I like it when protests start at the Block in Redfern because I can get from bed to the rally in less than 10 minutes. A 10am starting time can be forgiven.
It was a relatively small march for Sydney, 400 at most, but spirited. This was Sydney’s part of the national day of action against what amounts to martial law in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. In fact it was international, because protests were happening in New Zealand as well, and organiser Lyall Munro got a big cheer from the crowd when he mentioned Maori support.
There are vast differences between the situation of Maori in New Zealand and indigenous people here, who on average have things much worse. The last few weeks have demonstrated one major difference – the complete lack of independent indigenous political power at a federal level. Thanks to their weight in the New Zealand population and the Maori seats, Maori can’t be ignored – this has long been an electoral handicap for National and lately troublesome for Labour.
Here, despite the valiant efforts of indigenous activists, independent Aboriginal voices are almost inconsequential in national politics, except those voices cherrypicked as useful for the government. A constituency of white liberals has to be appeased, but even on the left proper, their concerns often take a paternalistic form. Many are surprisingly susceptible to the warping of self-determination rhetoric by the likes of Noel Pearson – New Zealanders will find phrases like ‘welfare dependency’ and ‘the failure of liberalism’ familiar from people like Donna Awatere-Huata and John Tamihere. The ALP leadership has been shameless in jumping on the bandwagon to avoid the wedge.
What happens now will depend on the extent of resistance in the invaded communities themselves, from the Northern Territory government, and among the professionals the government will rely on to carry out its plans. (As if to highlight that the police and military are not bringing extra welfare spending, Howard has called on doctors to volunteer to carry out the compulsory checks for sexual abuse.)
For the rest of us, the immediate goal is to keep trying to swing public opinion against the invasion. According to a Newspoll poll last week, 61 per cent of voters support the Howard plan.