Sam Watson for Senate: 'We will not compromise our principles'

Sam Watson is a Murri leader and the Socialist Alliance Senate candidate for Queensland in the upcoming federal election. He told Green Left Weekly's Jim McIlroy about the main issues facing Aboriginal people in the lead-up to the election.

18 April 2010 Green Left

Image: Socialist Alliance

The 2010 federal election is an opportunity for the Aboriginal community to pass judgment on the Rudd Labor government's policies on Indigenous affairs.

In 2007, the Coalition government of John Howard was thrown out of office because of popular opposition to its policies on many issues. It is unlikely that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is in real danger of losing power, but there still needs to be a protest vote right across the Aboriginal community against the racist policies of the federal Labor government.

Aboriginal people will make this election a referendum on the Rudd government. Three years on from the fall of the extremely conservative Howard government, things have not changed for Indigenous people. If anything, they have got worse.

Howard's Northern Territory intervention has continued under Rudd. The NT Lands Rights Act has been overridden. The Anti-Discrimination Act has been effectively overturned.

Aboriginal unemployment, lack of education, and poor housing are at record levels. Aboriginal health is worse than Fourth World standard. Our people continue to suffer one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world.

When you apply a measuring stick to the Rudd government on Aboriginal policies, it fails badly. At least with the Howard regime there was no attempt to conceal its racism. The Coalition was proud of it.

The Rudd Labor government rode to power promising so much, but has delivered so little. Aboriginal and other voters need to punish Rudd and remind the government that they rely on the ordinary people for their survival.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to get politically active, to get involved in the campaigns for their rights, and to register and get out on election day.

The lessons of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody are still being ignored. Of the 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission, few have been implemented. The rate of arrests, detention and deaths in custody of Aboriginal people remains at shocking levels.

In the last five weeks in Queensland, there have been five deaths in custody, of which three were Indigenous.

Governments are privatising prisons and police watch houses to the detriment of all prisoners. This exposes vulnerable people to even greater risk of harm.

These questions of Aboriginal rights will be major issues for Socialist Alliance in the lead-up to the federal election later this year.

As custodians of the land and seashore, Indigenous people have a great concern about the natural environment. We are very alarmed about the threat of climate change, particularly here in Queensland with the danger of destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.

Aboriginal people can make an impact in the federal elections if they put up candidates, especially in the Senate. The Indigenous community is ready to embrace alternative parties like the Greens and Socialist Alliance.

As Socialist Alliance, nobody owns us. Our spirit is not in hock to the multinational corporations, as the major parties are. We will not compromise our principles, but will stand up for the rights of Aboriginal people, asylum seekers and ordinary working people.

Nuke dump protesters target PM's office

Jim McIlroy Green Left 18 April 2010

Brisbane - "We don't need nuclear power", Sam Watson, Aboriginal community leader and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate, told a picket against the proposed nuclear waste dump at Muckaty in the Northern Territory, held outside PM Kevin Rudd's electorate office in Norman Park on April 12.

"It is a fundamental principle of Aboriginal culture that you preserve the land and the environment, to hand on to future generations. Nuclear waste means radioactive poison for hundreds of thousands of years.

"This nuclear dump would mean toxic waste would be returned to Aboriginal land, to permanently contaminate the water table. There are much cheaper and cleaner options for generating electric power.

"We need to build this campaign against the dump during the federal election period. We, the people, must hold our political leaders accountable for their actions."

Organiser Robyn Taubenfeld told the picket: "We need to tell the PM that the community is opposed to the nuclear dump at Muckaty - or anywhere else for that matter."

Protesters entered Rudd's office and delivered a letter on behalf of members of the Muckaty community and the traditional owners of the land.

Terrorist fears over NT nuclear dump site

Lindsay Murdoch April 14, 2010

Terrorist groups could target radioactive material being transported to a proposed nuclear waste dump in a remote part of central Australia, the Northern Territory Government has warned.

And security agencies in northern Australia do not have the expertise or equipment to securely store or respond to accidents involving the transportation of radioactive material, the government said in a submission to a Senate committee.

The government told the committee investigating how Australia should manage its nuclear waste that Lake Woods, a site of conservation significance, is only 25 kilometres north of Muckaty Station, where the government plans to build the dump to store radioactive waste from around Australia and overseas.

The area has three known threatened and one endangered faunal species, the government said.

The NT government also warned of the risk of contaminating high quality drinking water under Muckaty, which Aboriginal people drink at outstations.

The government's wide-ranging submission attacking the proposed siting of the dump on a 1.5 square kilometre site 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek coincides with a fresh challenge from Aboriginal landowners, who claim their "dreaming" and traditional laws overlap the nominated site.

Senior elders from five clans that own Muckaty have briefed lawyers to mount a legal challenge to the nomination of the site by one family group that has been offered $12 million.

In a submission to the Senate committee, senior elders from the Ngapa, Milwayi, Ngarrka, Yapayapa and Wirntiku clans rejected a claim by the Northern Land Council that one Ngapa clan has the exclusive rights to say yes or no to the nomination.

They said the findings of a Land Commissioner's report, released in 1997 when Muckaty was handed back to indigenous owners, shows their traditions and dreaming overlap the site.

They also cited anthropological reports and detailed knowledge handed down through centuries to back their claim.

The elders told the committee they were excluded from anthropological investigations undertaken for the nomination.

The elders challenged an anthropological report commissioned by the land council that purports to show that one Ngapa family group has the right to nominate the site.

The report, which has been sent to Canberra, has not been made public.

Amy Lauder, the clan's spokeswoman, told an earlier Senate committee hearing that five clan groups had "dreaming" on Muckaty but she insisted her family group had the right to nominate the 1.5 square kilometre site.

"It is our decision and it is our land, so we nominated our land for the government's consideration," she said.

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson confirmed in February that Muckaty was the only site being considered for the dump, which will used to store nuclear waste that has been accumulating around Australia for 50 years.

A national dump is also needed to store radioactive waste from the reprocessing of spent research reactor fuel that Australia has sent to Scotland and France over decades.

The waste must be returned to Australia in 2015 and 2016.

The Senate committee must report its findings to Parliament by April 30.

Source: The Age