meanwhile, many of Australia's
pastoralists, benefactors of the hidden subsidies of agricultural trade
-- land and resources stolen from Indigenous Nations -- now want to
sell more of their food exports to Asia. Other Australian businesses
seek new markets and investment opportunities there, too.
Australia uses its Navy in
the Indian Ocean to keep people whose homelands frequently share the
same ocean, or are from other parts of Asia or the Middle East, and
sets up its concentration camps in remote parts of the country or Pacific
islands as part of its effort to keep these people away from its borders.
Meanwhile Canberra's trade officials, ministers and business are pressuring
Asian and other Indian Ocean Rim countries to dismantle remaining barriers
to trade and investment.
John Howard established and chairs "Supermarket to Asia",
a joint industry and government initiative which aims to help Australian
food producers take advantage of the growing markets in Asia. It aims
to grow Australian food sales to Asia by developing a market-led culture,
"removing barriers" and so on.
Efforts to tie the CER agreement
between Australia and New Zealand with the ASEAN Free Trade Area developing
among the twelve ASEAN countries appear to be gaining momentum.
Australia is also a founding
member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation
(IOR-ARC), comprising 19 Indian Ocean littoral and island states. Formed
in 1997, it is an economic forum to advance economic cooperation within
the region, and strengthen trade and investment linkages. Its achievements
have not been very noteworthy so far although, according to the Department
of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, IOR-ARC provides a useful mechanism
for furthering Australia's trade interests and business links around
the Indian Ocean Rim.
Wilson Tuckey, former Federal
Minister for Forestry and Conservation says "IOR-ARC is a key element
of Australia's broader strategic engagement in the Indian Ocean Region
and builds on the close political, social, and cultural links we enjoy
with the countries of the region".
The IOR-ARC charter grandly
"Conscious of the
historical bonds created through millennia among peoples of the Indian
Ocean and with a sense of recovery of history; cognizant of economic
transformation and speed of change the world over which is propelled
significantly by increased intensity in regional economic cooperation;
realising that the countries washed by the Indian Ocean in their diversity
offer vast opportunities to enhance economic interaction and cooperation
over a wide spectrum to mutual benefit and in a spirit of equality".
Australian politicians can
barely acknowledge Australia's history of colonisation and genocide.
So what sort of historical bonds exactly do they understand to exist
between them and the peoples of the Indian Ocean, many of whom have
struggled against imperialism and colonisation for centuries? New markets
and access to cheaper labour and natural resources for its capitalists?
While Australia sells its
education services to the region's wealthy, Canberra s draconian treatment
of people fleeing their countries, desperate for a better life for themselves
and their families, is also supposed to be educational. As Janet Burstall,
of Adult Learning Australia puts it: The refugees are to spread the
word back home: don t even think about coming to Australia, you will
suffer in hell.
Australia continues to seal
its borders with its army and navy. How many of today's conflicts which
are generating an exodus of desperate people relate to the arbitrary
drawing of lines on maps by colonial powers for the purposes of easier
administration and economic exploitation, who have walked away with
impunity and denied all responsibility for the ensuing violence and
suffering? And what has Canberra's role been?
Structural adjustment programmes
and trade and investment liberalization have led to cuts in public expenditure,
the erosion of education, social and welfare provisions and a raft of
other austerity measures throughout the Third World. The lives and economies
of the South still underwrite the standards of living for the affluent
in the North. This has led to escalating poverty, environmental degradation
and a growing polarization between and within countries, which in turn
has led to increased migration. Australia's government actively promotes
such neoliberal policies through its official aid and trade programmes.
While supporting a war that
is creating many more refugees, governments like Australia's are tightening
up immigration laws, evading their international responsibilities to
accept asylum seekers, fostering false but convenient public perceptions
that existing legislation is lax and that it is time to pull out (non-existent)
welcome mats for refugees. With Howard's government seeking the suspension
of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for human rights violations, can we
ask which government will impose sanctions against Australia for its
ongoing violations of international agreements both in regard to Indigenous
Peoples' rights and its abuses of people seeking asylum?
While there is free movement
of capital, people will inevitably be forced to leave their homelands.
If Canberra and governments of the so-called developed world are so
concerned to keep people in their homelands, why do they not curb the
movement of global capital and encourage the development of local economies
We must go beyond discussing
the exploitation of migrant workers and the way in which capitalist
countries use underpaid legal and illegal immigrants to put downward
pressure on working conditions and wages and to undermine trade unionism.
We must build alliances against the many forms of political and economic
imperialism which deny people their economic, political and social rights
and transforms them into refugees.
We must identify and confront
new modalities of colonisation. In places like Australia, Aotearoa/New
Zealand, and Canada that must include meaningfully connecting with Indigenous
Peoples about their concerns about immigration into their territories
something which colonial settler governments have never done.