By Bryan Sketchley
Aboriginal protesters and their supporters have set up camp a couple of hundred metres from the Government House, in Melbourne, where the Queen will be staying during her taxpayer-funded holiday in Australia.
The camp has been set up in defiance of state Labor government, who for months tied Aboriginal representatives up in negotiations promising an officially sanctioned place to erect the tent embassy, only to renege a month out from the games. At the time Aboriginal people asserted that if no agreed place of camp was finalised they would erect the embassy in Kings Domain, near Government House. Games Minister Justin Madden fumed at the time that the government wouldn’t tolerate the camp being set up in Kings Domain, and every attempt was made by the government to keep the camp well away from games venues.
Despite such machinations the embassy has been established in Kings Domain, and well attended. The camp has been supported by the union movement with the provision of portable facilities.
Aboriginal leaders have called for "the issues of the Black GST (Genocide, Sovereignty, Treaty) [Australia’s equivalent of VAT is called the GST, goods and services tax] to be resolved before the Stolenwealth Games in Melbourne, and the visit to Australia by the Queen (the responsible sovereign for this colony)".
Specifically the demands are - Detente (end of war against Aboriginal people), recognition of the Sovereignty Act (to be passed by Parliament) and a treaty process entered (this is a long process, but authentic steps and resources could be committed to demonstrate good faith).
While the games have ensured that funds otherwise may have their way to some more socially useful projects have been thrown down a drain. The games have brought into sharp relief the social inequity that is rarely spoken about in public. A recent campaign to fund pool maintenance in the poor western suburbs has been contrasted with the glut of pools in the more affluent suburbs, and the building of additional pools in affluent suburbs for the games. Access to public transport is also provisioned on the basis of being in the right postcode, or not.
Additionally, the state Labor government has passed a round of last minute legislation aimed at Œanti social behaviour‚. It is now illegal to "preach, declaim, harangue or deliver any address that might disturb or annoy others". What use a stampede of anti terrorist legislation, security forces and tub-thumping editorial writers without the hype being put to good use? Four days out from the games, on a warm Friday afternoon, a bather at a city beach waded near a passenger ferry. The result? A squad of police divers and helicopters scoured the area for three hours, delaying thousands of travellers while the search for a shadow continued.
The opening ceremony saw nearly 15,000 tickets given away in order to fill the stadium. At the same time no expense has been spared in preparation for the 10 days of nationalist self-congratulation and backslapping. A new bridge to the Melbourne Cricket Ground costing $25 million has been erected, two new stands at the MCG, and an undisclosed sum on security. All this so that at the end of it we may proudly proclaim our superiority in the pool over a handful of dirt-poor third world countries.
While money has been no object for the Games, the public transport system teeters after eight years of neglect, despite a $1 billion subsidy over 5 years for the private firm that runs the system. Childcare is near unobtainable or prohibitively expensive in Melbourne. And of course, Aboriginal access to health, education and social services have been wound back for lack of funds.
Still, not all is bad for who haven’t been able to enjoy the fruits of the booming economy. The Labor government is putting homeless folks in motels for the duration of the games, lest their presence offends our guests...