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Date: Sat, 3 Jan 98 22:15:25 CST
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Australia Facing New "apartheid", Aborigine Says /** headlines: 154.0 **/
** Topic: Australia Facing New "apartheid", Aborigine Says **
** Written 10:57 AM Jan 1, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 12:35 AM Jan 1, 1998 by DEBRA@OLN.comlink.apc.org in hrnet.racism+xenophobia */
/* ---------- "AUS: Warning of Apartheid" ---------- */
Edited/Distributed by HURINet - The Human Rights Information Network ## author : ancdip@wn.APC.ORG
## date : 31.12.97

Australia facing new "Apartheid," aborigine says

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
30 December 1997

PARIS, Dec 30 Sapa-AFP - Australia is at a crossroads that could lead it "back into apartheid" if the government plays into the hands of the nation's wealthy landowners against its indigenous people, a leading aboriginal spokeswoman said here Tuesday.

Marcia Langton, an academic and aboriginal rights' campaigner, said conservative Prime Minister John Howard was attempting to push through controversial landrights legislation which would further fatten the pockets of the likes of the Sultan of Brunei and media magnates Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer.

"Australia faces the choice of going to an apartheid regime or continuing to work towards a multicultural society," she told a news conference.

Howard, who has been in office for under two years, has threatened to call an early election if the Senate next March refuses for the second time to back his landrights package, which would scrap rights already given to the aborigine people by the country's High Court.

"He wants a race-based election," said Langton, who holds the chair of Aboriginal Studies at Darwin's Northern Territory University. "He wants to win to have a mandate to destroy our rights.

At stake is a December, 1996 ruling by the High Court, known as the Wik decision, allowing the country's 300,000-odd aborigines to claim their native rights over land currently under pastoral or mining leases.

"The pastoralists went ballistic" after the ruling, Langton said. "Now they're threatening to shoot us all again."

Langton said the farmers now were lobbying to convert the land under such leases into freehold with exclusive possession, and waging a "racist, scare campaign" in the media to convince urban Australians to beware of native rights.

The conversion of the leases into titles would affect between 40 percent and 70 percent of the Australian land mass, she said, saying that a big owner such as the Sultan of Brunei currently possessed eight million hectares of land through Desai Pty Ltd.

Howard's government this year pushed through legislation in the lower house largely reversing the High Court ruling, but then saw it rejected in the Senate. A new rejection by the upper house would allow him to call a double dissolution.

Langton said the aboriginal people did not want to take over land under pastoral leases, which are temporary and first were granted by the Crown during the frontier days of the 19th century.

The aboriginals simply wanted a right to claim sacred sites or visiting rights to safeguard their culture, while also demanding better social and economic benefits for clans living on such land.

"The court said cattle always prevail" over the aborigines, she said. "The aborigine people won't interfere with that ruling."

Langton, who was in Paris for an exhibition of aboriginal art, accused the Howard government of breaching both the Australian constitution and international agreements against racial discrimination.

An offer by South African President Nelson Mandela to mediate between her people and the government had been turned down by Howard, she said.

Officials for the indigenous Australian people would be taking their case to the European Union, Asia and the United Nations in the coming months. The aborigines were still discussing what action to take in regard to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, she added.

The fight over Aboriginal land rights escalated Monday with reports that indigenous groups had laid claim to vast tracts of sea, including rich fishing grounds and the Barrier Reef.

The Native Title Tribunal said Monday that 124 sea rights claims had been lodged over the past three years.