Sinister undermining is leading to the beginning of the end to some of Eddie Mabo’s legacy – native title rights. One of the biggest Black stories has not been carried by any of the nation’s major media nor but for scraps has it been picked up by Black and independent media. The fast approaching extinguishing of native title rights for half of Western Australia’s Black population has been surprisingly bypassed by all media, including that of the faux left. Yesterday, the inevitable occurred in the Australian Senate, political treachery cavalcaded the passing of amendments to the Native Title Act.
It is another dark chapter in Australian political history. However it is surprising that the media, particularly the faux left did not carry a single story of the fact that the Noongar peoples who number half of Western Australia’s Black population are at-risk of losing their native title rights. This should have been one of the biggest stories in the nation and backgrounded by the anathema of quarter century commemorations of the Mabo High Court win.
The media should have carried story after story, investigations and features as to what the extinguishing of native title rights will mean for the Noongar peoples and for First Peoples overall. Media coverage after the event, though important, is nevertheless obituary journalism – a shame job.
I understand that media entities are under resourced and under staffed but come on, even for the narrow corridor of political discourse in this country this was a new low. As a nation we have to deal with reductionist and minimalist discourse, skewed and bent vantages and starting points but censorship altogether?
The media’s bent with soft stories takes up most of their efforts but this grim reality story needed to shove some of the soft stories aside and grab the nation’s attention. I try to understand everyone, even those who hate my guts. I step into the shoes of everyone. I do owe many good people in various media much in carrying stories on important issues that raise awareness, galvanise change and inspire changes. I owe much to many good journalists for carrying so many stories on the suicide crises and on my research and because of this much translated to outcomes that have made a difference for many people.
However, not a single journalist seeing what is happening to the Noongar people’s native title rights is also an indictment of counter narratives and of the Australian consciousness.
Mervyn Eades was one of four Noongar complainants who chased down the looming extinguishing of their native title rights in the Federal Court of Australia. They won a unanimous decision. “But you’d think we’d never gone to the Federal Court, that we didn’t spend a year fighting this through lawyers. You’d have to think this because where was the media coverage?”
The media headlines following the February 1 Federal Court win were majorly “shock ruling”. There onward the propaganda was smashed in. The story became about “uncertainty” around Indigenous Land Use Agreements. Hysteria was spread. No mention of the extinguishing of Noongar native title rights – of the deal to end all deals.
Native title is not perfect, in fact a long way short of what it should be. It is more though than prior 1993. Since then 330 odd native title determinations have been made, more than 1,200 Indigenous Land Use Agreements enabled, with more than 120 more on the way. It is true that 70 per cent of native title bodies have no money and their peoples languish. But in terms of squeezing out a quid, however used, from the private sector, predominately from miners and developers, native title is the only mechanism in place. Social reforms are still begging their way, inequalities and disparities continue – every dollar is needed. In my estimations, 40 per cent of this continent’s Black population lives below the poverty line.
One in two Noongars live below the poverty line. The extinguishing of their native title rights will guarantee this statistical narrative continues into generations unborn. The deal brokered for time-limited compensation to the Noongar peoples through six regional bodies is a faithless deal that should not be promising hope to the majority of Noongars marginalised and impoverished. The future will indict and damn the architects of the catastrophic currents of today.
Mervyn Eades laments, “It is a tragedy what is happening to my peoples. It’s horrid.”
“This was the biggest Black story in the nation.”
“There is no defensible justification for the media’s failure.”
“I am reminded of Eddie Mabo’s decade long struggle. Then too as today, in the many years the media turned a blind eye to his land rights battle. They didn’t take seriously his heading to the High Court. It was a shock when the High Court ruled away Terra Nullis.”
“We will fight on because we have to and we will win but it will come at a price to us who will battle; a toll on our lives, to our wellbeing.”
“Like the stalwart warrior Eddie Mabo, we too are supported by a generous legal team, of a former federal court judge, native title and constitutional law expert in Ron Merkel. Despite the adversities we will carry on into the High Court.”
“The human toll is a price we have to pay as many before us today sacrificed lifelong so many of us today could have opportunities once denied to all of us.”
“We, the successful Noongar applicants in the February 1 Federal Court win do not understand how the Australian Labor Party let us down after all the postulating that they would take on the Government’s agenda to undermine our federal court win.”
“The media was spun a story about uncertainty to ILUAs. That more than 100 outstanding ILUAs could not be registered till the uncertainty generated by the Federal Court win was sorted. Well, that’s not true. Only the ILUAs affecting the Noongar peoples and the ILUAs affecting the Adani coalmine proposal were at risk. There have to be objections lodged by native title claimants against ILUAs for there to be uncertainty. But the media did not investigate the uncertainty claims, they just bought the spin.”
“I am saddened by the betrayal of expectations, of the let down from Labor. Senators Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy said they would fight for us. But they didn’t cross the floor on the vote. They both told us they do not believe in the extinguishing of native title rights. But they voted for amendments to the Native Title Act that will bring about the extinguishing of the native title rights of Noongar peoples.”
“To protect the prospect of an Adani coalmine in effect everyone has rushed through amendments to the Act.”
“Only the Greens voted against the amendments and this fell into the right thing to do but they too were not about our native title rights, they were not about preventing the extinguishing of native title rights but about how to prevent the coalmine.”
Mervyn Eades described the Federal Government’s undermining of the February 1 Federal Court 1 as “an interference play to change the rules”. He had advised the Office of the Attorney-General that if they disagreed with the Federal Court ruling that they should challenge it in the High Court. Instead they chose to bypass the legal system and just change the law.
“As exhausting as this arduous battle is we are carrying on to the High Court. This is for my Noongar peoples, for all First Nations peoples and for Eddie Mabo’s legacy.”
The legacy of the Native Title Act was to work with each generation to remedy inequalities and disparities and this was to be driven by the fact of native title rights in perpetuity. Native title rights were intended in perpetuity. This is a self-determining value recognising generations unborn.
The payout to do away with native title rights for Noongars is the poorest offer. Much has been touted with the arguable $1.3 billion package to Noongar peoples but come two decades later and Noongars overall will continue in the despairs as of today. One in two Noongars live below the poverty line. One in 15 Noongar adult males is in prison. One in 6 Noongars have been to gaol. They remain among the world’s most gaoled peoples. One in 9 of Perth’s Noongar children have been removed from their biological families. In my estimations, the marginlised, impoverished Noongars will become poorer, many more will be ghettoized. The incarceration rate will increase. There will be a divide between Black and Black, one of the haves and the have nots. The narrative of poverty producing pronounced aberrant behaviours and an abominable suicide toll.
The political treachery was much more than about a coalmine – it was about multifarious opportunity to establish trademark precedent to extinguish native title rights. This diabolical agreement to do away with native title rights is being spun as a ‘treaty’. Governments and the big end town love this type of ‘treaty’.
If there is any integrity in the Western Australian Government, they should do away with the extinguishing bit. They should be noble and allow the Noongar peoples to keep native title rights and at the same time give them the $1.3 billion package – no strings attached. Every drop counts. But this spend should be triaged to the neediest, spent on transforming the lives of the broken, the poor, the marginalised, the incarcerated. The spending should be used as a war on poverty.
It is my view that in time questions will arise as to whether it was constitutional to amend legislation so as to ensure a coalmine goes ahead, to see a particular agenda achieved.
Another dark chapter.