By Dr John Falzon
In May this year, Ray Jackson, President of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, issued passports on behalf of Australia’s First Peoples to the two Tamil men indefinitely detained at Villawood Detention Centre. He said:
“Locking people up doesn’t solve any problems, it only causes harm. We have seen that time and time again with Indigenous people, and now the government is making the same mistake with asylum seekers. This has to stop. The Australian Government must stop imprisoning Indigenous people, and they must stop imprisoning asylum seekers. I am proud to welcome people in need into our community.”
This week is Refugee Week. It’s a good time to reflect on this powerful coming-together of the First Peoples and the people who have recently come to Australia seeking refuge.
At the same time we are witnessing a mass campaign opposing the Stronger Futures legislation. The Australian Catholic Bishops and Religious, for example, stated:
Social inclusion does not result from intervention, imposition, discrimination and exclusion. We call for an urgent shift from punitive controls to measures that restore community control, rebuild Aboriginal initiative and capacity, improve living conditions and show respect for Aboriginal languages and culture.
This is a beautiful expression of solidarity that comes at a time when the dominant discourse in Australia is swift to blame the First Peoples for the exclusion to which they have been subjected.
Lasting solutions can only come from the Excluded. As a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society from the NT told me: ‘The Intervention will go down in history as being as shameful for the Australian Government as the Stolen Generations. No one was consulted. No one was listened to.’
The First Peoples have not been listened to. They have not been respected. Many have been forced to live like refugees in their own country: exiled, controlled, humiliated and imprisoned.
As Walter Shaw, from the Tangentyere Council, put it so plainly, again making the connection between the ongoing reality of colonisation and our shameful abuse of the rights of asylum seekers:
Aboriginal people, above all else, need to be empowered to solve our own problems, because non-Aboriginal people keep coming up with the same ‘solutions’, and they keep making it worse.
Australians don’t like their nation painted as a war-torn country, or a place ravaged by hunger or disease. But that is what Central Australia — my country — has become.
People from some of the most disadvantaged nations on earth choose to jump on a rusty old boat and risk their lives over dangerous seas. They come with nothing more than the shirt on their back to seek asylum in a country they believe offers them the best shot at a way of life everyone deserves — a life where basic human rights and dignity are respected.
These are the very same rights denied to my people.
The words that are being spoken by the people forced to the edges of Australian society are born from a strong and positive vision for Australia. They speak with authority and their message emerges from their collective wisdom and experience.
None of us can learn what is right if we fail to listen to what is wrong.
This article was first pubilshed on the Eureka Street news website at www.eurekastreet.com.au