Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Making the World a More Dangerous Place-The Eager Role of Julia Gillard

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Making the World a More Dangerous Place-The Eager Role of Julia Gillard

Article excerpt

The Australian parliament building reeks of floor polish. The wooden floors shine so virtuously they reflect the cartoon-like portraits of prime ministers, be-wigged judges and viceroys. Along the gleaming white, hushed corridors, the walls are hung with Aboriginal art: one painting after another, as in a monolithic gallery, divorced from their origins, the irony brutal. The poorest, sickest, most incarcerated people on earth provide a facade for those who oversee the theft of their land and its plunder.

Australia has 40 per cent of the world's uranium, all of it on indigenous land. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just been to India to sell uranium to a government that refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and whose enemy Pakistan is also a non-signatory. The threat of nuclear war between them is constant. Uranium is an essential ingredient of nuclear weapons. Gillard's deal in Delhi formally ends the Australian Labor Party's long-standing policy of denying uranium to countries that reject the NPT's obligation "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date [and] to nuclear disarmament".

Test subjects

Like the people of Japan, Australian Aborigines have experienced the horror of nuclear weapons. During the 1950s, the British government tested atomic bombs at Maralinga in South Australia. The Aboriginal population was not consulted and received scant or no warning. Yami Lester, whom I filmed, was blinded by the nuclear flash as a boy. The enduring struggle of Aboriginal people for recognition as human beings has been a fight not only for their land but for what lies beneath it. Since they were granted a status higher than that of sheep--up to 1971, unlike the sheep, they were not counted--many of their modest land rights have been diminished.

In 2007, Prime Minister John Howard used the army to launch an "emergency intervention" in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Lurid and fraudulent stories of paedophile rings were the cover; indigenous people were told they would not receive basic services, such as power and running water, if they did not surrender the leasehold of their land. The Gillard government has since given this policy the Orwellian title of "Stronger Futures".

The tactics include driving people into "hub towns" and denying decent housing to those forced to live up to a dozen in one room. The removals of Aboriginal children have reached the level of the infamous "Stolen Generation". Many may never see their family again.

Once the "intervention" had got under way in 2007, hundreds of licences were granted to companies exploring for minerals, including uranium. Contemporary politics in Australia is often defined by the power of the mining companies. When in 2010 the previous Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, proposed a tax on record mining profits, he was deposed by a backroom party cabal, including Gillard, who slashed the tax. Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks reveal that two of the plotters against Rudd were informants of the US embassy, which Rudd had angered by not following to the letter US plans to encircle China and to release uranium for sale to US clients such as India. …

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