Andrew Forrest tells us what to do but is this welfare reform or a land grab?

By National Indigenous Times columnist, Dr Woolombi (Marcus) Waters - “While all their mouths talk (and say) the right (thing), I do not understand why nothing is done. I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more. It does not take many words to speak the truth.” (Hinmaton Yalatkit, Nez Percé Native American: 1877)

- We only have to go back three years to 2011 when Forrest himself came out on the ABC Four Corners programme claiming that little girls were approaching men in Roebourne late at night offering sexual services in exchange for the cost of a cigarette.

Just over a month ago I was standing in the middle of a rainforest on Aboriginal Maroon land in Jamaica and saw for myself happy kids, parents with a sense of place, obligation and responsibility and a living vibrant culture. No crime, no police and no welfare.

For those who didn’t read the article at the time - the Jamaican Maroons were runaway slaves who, together with the Taino Aboriginal fellas, fought off both the Spanish and the British during the 17th century and won their land via armed guerrilla warfare in defence of their land.

As Blackfella’s they are unique in that they give you a vision of what can happen when our natural resources are left in our control.
Let’s face it there are not too many examples of land that hasn’t been exploited, people massacred and histories stolen wherever these whitefellas settled.
I have lived and written in moderation for years. Many of our mob have remained polite as a strategy in the hope of breaking down oppression from within the institutions where such oppression originates.

No more, not from me anyway. We are dealing with an evil and a greed that will stop at nothing to get what it wants … our land. It’s always been about our land.
In returning to Australia it feels as if I have found myself in a tragic horror sci fi novel. The dismissal of history and the rights of our people and the current climate is demoralising.

What highlights the insanity is the release of last week’s Andrew Forrest Report hand in hand with Marcia Langton standing by his side.
Marcia’s reputation took a hit after her failure to disclose payments received from mining companies prior to her Boyer lectures. Truth is amongst real Blackfella’s she is becoming irrelevant.

And if you need a definition of what I regard as a “real Blackfella” the truth is such an explanation would be a wasted exercise.
Now, back to this horror novel written by Andrew Forrest after he was asked by his mate, Tony Abbott to review Indigenous employment and training shortly after the Coalition won government last year.

Tony Abbott is the same Prime Minister who has aligned Australia to the Israeli massacre of Palestinian civilians and children. There has been another thousand killed since my article two weeks ago and over four hundred children over the last month are now dead.

Killed with arms provided by Obama’s US government. Like Hinmaton Yalatkit, said in 1877 it doesn’t take many words to speak the truth.
Now Andrew Forest is a billionaire mining magnate who has made his money taking our natural resources without adequate compensation to our mob. He would argue jobs in mining and $4 million is good business but considering he has made billions it’s loose change.

The truth is the current controversy over mining rights and lost millions for the Martu Aboriginal communities in Western Australia is standard practice in Native Title and mobs looking for equity through Native Title and mining.

We only have to go back three years to 2011 when Forrest himself came out on the ABC Four Corners programme claiming that little girls were approaching men in Roebourne late at night offering sexual services in exchange for the cost of a cigarette.

The history behind the claim was that Fortescue Metals Group, owned by Forrest, was unable to come to terms with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation over Fortescue’s rights to mine iron ore on the Yindjibarndi’s traditional lands.

Negotiations went back to 2007 with no resolution and with the media pressure and political strategy of the Northern Territory Intervention the stories of more alleged child sexual abuse played into Forrest’s hands.

At the time the story prompted a complaint to Australia’s human rights watchdog by a number of Aboriginal woman living in the community but the damage and the spin had already begun.

The company at the time estimated that over the next 40 years it could extract 2.4 billion tonnes of ore worth $280 billion based on then current prices.
The landowners were offered a $500,000 signing fee and a capped amount of $4 million a year in cash, plus up to $6.5 million a year in staff housing, jobs, training and business opportunities.

This is a pittance compared with the $280 billion Forrest’s company stood to earn and this has always been the problem – not only mining but equity and rightful profit share for Traditional Owners.

Also on the Four Corners program Mr Forrest said offering more cash would be akin to “mining welfare”. “If you want to join me one evening after 11 o’clock and walk down the streets of Roebourne and have little girls come up to you ... offer themselves for any type of service you want for the cost of a cigarette, then you’ve come to the end of the line. I’m not going to encourage with our cash that kind of behaviour,” Mr Forrest said.

So why the change of attitude from mining welfare to establishing GenerationOne, the Indigenous website which was to create jobs in industry to Close the Gap on disparity?

Maybe it’s not so much a change in attitude but a change in strategy?

You also have to question when people use power and privilege to stop freedom of speech. Some of the most horrific chapters of human history begin with censorship and you can’t help but question motivation when you witness such practice in action.

After reporting the situation on Roebourne including a community made video by the local Yindjibarndi people was posted on US-based Vimeo revealing how unhappy the mob were over Fortescue Metals Group’s negotiation tactics, Forrest’s lawyers threatened lawsuits and claimed, incredibly, the Yindjibarndi were “inciting racial hatred.”

Fortescue replied with their own commercially made video “The True Yindjibarndi Story” as a response to what they called a “misleading, heavily edited video” saying it was “important that the facts are told”.

I jumped on social media and couldn’t find the original video but a number of links for the original sent me to sites such as YouTube, which showed the Fortescue video instead.

It’s frightening the man who has so much to profit from this venture and occupation of Traditional Lands is the one chosen to author the report on our Peoples future.

I liken it to Chris Hurley’s mates being chosen to run the investigation into the death of Mulrunji on Palm Island.

Like I have said repeatedly, it’s just madness and the more you research it and find the truth the more it feels like a novel of fiction centred on power and greed. But this is not fiction, this is happening right now in our country and a number of our own prominent Aboriginal people have supporting roles in the deception and land grab we are witnessing.

Let’s start with Marcia Langton, who has said she is concerned the welfare idea has been misunderstood and she is urging politicians not to write it off.
Nothing builds financial independence and self esteem more than being handed a welfare card as a 35 year-old mother or father of 3 kids and being told you are not to be trusted with you own money. Yeah, right! It’s bullshit, it’s demeaning and it’s humiliating and creates a class under a class under another class.

About the only voice of reason came again from Senator Nova Peris when she said how disheartened she was recently after going into a supermarket in Alice Springs to see a queue of Aboriginal people lined up at the single cashier who took the BasicsCard, while the other queues were populated by non-Indigenous shoppers.

“The Northern Territory have been recipients of horrible systems and policy by government that have just been thrown upon us,” she said.
She said Aboriginal people were immensely frustrated when good programmes were implemented and then a change of government swept them out the door and she urged community consultation on the Forrest recommendations that took into account the views of community leaders who know which programmes are successful.

That woman is girruu marrabaa (just too Deadly…) and I tell you now as a fella having participated in a number of Initiation ceremonies she is the only one amongst these mob who is going to find a path home to her maran dhinabarra (ancestors…) after this is all said and done.

I have lived in absolute poverty. It was not my fault. My family was torn apart after my sister and I returned home after being taken off our mother as kids and this trauma lasted for years.

And I’ll tell you now to people who are suffering, the right to a cigarette, a beer and a bet is as Australian as Don Bradman.

Having experienced such poverty I have some idea of life living in such circumstance and let me tell you if you are concerned about sexual abuse and teenage girls doing favours for cigarettes and grog you just wait until this proposed system creates a black market in cigarettes and cheap booze.

These fellas have no idea about cause and effect, only the life as they see it, values as they see fit. There is no empathy or understanding ... it’s frightening how distant these decision-makers have become from what’s happening in our communities.

As a child I grew up in the very public housing communities these fella’s are trying to alienate by taking our identity away – strong cultured communities like Redfern in Sydney and Inala in Brisbane.

This was never going to end with the Northern Territory Intervention. Just look at what’s happening now in Redfern with housing for Aboriginal families.

I feel no shame having received welfare when growing up, nor will I let these fella’s tell me I should feel shame having grown up within these circumstances.
These Black privileged bastards (yes bastards, I make no apologies) cite such places as Redfern and Inala as playing such important roles in defining our urban Aboriginal identity. Well, what communities do you think they are talking about when they discuss welfare reform?

The identity politics that came out of these communities in the 1960s were the springboard for these mobs in building their careers within the public service and universities – the evil of assimilation and its promise of equality on the basis of a strived-for but never achieved sameness.

I was talking to my Uncle Tiga Bayles just last week and he was saying how we have always been the guinea pigs for such reform. How having turned their backs on the Intervention knowing they now propose the same humiliation to their own mob?

And the Forrest report does more than just slight welfare – he’s also made recommendations on housing, early childhood education and even access to Indigenous-held land. He and Noel Pearson will be rubbing their hands together with more bullshit about how privatisation of land will benefit locals through further investment.

Let me tell you about privatisation and foreign investment. Labor got a rude shock back in the 70s when they realised Australia was being lost to overseas investment and tried to buy it back realising too late it was gone forever. How long do you think Aboriginal title would last if that communal title was scrapped for Noel Pearson’s private ownership model.

The Labor scandal known as “The Loans Affair”, or also called the “Khemlani Affair” was a political scandal involving the Whitlam Government back in 1975, in which it was accused of attempting to borrow money without federal consent from Middle Eastern countries by bypassing standard procedure as dictated by the Australian Treasury.

The reason was they were desperate to raise the money and couldn’t afford the commercial interest rates so they approached Arab bankers.
The Minister for Minerals and Energy at the time, Rex Connor, Treasurer Dr. Jim Cairns and others, were prime figures in the scandal. They tried to raise US$4 billion, which back then was a phenomenal amount of money under the guise of funding a number of natural resource and energy projects, including construction of a natural gas pipeline, the electrification of interstate railways and a uranium enrichment plant.

The plan failed when big business and the Liberal opposition overthrew the government.

This example shows us what opening up communal land to private ownership will lead inexorably to – another white developer-led land grab.

Again US$4 billion to buy back Australia a little over 40 years ago. It’s frightening when you consider last week’s article about the US today owing $17 trillion in debt. Again it just shows how shallow and deceitful these attacks are on our mob and those on welfare when Forrest himself is personally worth more than the US$4 billion it would have taken to buy back Australia.

When you look at the figures the truth is so little is spent on welfare and the amount of money to be made from mining our land shows this is one of the last great land grabs orchestrated by political spin and emotional rhetoric in the history of this country.

It has never been about closing any gap, it has never been about Aboriginal disadvantage and every Black Fella caught up in the hype should be hanging their heads in shame.

The politics of identity that generated our renaissance in Black Consciousness within the 60s and 70s relied essentially on the recognition and mobilisation of difference once the idea of sameness has proved unreachable.

Claiming one’s difference (from the mainstream or dominant national Culture) and turning this difference into symbolic capital has become a powerful strategy among those who have never quite belonged.

“I am not an Aboriginal or indeed Indigenous. I am a Arrernte-Alyawerre First Nations person. A sovereign person from this country. I speak my language and I practise my Cultural essence of me. Don’t try and suppress me and don’t call me a problem. I am not the problem.” (Rosalie Kunoth-Monks)

In discussing the ban on cigarettes and alcohol Marcia Langton commented, “that’s correct. So it does not require the income management system that was implemented in the Northern Territory back in 2007. It’s quite a different proposition altogether. I think the people have, you know, had a chat in the tea room about what the report says rather than reading it. The report is over 160 pages long”.

The tea-room … really? And 160 pages long, Marcia?

“It does not take many words to speak the truth.” (Hinmaton Yalatkit, Nez Percé Native American: 1877)
Dr Woolombi Waters is a Kamilaroi language speaker and writer and is a lecturer at Griffith University. He writes a weekly column for the National Indigenous Times.