/ 26 June 2007

Australian Aborigines label govt crackdown a land grab

Aborigines on Tuesday said the government was trying to steal their land under the guise of responding to a crisis that Prime Minister John Howard has labelled Australia’s own Hurricane Katrina.

Canberra began deploying police and soldiers to the Northern Territory outback this week under a controversial plan to combat widespread child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities.

Indigenous leaders presented a letter bearing more than 90 signatures to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough on Tuesday condemning the plan, which involves Canberra taking control of leases on Aboriginal land for five years.

Pat Turner, who was once Australia’s most senior Aboriginal bureaucrat, said Howard’s conservative government was trying to reverse hard-fought indigenous land rights.

“We believe that this government is using child sexual abuse as the Trojan horse to resume total control of our land,” she told reporters.

“No compensation will ever, ever replace our land-ownership rights.”

The crackdown — including bans on alcohol and pornography, as well as medical check-ups for all children under the age of 16 — follows a damning government report into child abuse in indigenous communities.

While critics have branded it a paternalistic return to the past, Howard said strong action was needed to address a national failure comparable to Washington’s botched response when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

“Many Australians, myself included, looked aghast at the failure of the American federal system of government to cope adequately with Hurricane Katrina and the human misery and lawlessness that engulfed New Orleans in 2005,” Howard said in a speech late on Monday.

“We should have been more humble. We have our Katrina, here and now.

“That it has unfolded more slowly and absent the hand of God should make us humbler still.” — AFP