Tony Abbott and the 40 thieves

Activist Ghillar Michael Anderson

By Diane Fieldes, writing in Melbourne-based Red Flag

[Australian right-of-centre prime minister] Tony Abbott’s 40 hand-picked Aboriginal “leaders” met him and his doppelgänger [Labor Opposition leader] Bill Shorten [in Sydney] on 6 July. Together they are developing the latest diversion from acknowledging the dispossession of Indigenous people in Australia. It’s the “Recognise” campaign, which claims that an amendment to the racist Australian constitution is the next big step in dealing with racism and ongoing genocide. It’s a whitewash.


The meeting took place [at a centre for financial studies around the corner from Kirribilli House, the prime ministerial official seaside residence in Sydney] behind metal gates and a gang of police, who failed to stop a loud and very articulate protest from making our way up to those gates.

Aboriginal elders from many struggles and many parts of the country got on the microphone. Among them were Ken Canning, Patricia Corowa, Jenny Munro, Albert Hartnett, Les Coe, with more impromptu speeches and chants coming from the rest of the rally. Tahnea, a young child, made an impassioned plea: “Abbott, stop taking away Aboriginal kids. Shame on you!”

Speaker after speaker pointed the finger of blame at the Indigenous people taking part in the meeting. Albert Hartnett dubbed them “Tony Abbott and the 40 thieves”.

“We have to start calling these things for what they are”, Ken Canning said. “This is an act of treason against their own people.” Deb Williams yelled up at them: “You don’t speak for Indigenous people, you sell-outs! Get out!”

Sitting down with Abbott helps to legitimise what he and his Labor and Liberal predecessors have done to Aboriginal people.

That list of crimes is long – and growing: the attacks on Aboriginal communities, which are threatened with closure from the Kimberley [Western Australia] to Redfern [Sydney]; the rate of removal of Aboriginal kids, which exceeds the levels reached during the taking of the Stolen Generations; the rising rate of imprisonment and the murders in custody.

The government onslaught against Indigenous people is relentless.

Last week the federal government cut funding to the Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney. It will be forced to close, at the cost of Aboriginal lives.

Meanwhile other alleged “services” to Aboriginal people get plenty of money. In the town of Walgett, with its proud history of Aboriginal activism and resistance, $16 million has just been spent on a new police station.

Walgett Community College is now the first school in the state to have police stationed inside the school. No doubt this is a government efficiency measure to speed the transition of Aboriginal people from school to jail.

No constitutional amendment will address any of this. That’s the diversionary point of it. And it’s why Aboriginal activists are advising us to take a lead from the Greek people and vote no.

End of Diane Fieldes’ report.

Vote 'NO' To Constitutional Change, facebook: "All Australians! We ask that you vote "No" for the coming referendum: Constitutional reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in it "

About 40 officers made their presence felt outside the conference.


“Diversion from attacks on Aboriginal rights”

Non-Aboriginal researcher and activist, Paddy Gibson, who was among the Sydney protesters, sees both major political parties, especially Abbott’s ‘Liberals’, “stringing this debate about recognition out for as long as they can to divert from their real attacks on Aborigines right across the country”. Gibson argues what’s really at stake in a 13½ minute interview with Alice Springs based CAAMA Aboriginal radio. He gives an excellent summary.

Gibson has commented earlier: "Constitutional recognition is a farce designed to divert attention from the decimation of Aboriginal life through funding cuts and the closure of communities.”

Prominent Aboriginal activist, Ghillar Michael Anderson, saw Abbott’s Kirribilli gathering as more like a Pinochet or Hitler type moment for Aboriginal Peoples". “
This Recognise campaign is about securing the head of power to govern over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. It is not about securing our rights or freeing us from racial discrimination.

The 6 July protest, numbering at least 70 people, according to activist filmmaker Ellie Gilbert,  started at Circular Quay, where the first British colony in Australia began in 1788. The original intention was to march en masse across the harbour bridge but demonstrators took a ferry instead. There’s no indication of why the plan was changed but I assume it was lack of numbers, given there was a lead of only three days.


At Circular Quay Anderson and fellow activist Alice Haines explained the reasons for opposing recognition to the Aboriginal channel, NITV, which failed to air it. Haines said to recognise was “to enter into the ownership of the slave master”. She pointed out that Australia is the only country in the Commonwealth not to have made a treaty with an invaded First Nations people.


“What I’m upset about,” said Anderson, “is that this [constitutional recognition] campaign is about getting the white population to give the authority to the government to govern us blackfellas without our authority. They’re not asking us whether we want to be governed. As soon as they recognise us, we’re consenting to be governed. But the trouble is we’re only 3% of the population.”


No vote activist Deb Williams said, “We don’t want recognition, we want a treaty. Recognition will do away with our sovereign rights we’ve never ceded and never will. Aboriginal land always was, always will be.” Albert Hartnet didn’t mince words about the 40 hand-picked Aborigines at the table with Abbott and Shorten.


“We are on a precipice”


From an earlier media release by the Sovereign Union, which Anderson co-leads: “The government knows that they are committing a major crime against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples when they put us all in the one basket, falsely promoting a single homogenous community. They know that is wrong but the Australian public does not. This is our last stand as independent Nations and Peoples holding ancient Law and cultures. We are on a precipice. Let's not have these false pretenders make decisions for the rest of us."


The constitution is still an act of the British parliament dated 1900.


Police tried to stop protesters moving down the street to the office building where the meeting with the government and opposition leaders took place behind drawn curtains. The following video portrays noisy shouts and an elder’s argument with a policeman before the protesters make it to the gate.


“Genocidal maniac”


One shout to the Aborigines at the meeting was: “You are sitting with Tony Abbott who has backed illegally removing people from land. It is causing deaths. You’re sitting at the table with a man whose policies are causing the deaths of your fellow Aboriginal people. Nobody should be sitting down with Abbott who has shown himself by his actions to be a genocidal maniac.”  

Michael Mansell, an Indigenous leader in Tasmania, urges outright rejection of Abbott’s preference for constitutional recognition, writing in a media release:  

The purpose of recognizing Aboriginal people in the Australian constitution, the most powerful source of political power in the country, is to honestly respond to the history of Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal people. The Federal Parliament already passed the token Act of Recognition. The Australian people should not have to endure a multi-million dollar campaign leading up to a referendum for more of the same.

If the constitution is the vehicle for recognition then some real sense of importance must be given to the form of recognition. It must confer real benefits on Aboriginal people. Words in a preamble have no legal effect, confer no benefits and impose no obligations.

Even worse is the choice of words believed to be the PM’s preference, namely acknowledging ‘indigenous heritage, British foundation and multicultural character’. To equate ownership of a continent since time immemorial with multiculturalism is a slight on Aboriginal history.


To call the British invasion of Aboriginal lands as the foundation for a country ignores the slaughter, rape and persecution by the British. It is one thing to acknowledge the facts:
it is entirely another to celebrate them in the constitution by glossing over the real history.

End of extract.


Practical help, not symbolism


Other Tasmanian Aboriginal leaders have questioned the focus on indigenous constitutional recognition, saying practical help is needed rather than symbolism. Trudy Maluga from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) said she was "sick of symbolism". "If Tony Abbott was serious, he would start the conversation about treaty, I think treaty and constitutional recognition go hand-in-hand," she said. Sara Maynard, also from the TAC, has similar views.

Ms Maynard works for the Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service, which recently lost its federal funding.

The farce at Kirribilli

Prominent Aboriginal journalist, Amy McQuire, wrote about “the farce at Kirribilli: Abbott, Shorten put the con back into constitutional reform”.

“A pre-determined outcome negotiated between two major parties, and 40 Aboriginal leaders brought along for a stamp of approval,” is her summary.


An extract: Blackfellas can be seen to have a say, they can be ‘consulted’ with, but in the end, the process ends in white hands, and the hands of the majority non-Indigenous populace, if a referendum ever happens in the near future. 

When you sum it all up, it will be white people who say what’s good. It will be white people who will say what’s bad. It will be white people who will buy it.  The only difference is, blackfellas are the ones forced to sell it. And those who refuse to do so, are pushed to the margins of public debate, even overshadowed by the voices of irrational right-wingers like Andrew Bolt, who plead for a no case for all the wrong reasons.

Forty Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, narrowly selected from fields like health and law, along with a number of representatives who were simply plucked from Recognise’s own office, were assembled to give their respective positions on the next phase in the stagnated process of constitutional reform.

The four-hour talkfest with Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Tony Abbott comes five years after an expert panel delivered its report following a series of community consultations. And were then roundly ignored.

There has never really been an official position on the report provided by either Labor or Liberal, despite the rhetoric that comes from the mouths of their leaders.

Yesterday’s meeting was hailed as ‘historic’, which could work as long as you include the word ‘dud’ at the end of it. What emerged was a pre-determined commitment by Shorten and Abbott for a “referendum council” and a series of community conferences, held by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike, to kick off in September. There was no talk of a model, but the meeting simply charted what the next stage is in a movement that has largely been forced to a halt.

The guest list of the 40 attendees was shrouded in secrecy [listed below], driving an already growing cynicism around the process of constitutional reform, and ingraining the feeling amongst many in communities that it’s a process far removed from their own aspirations.

Protest predictably missing from news broadcasts

That feeling manifested in a protest outside Kirribilli yesterday, where about 50 to 60 Aboriginal protesters assembled in the midst of a riot squad to make their feelings known. The images of their cries were subsequently, but predictably, missing from news broadcasts that night, instead focusing on the select group of 40.

Why and how the group of 40 were chosen, is still unknown. Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson, who was an invitee, told 98.9 FM Let’s Talk programme this morning that the list had been decided by both the Prime Minister’s Office and Recognise, the leadership of which is jointly shared by the non-Indigenous former ALP National Secretary Tim Gartrell and Torres Strait Islander woman Tanya Hosch.

Even Pearson, known for having the ears of national leaders from all sides of the political spectrum, didn’t know the full list of attendees. “I didn’t know who my colleagues were, it was only through networking. It was literally on the day (that we found out),” he said. “We didn’t know who the other members were, and I think… how necessary was that?”

If you wanted any indication of how unrepresentative the hand-picked list was consider the fact the largest elected member-based Aboriginal organisation in the country, and one of the richest – the NSW Aboriginal Land Council – was excluded. Meanwhile the PM and organisers at Recognise found room to fit in Aboriginal filmmaker Rachel Perkins.

According to Pearson, the whole exercise was stage-managed, and pre-determined before the meeting took place. The idea for a Referendum Council, agreed to by Abbott and Shorten, with no further detail about what it would look like, was mentioned as talks were slowing, driving this perception, Pearson said.

“It’s quite astounding. I’ve been on the edges of this kind of political process for a couple of decades now,” Pearson said.

“I’m quite used to how governments manage events and so on, but the processes now are very sophisticated, this is the way public policy is done. You give people opportunity to vent, say their bit, and then your team at the backroom have already drafted the press release and the parameters of what you’re going to announce are already predetermined.

“And also you wonder why this group of people, why you’ve invited them at all, except for them to legitimise what you’ve pre-determined.”

He says the danger now could come in the form of the Recognise movement.

“Are they are a public relations amplifier?”

 “It raises in my mind this whole question of Recognise’s role. Are they are a public relations amplifier or are they the strategists for Indigenous Australia? And yesterday my alarm bells really went off… is Tim Gartrell going to negotiate this thing on our behalf? Is a pollster going to determine what the outcome is here?”

Earlier this month Recognise co-director Tanya Hosch wrote a piece in The Guardian claiming that there were “two reasons” why Australians should support her movement.

One was the need to remove racially discriminatory provisions from the constitution, and the other was to simply achieve recognition. But that sort of simplistic, black and white language, overshadows the reasons why many Aboriginal people are feeling severely disenfranchised by her movement.

For one, although the majority of those supportive of constitutional reform, are also concrete in their calls for a non-discriminatory provision in the constitution, the political reality seems almost like a pipe dream.

The joint parliamentary report into constitutional reform, chaired by Ken Wyatt and Nova Peris, recommended three options for this provision, but already Mr Wyatt is seeking to distance himself from it.

Meanwhile, Pearson, is supportive of an alternative. Rather than a non-discriminatory provision, there would be a constitutional provision ensuring an Indigenous advisory body who would scrutinise legislation. But whether that non-binding body would have any real say, or power, over parliament to stop racially discriminatory policies, is another matter altogether.

We’ve seen just how useless the current embodiment of this idea – the Indigenous Advisory Council, headed by Warren Mundine - has been, while the elected representative body the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has consistently struggled for membership and legitimacy in the eyes of black communities.

As we consider the fact we may be on the road to symbolism, we may be on the road to fluffy words in a preamble, where will that leave other aspirations for treaty, and sovereignty? What will Aboriginal Australia do to make up for all that wasted time?

Constitutional reform may sound like a great thing, beautifully packaged like an Aboriginal dot painting placed in the houses of the privileged across the country. But with input from only a select Aboriginal elite, who were largely ignored anyway, it continues, like Aboriginal art, to be a white thing.

And meanwhile, Aboriginal people, like those [demonstrating in Kirribilli on 6 July] will continue to protest the intergenerational effects of their losses – of their stolen children, stolen lands, stolen remains and stolen wages – all scandals which stretch into the current day.

How will the great white dream of constitutional reform sit with this reality?  

End of this extract.


“A farce from the start”

The Green Left Weekly quoted Ken Canning telling the protest, “It [constitutional recognition] has been a farce from the start. The idea came from the Labor government while it was rolling out the racist Northern Territory Intervention.

“We still don’t know what is actually being proposed in terms of token changes to the thoroughly racist Australian constitution. But we do know what won’t be in there — the genocide or anything that recognises our rights to land and self-determination, or our continuing sovereignty.

“The process has only distracted from [the government’s] deeply racist policies and their effects — suicides, mass incarceration and the continuation of the stolen generation.

“From the massive budget cuts through to Abbott’s active support for the forced removal of our people from their lands in Western Australia and beyond, this PM has proved himself to be an enemy of Aboriginal people.

“Meeting with Abbott in this context can only legitimise his actions. He has nothing to offer.”

Auntie Jenny Munro said, “This Recognition sham is a continuation of the racist colonialist, capitalist government policy against Aboriginal people. We don’t recognise the Aboriginal ‘leaders’ that are in the meeting with Abbott. They don’t represent us. They are not fighting the community closures, the second stolen generation or the massive incarceration rates of our people.”

Ghillar Michael Anderson told the crowd, “In a so-called democratic state, such as Australia, one would not expect the veil of secrecy now being applied to a so-called public call for a referendum for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.

Les Coe, another activist, said: “We are a sovereign people, but we been enslaved for 227 years ... We have to ensure that Aboriginal people are not enslaved from here to eternity.”

Coe and Canning also criticised the 40 selected Aboriginal "leaders" who attended the meeting.

“When the $500 million cut was announced, the people up there said nothing, not a word”, said Canning. “Bill Shorten also said nothing. We are 2.5% of the population, but we’re putting you, Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten, on notice. Aboriginal people will keep fighting until we have our sovereign rights.


“Reactionary fraud”


The very conception of "recognising" indigenous people in the constitution is a reactionary fraud, comments the World Socialist Web Site: "The Australian Constitution itself is a British colonial-era instrument that upholds capitalist property rights but contains no bill of rights or any other protection of basic social or democratic rights, not even the right to vote. It was adopted in 1901 to legitimise and enforce the establishment of Australian capitalism, at the expense of the emergent working class and its most vulnerable members, the dispossessed and decimated Aboriginal population.”

The protest got some brief TV coverage on ABC News 24 and SBS. But the TV coverage was dominated by Abbott and Shorten's take on the meeting with Aboriginal 'leaders'.

The 40 Aboriginal participants


The 40 Aborigines meeting with Abbott and Shorten were Mr Shane Phillips, Ms Robynne Quiggan, Mr Justin Mohamed, Mr Shane Duffy, Prof Ngiare Brown, Mr Sean Gordon, Ms Charlee-Sue Frail, Mr Richard Ah Mat, Ms Leah Armstrong, Ms Josephine Cashman, Mr Bruce Martin, Prof Lester Irabinna Rigney, Mr Samuel Bush-Bianasi, Mr Jason Glanville, Ms Kirstie Parker, Mr Robert Les Malezer, Mr Geoff Scott, Mr Kenny Bedford, Mr Maluwap Nona, Ms Djapirri Mununggirritj, Ms Gail Mabo, Ms Jill Gallagher, Mr Selwyn Button, Ms Rachel Perkins, Mr David Ross, Mr Jason Mifsud, Prof Patrick Dodson, Mr Warren Mundine, Ms Tanya Hosch, Mr Mick Gooda, Mr Noel Pearson, Prof Marcia Langton, Prof Megan Davis, Mr Djawa Yunupingu, Ms Pat Anderson, Mr Tom Calma, Mr Joe Morrison, Mr Aden Ridgeway, Ms Pat Turner and Ms Shannon Dodson.


They have issued a statement which is attached as three images.



CONSTITUTIONAL RECOGNITION - The arguments mainstream media are hiding

Why is the government pushing it and why is mainstream media hiding it?
- The government wants more control over First Nations people, especially those living on 'valuable mining land'
- The commercial channels (ch7, ch9. ch10 etc) are funded by big business interests and regulated by the government
- The ABC and SBS (NITV) are funded and being bullied by the government

Who is the 'Expert Panel' that advises the government?
- They are (un-elected) people especially selected and funded by the government
- The expert Panel:

Why should one oppose it?
- Because the government wants to name First Nations people in the constitution so they have more power over them.
- It will allow the government to discriminate on the basis of race.
- It fails the test of compliance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:
- It gives the government the power to pass legislation like the 'Northern Territory Intervention' against the First Nations people in the states
- Sovereignty was never ceded - this legislation will remove these sovereign rights - it will kill any chance of workable and grass roots self-determination
- Follow links for some of the many other issues for First Nations people. ...

This was written in haste by SU Facebook admins following requests for more information.

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A majority of Aboriginal people would prefer a treaty with the Australian government rather than constitutional recognition, according to an Aboriginal elder whose advocacy has been recognised during NAIDOC Week.


Tauto Sansbury, a veteran South Australian campaigner, said Aboriginal leaders who met with Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten last week were “parroting” a political push for constitutional recognition rather than listening to a community desire for a formal treaty.


“There are a lot of Aboriginal people who don’t support constitutional change, a hell of a lot,” Sansbury told Guardian Australia. “The percentage is far more than the Recognise campaign is saying. I’d say 60% to 70% of Aboriginal people are interested in treaties rather than constitutional change.


“This is our country, we should be talking about a treaty between the Aboriginal people and the Australian government. Putting us in the constitution will continue to allow the government to just make laws for Aboriginal people.


“Everything else will come from a treaty. We were here before Captain Cook landed but Tony Abbott still hasn’t acknowledged that. Every other country that has invaded traditional owners has developed treaties. Australia is the only one that hasn’t.”

Death in custody crossesNot all are deaths in custody – murders in custody
July 9th, 2015



Who killed Eddie Murray? A police officer did. Who killed John Pat? A police officer did. Who killed

Mulrunji Doomadgee? A police officer did. How did they get away with it? Racism got in the way.


These three young people, among others, did not just die in custody – they were killed in custody – their deaths should have been classified as homicides.


If we do not say it as it is and write it as it is we shall remain among the throng of reductionists who cheapen human life and who just plain betray their fellow person.


Without truth there are no right ways to the common good, to an equal and just society. Without truth there is a scarcity of foundations in universal principles and tenets to enable equality. Without truth the majority of people are marginalised; with the majority of the majority strewn as utterly powerless underclasses.


Pick up the full story here.

Redfern Aboriginal Tent EmbassyA dispute between Sydney Aborigines over a highly symbolic plot of very valuable land has intensified and gone to court. Squatting on the plot in what’s called ‘The Block’ in the inner-city area of Redfern is the ‘Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy’ (RATE).

Wanting the site cleared to build on is the Aboriginal Housing Company. The Embassy activists allege that the company intends to build up-market shops and flats there instead of affordable housing for Aboriginal people, as required by its mandate.

“As civil proceedings against squatters on the disputed land unfold in the New South Wales Supreme Court, lawyers for the tent embassy have lodged a complaint with the government over the intentions of the Aboriginal Housing Company,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The Block has political and cultural significance for Aboriginal people, and Wiradjuri elder Jenny Munro and RATE have led a courageous
fight to resist attempts to gentrify and ethnically cleanse the area.

A rally is being called to demand government funding for Aboriginal housing in The Block.