29-03-2016 – In scenes reminiscent of the notorious Abu Graib prison during the US/UK/AUST imperialist war on Iraq from 2003, the ABC’s 4 Corners program last Monday night broadcast horrific images of Northern Territory “correctional” guards torturing youth detainees at the equally notorious Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Although one of the detainees shown being shackled and hooded to a chair was white (Dylon Voller), the overwhelming majority of inmates are indigenous. Aboriginal people represent but 3% of the national population, but fill out 28% of the prison population. Pushing the bounds of reality, a staggering 97% of youth detainees in the Northern Territory are of Aboriginal heritage.
The images shown by the 4 Corners report show detainees being tear gassed, beaten, stripped naked, hog tied and hooded, causing untold psychological and physical trauma, in actions which are clearly criminal, according to any definition of the term. Some indigenous leaders are now calling for the Northern Territory government to be sacked or dissolved, saying the gross mistreatment of youth in detention should result in a forfeit of a right to govern. The Federal Government’s response has been to call a Royal Commission, in a well-worn path of attempting to divert mounting anger into long drawn-out and ultimately fruitless channels. The last Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody in 1987, as is widely known, handed down 330 recommendations – virtually all of which have never been implemented. It was a classic whitewash, as will be the latest one. Ultimately, there will be no change when the capitalist state investigates itself – in the same way that police cannot independently investigate police.
Both the Federal Government and the Northern Territory government cannot now claim to be shocked as to the latest events to be revealed. For at least 5 years, the abuse of detainees at Don Dale has been known to all levels of government, regardless of which parliamentary party sat on the benches of government. In fact, repeated incidents of abuse at Don Dale were reported between 2010 and 2012, when it was not a Liberal National Coalition government, but one formed by the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens. All parties, both Federal and Northern Territory governments, the police and the “corrective services” management knew of gross maltreatment of those supposedly in their care, yet did nothing.
The fact that Aboriginal and non-indigenous youth have carried out petty crimes and crimes against property and end up in detention, is ultimately an end result of the vicious cycle of poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment. There literally is little future in a society which offers them no or low-paying jobs, an unaffordable cost of living, disintegrating public services and crumbling public infrastructure. Amongst this dire outlook, the marginalisation of Aboriginal people and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds is yet another damning indictment of a society which subordinates almost all human endeavour to the accumulation of capital into the hands of a numerically insignificant but obscenely wealthy minority.
There are striking parallels between the torture meted out to the detainees at Don Dale and that imposed on innocent human beings seeking asylum and a safe place to live in Australia. Australia has the ignominious distinction to now be known worldwide for clearly illegal and inhumane treatment of refugees who are more often than not fleeing the very wars which Canberra has waged alongside Washington in the Middle East and elsewhere. In both cases, at Don Dale and refugee detention centres either on the mainland or off-shore in Nauru and Manus Island, the unfortunate people are treated as less than human, as something to be denied humanity, dignity and physical and mental health. The further the system of private profit declines, the worse the treatment of its victims.
The repression is creeping into society as a whole. Catch a train or walk down a city centre, and you are likely to cross the path or be accosted by heavily armed police, or public transport guards who have the power to detain, beat and/or prosecute you. It is in public, not just behind the walls of detention centres, that indigenous people, youth, people of colour, Muslims or anyone deemed to be an “other”, can be targeted for state sponsored repression. The increase of repression and the falling rate of profit are directly linked. The ruling classes are aware that their system is on the ropes, and are preparing to prevent a large scale fight back. This is precisely what working people and their supporters need to organise.
Despite the horrors we see almost on a daily basis, there is no need for despair. The crisis presents an opportunity to fight, push through, and win the deep changes for which working people are crying out. Political strategy is crucial. While indigenous people suffer the worst effects of oppression in capitalist Australia, their oppression is linked to the oppression of working people. Thus it is imperative that Indigenous activists and their supporters look towards efforts to win over people as workers and draw them in to political action which engages in a class struggle against the source of both Aboriginal and worker misfortune – the ruling class and its state apparatus.
The main block to mobilising people as workers is the ideologically pro-capitalist Union bureaucracy, which seeks to restrict industrial action to that which is acceptable to the corporate magnates. The battle to replace the conservative careerists at the head of almost all Unions with a leadership committed to the needs of workers and the oppressed is bound up with the struggle to forge a multi-racial revolutionary workers’ party. Such a party would seek to assist all efforts to end indigenous disadvantage with the same vigour as it would defend the interests of working people.
While every effort should be made to end the horror of Don Dale, those struggling for justice would do well to recognise that indigenous oppression is common only to those countries where capital rules. Countries which have established workers’ rule – China, the DPRK, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba – do not and cannot oppress their own indigenous people. Indeed, through the mechanism of their respective workers’ states, often the indigenous people are heading up and leading these countries’ path towards socialism. Release the Aboriginal, youth and refugee detainees!
PO Box 66 NUNDAH QLD 4012