Not the most important part of the story, but terrible Tony is back. Or is he?

The “lifestyle choice” remarks are either a new disaster come from speaking his true mind or a calculated insult, designed to get an effect.

The argument for it being another TA brain fart comes from Abbott’s long-held position on indigenous people.

For all his dedication to doing good works, building walls etc (ironic that) in Aboriginal communities, Abbott is a conservative Catholic who has never held the secular belief that all cultures are equal.

For Abbott, it’s more than merely saying that the West is superior because it is more powerful. The West is superior because it is based on the truth. And the truth comes from Christianity.

Not your wishy-washy ecumenical Christianity either. Abbott’s belief that Christ is the unique revelation of God to man means that other cultures can be seen as not merely more or less successful, but wrong, if they spurn God’s word.

For such people, 1788 then, is not a disaster, but a blessing, the coming of the Word. The problems that continue to afflict remote Aboriginal cultures are held to spring from attachment to pre-Christian values — deep attachment to land and the sacred natural, kinship reciprocity that is collective, and not conducted through God.

That’s what Abbott meant when he said that Australia was “unsettled” before 1788. He didn’t mean it was empty of people; he meant they were in turmoil without the Word.

So the racist cleansing of 100 communities can be done in that spirit. There are plenty of material interests at play, too. But the destruction of remote Aboriginal communities has long been on the deep conservative agenda.

They knew they couldn’t get away with it as an explicit policy, so they’ve used this sleazy change in funding arrangements to turn it into an act of administration.

That lets a lot of the public off the hook, too — even across the centre and into the Right, there’s a notion of Aboriginal attachment to country. Turning it into an admin matter allows many to approve of it without being party to an explicitly racist policy.

Furthermore, it also negates and disdains any notion of an Aboriginal community as a home. It is designed as a swift kick.

Thus the use of a phrase like “lifestyle choice”.

But it’s quite possible that both the Feds and WA have misjudged this cause, and the possibilities for resistance.

The racist cleansing of 100 communities is, after all, not merely a denial of certain rights, but the uprooting of actual settled peoples. It strikes not at particular claims — to indigenous connection to land — but general and universal rights.

That may well be the purpose of Abbott’s disdainful suggestion of “lifestyle choices”. I wonder if it’s designed to call out a certain reaction — one that emphasises ancient and continuous connection, rather than the universal claim not to be dispossessed.

Pushing opponents of the move to emphasise traditional ownership is an attempt to make the campaign against dispossession one of special pleading.

It is also designed to obscure the fact that hundreds of white Australian rural towns have been uneconomic for decades.

This move marks the beginning of something the Right have wanted to do for years. Dissolve the legitimacy of Aboriginal society and turn it into something that exists purely by consent of the state.

It is the position that figures such as Gary Johns and others came to years ago, even as they continued to gain support from sections of the Aboriginal Right — cultural dissolutionism, a position beyond a new assimilationism, in which the possibility of continuing Aboriginal cultures, whether understood as specific or general, is deliberately disrupted.

Fought on the grounds of universal right, against dispossession, it could draw in a wide range of allies and a broad front, not merely nationally but internationally.

It’s an instance of what I noted last week — without claiming any originality, one might add — as regards the republican dimension of such struggles. It is the resistance to this measure that calls on, or should do, a comprehensive idea of universal rights.

From progressives everywhere to groups such as Lock the Gate to other dispossessed peoples, such a principle has a capacity to weld together a resistance of great power. It is the government’s campaign that is specific, racist, and deeply corrupted.

Well, such resistance can only start from one place. But if it does, others will come, and this process could be stopped in its tracks — and, furthermore, count as an advance, reaffirming an explicit universal principle where none has been definitely asserted before.

And, though this is the least important, land yet another blow on this government, rotten to the core.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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