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Winter 1999 cover

National Observer Home > No. 41 - Winter 1999 > Editorial Comment

The Courage to Say No to Fraudulent Aboriginal Claims

During recent years there has been an increasing perception that many claims made on behalf of aboriginals are fraudulent.

Previously in this Journal the unfortunate failure to distinguish between full-blood and part-blood aboriginals has been commented upon. Full-blood aboriginals are few in number perhaps 50,000 and are subjected to intense cultural pressures. On the one hand they and their progeny can hardly continue as hunter-gatherers indefinitely. On the other hand, with few exceptions, they are apparently unable to discipline themselves to adapt to modern society. Ultimately the responsibility for this is entirely their own, not that of white Australians.

The position of part-blood aboriginals is in some respects more parlous. They perceive themselves as between cultures, accepted fully neither by white Australians nor by full-blood aboriginals. But although some sympathy for their perceptions may be felt, there are many other groups in the community with far greater claims, such as the aged and incapacitated. At all events there is no justification for the sustained misinformation and agitation that is now being carried out by part-blood aboriginals.

It is a matter of concern that aboriginal political agitation, on issues of little merit, is being funded by governments and hence taxpayers. A vast self-serving aboriginal bureaucracy has been set up, staffed largely by part-aboriginals with special grievances. Their generous salaries are generally paid for by the Commonwealth. And it is the Commonwealth that pays legal bills of millions after millions of dollars when aboriginals, at the instigation of activists, sue companies that wish to carry out normal mining activities or farmers who wish to use their land without harassment by aboriginal groups.

The correctness of this analysis is widely recognised, but there is a timorousness on the part of governments (and the Commonwealth government in particular) to call an end to these abuses of rights. Mr. John Howard has not shown himself to be a Prime Minister of strength. Indeed, criticisms are now emerging that he is a more disappointing and ineffective Prime Minister than Mr. Malcolm Fraser, who also was elected to replace an unpopular government but who apparently did not have the firmness or courage to carry out appropriate measures for the public interest.

Now, Mr. Howard's main purpose appears to be to avoid unpopularity, by doing little and by advocating popular causes. This position is not assisted by his Attorney-General, Mr. Daryl Williams, who has demonstrated himself to be weak and, indeed, markedly less capable than his predecessors in that office.

One must indeed regret the absence of more principled politicians from earlier times. For example, Mr. Peter Howson, a former Commonwealth Minister, who has been responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, has recently written one of the most balanced articles on what are becoming known as the "rescued generation" cases,1 in place of the misleading name "stolen generation" made use of by activists.

Mr. Howson commented that in a report to Mr. Paul Hasluck in 1952, 2 

"He was told that since 1927 the records indicated that seventy-seven boys and thirty-two girls had been removed, all with the consent of the mother. The records however were incomplete, since the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese had resulted in the loss of a number of files. The number since the war, where records were complete, was forty-five boys and sixty-five girls, much less than one per cent of the Aboriginal population of the Territory and less than three per cent of the Aboriginal children of the period."

Mr. Howson went on to point out that it cannot be known how many other babies were killed at birth: 3

"Annette Hamilton, now Professor of Anthropology at Macquarie University, carried out research in Arnhem Land during the 1960s. She wrote that up to that time part-European [that is, half-blood] babies had not been allowed to live. A common method of infanticide was to asphyxiate the newly delivered baby in smoke generated by gum-leaves burning in a depression dug between the mother's legs by the mid-wives. Those who lived were the exception."

It may be added that such half-blood children who in fact escaped killing at birth were, in the case of females, commonly made available at an early age by aboriginals to men in exchange for alcohol or other goods.

All of these matters have been suppressed by those who have agitated in favour of compensation for, and an apology to, aboriginals. It is now clear that much of this agitation has been fraudulent. The fraud has not necessarily been by the individual aboriginals who, often innocently, have been encouraged to bring legal proceedings, but rather has generally been by the activists and, it is regretted to say, by some of the lawyers who have advised or incited them.

Evidence has long been accumulating that at the bottom of most aboriginal claims, whether to prevent mining, harass farmers or complain about the removal of endangered children, is money simply, money. This pursuit of money has been prodigiously successful. Not only are billions of dollars spent annually for aboriginals (much of it absorbed by the aboriginal-industry or aboriginal bureaucracies), and not only have mining companies been required to pay extraordinary sums in relation to tenuous or non-existent sacred sites, but many ordinary farmers and others have been put in a position where they will be required to pay large amounts to retain the proper use of their properties.

The large-scale fraud and dishonesty in aboriginal-based claims that is now emerging is based on tactics that have been used in similar situations in Canada, the United States and New Zealand, for example. The Australian activists have been well instructed from abroad.

Human nature being regrettably what it is, why will fraudulent claims not continue when at each stage the Commonwealth takes a step back?

It is trite but important that Mr. Howard has been elected to govern Australia honourably and conscientiously. He is not Prime Minister in order to make himself popular and avoid decisions because he may be criticised.

In regard to Aboriginal matters, amongst others, Mr. Howard has not fulfilled his responsibilities. As Prime Minister he is being increasingly perceived as a profound disappointment.

If he is concerned, as he should be, not with passing political reactions, but rather with his responsibilities and his place in history, he will demonstrate the courage to say no to fraudulent aboriginal claims.

National Observer No. 41 - Winter 1999