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Friday, 12 February, 2010

Les Malezer

[Aboriginal News]

My great Christmas present was a ticket to the All Stars Rugby League game. The cost of tickets was $140 so I could not have afforded it myself. The gift was a generous and thoughtful one. I blocked out the date on my calendar to make sure I did not double-book on the day.

[For the unenlighted, the 'All Stars' is a representative game of rugby league between National Rugby League 'stars' divided into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 'stars' and the other 'stars'. It is a premier event, much advertised in the sporting world of rugby league. The event highlights the growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at the highest levels of the game, combined with the nation's and league's desire to promote equality and harmony.]

So keen was I, that I did not notice that the date of the match was 13 February.

It was only when reading the flyer for a 'national day of action against racism' that I realised I had a dilemma on my hands.

To my dismay and shame the flyer advertised events for all capital cities, except Brisbane. Clearly Brisbane Blacks were not concerned (enough) to give up the sporting spectacle, or we believed that love, 'brotherhood' and reconciliation was the way to address the new wave crop of racist laws in Australia.

My anguished discussions with others only got as far as whether one could afford tickets, whether one was (one of the many) invited for free into a corporate box or how to get to the game at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast.

Having embarked on a full-time career since 1998 to combat racism, costing my job and leaving me unemployed, and unemployable, since 2005, I cannot succumb to the goodwill and cheer of the sporting event. Is this the lot of the activist and campaigner?

I later found out the Brisbane City Council, Amnesty International Australia, ANTaR and Reconciliation Queensland had planned to use Brisbane to hold an Indigenous Justice Forum on 13 February.

Of course, it is no coincidence that the All Stars game, the National Day of Action and the justice forum all have coincided. 13 February 2010 is the second anniversary of the National Apology Speech by Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. Everyone is cashing in on the significance of the day.

The government, the NRL, the rugby league stars and Brisbane Blacks see it as the occasion to go warm, fuzzy and high profile. I suspected the government and NRL had collaborated to stage the All Stars game as the significant event for 13 February, to keep this historical date a positive and advantageous occasion.

My suspicions sky-rocketed when I began to hear more and more stories of free invites to private boxes including government boxes and (government-sponsored) organisation boxes. Then on 31 January one of the national government's ministers announced its funding to the NRL All Stars game.


"Minister for Employment Participation Mark Arbib, today announced the $825,000 three-year partnership, which will begin with the upcoming Rugby League All Stars Match. The NRL Indigenous All Stars will promote the message Learn. Earn. Legend! at the inaugural Rugby League All Stars Match at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast on February 13. 'The Government's goal, through the NRL Indigenous All Stars Team, is to encourage young Indigenous Australians to have a go, stay at school and ensure a pathway to employment,' Senator Arbib said."


Good intentions indeed, but how much money was being spent to create this pro-government event on the anniversary date? (I hope this question will be asked at the Senate Estimates today.) And how much money is going into the free seats and private boxes?

This is shades of 13 February 2008, when FaHCSIA paid out huge amounts to stage the national apology event at Parliament House and broadcast the event around the country and around the world. I heard $250,000 was spent but I think that was the conservative estimate, discounting bureaucratic resources engaged. The money was spent on fares, drinks and meals for people flown in by the government for the event. This was acceptable in a spirit of good intent, but was not really the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander priority for government expenditure. (And remember that the government has three answers for compensation to the Stolen Generation - No! No! and No!)

Why am I bitter about this hearty and friendly effort by government.

I was one of the thousand plus protesters who travelled at our own cost to protest in front of Parliament House on that opening day of 13 February 2008. We were demanding a change to Howard's racism and vilification against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights. Most of us were lucky enough to slip amongst the rent-a-crowd to enjoy camaraderie and entertainment for the moment, but then we returned to our objectives of anti-racism and community control.

(Also I remember the media and government attacks upon ATSIC Chairman for inviting disappointed community into a catered function at the ATSIC XI vs Prime Ministers XI cricket game when the game was washed out by rain. I think the cost of the function was $8,000.)

In 2010, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community around Australia will be protesting about the racist laws of the Rudd Government and continued belligerence against our people's rights to be engaged. The National Day of Action is important for community voices to be heard and to get public support to end oppression. But government expenditure, from the coffers set aside to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander development, will buy media coverage of the government events, and the government's propaganda.

Whether the government likes it or not, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community have chosen 13 February each year, since 2008, as the focus to hold government to account. But being accountable is something that Australian, colonial and post-colonial, governments refuse to accept. This was demonstrated yesterday when Prime Minister Rudd gave his 'report card' on Closing the Gap. Through government trickery and resourceful use of bureaucratic speak we have absolutely no way to know what the government is doing or has done. We are as confused and alienated as we have ever been.

But then there is sport - good company for alcohol, and a common interest of many of the victims of deaths in custody. Since the 1800's when Aboriginal footballers and cricketers were praised for their physical feats and prowess, we have this conflict: tolerance in sport and war; racism and social outcasts in daily life, and repression and oppression in our economic and political fight for landrights and self-determination.

So my dilemma remains. I risk offending family and friends by bringing my political views into their sporting lounge rooms. But on the other hand, I want to be like my colleagues in the rest of Australia, motivated to challenge government racism, inattention and misinformation.

So at the moment a last-minute effort is being made to protest in front of Parliament House, Brisbane at 11 am. News is being circulated to get some community support and attendance, but the numbers may be low. Also I will dash to the Justice forum to make an appearance before heading for the Gold Coast. Dare I picket at the entrance to the stadium?

Dare I talk about Australia's two laws, one for whites and one for blacks? Is it possible that the football All Stars, the government's answer to schooling of our youth, are also aware of the two sides of Australian society? Will the sporting crowd boo me or the Prime Minister when we appear at the event?

I will be the one sitting down during 'Advance Australia Fair' because, amongst other things, this is not a young country - it is an old one with a long cultural history, wise and spiritual - and we are not free!




Saturday 13 February 2010

Together...let's commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations... the first step towards reconciliation

2-5pm Forum

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and the Queensland Justice System

Venue: Claver Theatre, All Hallows' School, Ann St, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane (Onsite parking via Dodge Lane off Boundary St RSVP [email protected])

5pm+ Boundary to Boundary Twilight Walk

Departing from St James College 201 Boundary St, Spring Hill, ending at Boundary St, Kurilpa Park South Brisbane. Elders' transport available on request

7-9pm Free Barbecue & Entertainment

Kurilpa Park at Kurilpa Point (between GOMA and Grey St Bridge) RSVP & Info: Amanda Manton0411 596 294 [email protected]

Maree Klemm GAICD, FAusIMM, FFin (Qld-nthNSW branch president & director Amnesty International Australia, Reconciliation Qld Inc exec. committee member, ANTaR Qld member) Ph & Fax: +61 (0)7 3391 1559 Mobile: 0419 655 383PO Box 7146 EAST BRISBANE Q 4169Email: [email protected] or [email protected]