Q&A: Aboriginal rights then and now

Aboriginal Tent Embassy Media Conference 40th Anniversary of the Aboriginal Embassy, Canberra, Invasion Day 2012. Ghillar - Michael Anderson, left
The Interview Audio Report

30 June 2012

Michael Anderson in a interview with SBS for NAIDOC Week 2012, he says while much has changed, Indigenous Australians are still being deceived over their land.

This Q&A between Michael and SBS Online Producer Chiara Pazzano looks at the protesters' priorities then and now, and what's changed over the past 40 years.


Q: 40 years after the foundation of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, what do you think have been its main achievements?

In 1972, Billy McMahon was then Prime Minister of Australia, conservative Prime Minister, and announced that they were prepared to lease land to Aborigines. Well, that didn't go down too well, considering that the people had never ceded their sovereignty over this land themselves or given dominion away over their land and places, so we said 'No, this is not on.'

And a couple of us went to Canberra and put up the embassy and of course during that period Whitlam was the opposition leader and he came to the embassy with a number of his parliamentary colleagues and they spoke to us about what direction Aboriginal affairs should go in. And we talked about the right of self-determination and working on sovereignty programs that have come from self-determination.

And of course Whitlam was true to his word and created a number of organisations that ultimately became self-determining factors, and of course a lot of Aboriginal organisations got up, like the Aboriginal legal services, medical services, a lot of pre-school programs got going, housing projects got underway under the Whitlam regime, and these things were negotiated at the Aboriginal embassy, which is what very few people understand about it.

Q: And what are the main things that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy is advocating for now?

Well, the main advocacy that we're focusing on of course is still land rights. Gary Foley coined the phrase that native title is certainly not land rights and most people now have adopted that slogan, but Aboriginal people feel that they are still being deceived in terms of land.

But we're also arguing quite clearly now, that the sovereignty aspect - and we've been to England in the last 40 years and more recently - and found documents and ordering counsel from Queen Victoria during her reign in 1875, where she said, by ordering counsel that ultimately was written into an act of British parliament, that she did not claim, as the monarch of England, sovereignty or dominion over the Aboriginal people and their places in Australia.

Now, we've looked at all the laws and that's never been superseded by another ordering counsel.

Those acts have been taken off the public record, but in terms of them being taken off the public record, the law that was established is still very much in vogue today and still a dominant force in the legal system and political system.

And that's what the embassies now are pushing around this nation. It's become an organic movement, sovereignty movement, through the embassies and the embassies are a representation of this fact. And that's what people are doing now, and beginning to assert their sovereign rights and say to the Australian Government, 'Hang on a minute, we never ever ceded anything to you, so we're still there.' And Aboriginal people are taking the initiative in this regard.

Q: Some people might be confused about the difference between sovereignty and having Indigenous Australians recognised in the constitution what's the difference?

Well, the recognition in the constitution certainly is not recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty. It is merely a preamble statement saying that Aboriginal people were the first people to this nation, and that's what they're talking about. We're saying, 'Hang on a minute, if you want us to be part of the constitution, then you should first ask us.' Because it may well be that we don't want to be part of the constitution and that we don't want to be in that constitution that oppresses us.

So that's the movement we've got going and we have a 'No' campaign commencing to say, 'No we don't want to be a part of the Australian constitution because we want a (sovereign) treaty or we want to negotiate a settlement before we agree to anything.'

Q: At the moment, when the land rights are negotiated, when a native title determination is made, should there be some blanket regulation where Indigenous Australians also get access to the resources?

Absolutely, you'll find that there will be in coming months a number of major legal challenges in this regard and we're not going to sit idly by and have people falsely pretend that they have rights that they don't have, and we have no rights.

There's enough resources. Look at all the money they're getting out of Aboriginal lands now and they're just taking that money off Aboriginal people. They're cheating on them, they're deceiving these people of great wealth and the government is sitting idly by.

And you know these mining companies don't want to pay them, but they have an obligation to and if you do a review of all those Indigenous land use agreements and mining agreements, these lawyers that have written them up, these people should be hung, quartered and drawn because these people have deceived their clients, they've not represented them properly and their right interests, they've not got the share of wealth that the people are entitled to.

If Aboriginal people got their share of that wealth then there's no need for government hand-outs, there's no need for government money no need at all. No taxpayer money needs to go into Aboriginal hands and Aboriginal people can be self-determining and develop their communities their way.

Q: What's happening now with the Northern Territory Homelands policy after the Federal Government injected money to keep these communities living on their lands?

Well, it's nice in words but in practice it's not possible because the government is screaming about the fact that 'we can't put the infrastructure into those places', into those isolated communities, which is a lot of bunkem. You don't have to put telegraph poles and electricity poles out to community, they can put up solar farms and these solar farms will generate all the power they need for those communities. You know, they can get out there and all they need is to connect water tanks to their homes, they can drill down to bores that are on a lot of those homelands and they will supply water. They can also set up horticultural programs in those communities where they can become self-sufficient.

This relocating is all about assimilation, nothing more.

Q: And is the Northern Territory intervention, which the government now calls the 'Stronger Futures' laws, something that concerns you and you're fighting against?

It does. The Northern Territory intervention is nothing more than a law that was established under a national emergency, which only occurs in the case of natural disasters or war, so we have a situation where people have been pushed into the role of being part of a group of people where their whole lives are now ruled over by someone else. And all their lands have been usurped from them yet again by governments and the lands are being used by non-Aboriginal people and Aboriginal people have no right of say of veto over their lands and over their country.

But what they're doing is that they're forcing people from their homelands and these people are becoming fringe dwellers in country towns and cities around the Northern Territory and even in South Australia. So they're creating a disastrous situation for Aboriginal people and they think that by putting them in and making them suburban and live on the outer suburbs of these western towns that I think that they've just created a disastrous situation.

We want to take control of our own communities, we don't want public servants being the pseudo protectors of those people. People can make their own decisions about their own lives and we will be certainly heading in those directions and we're not going to be allowing ourselves to be caught in any situation that will see us being dependant any more. It's a matter of accepting the fact that we have a right to be self-determining and that's what we're going to be doing.