Defend Tarneen Onus-Williams

On 26 January, some of the biggest Invasion Day mobilisations for Aboriginal rights in the past decade were held in the east coast capitals.

Yet the main focus of the media has been a speech given by Tarneen Onus-Williams, Aboriginal activist and organiser of the Melbourne rally. Onus-Williams caused a stir amongst right wing commentators and government officials when she said “Fuck Australia, I hope it burns to the ground”.

Conservatives and moderates lost their shit. From former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett to Andrews Labor Government MPs, the attacks on Onus-Williams have been relentless.

Onus-Williams struck a nerve. She said what so many of us are thinking: No, this country isn’t great, and our people bear the brunt of a disgustingly unequal society.

Our people are fewer than 3 percent of the total population, yet make up 27 percent of prisoners. We are the most imprisoned people in the world –let that sink in.

The long-held demand of the Aboriginal rights movement to stop Black deaths in custody continues to be unmet, with a spike in Aboriginal people being murdered by racist cops and prison guards in the last two years alone.

Some of our communities are fighting diseases eradicated in the Third World.

We have endured a ramping up of the new stolen generation by state governments across the country, stealing Aboriginal children from their parents at the highest rates in history.

Our brothers and sisters in the Northern Territory are governed by the enforced segregation of “the Intervention”. They aren’t allowed to enter certain shops, they’re having payments cut and quarantined and, with the rollout of the Community Development Program, the “remote employment and community development service”, are forced to work full time for businesses while receiving below minimum wage payments. It’s two steps away from slavery.

Stolen Aboriginal land is still in the hands of the state and mining corporations, while our communities are destitute due to racist government policy.

This is 2018, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

So I support 100 percent the sentiment of Onus-Williams and the stand she has taken. The country would be a better place if the racist structures of Australian capitalism were dismantled and the people running them put to work doing real community service.

It’s telling, when our people speak up, when we feel empowered to fight back, that the media and the political right come out in full force to crush our spirit. It reminds me of the disgusting slurs directed at Yassmin Abdel-Magied after she rightly criticised the hypocrisy of Anzac Day in 2017.

What’s also telling is that some of the most vocal critics of Onus-Williams were silent about the murder of 26-year-old Aboriginal man David Dungay, who was tranquillised and allegedly suffocated by prison guards at Sydney’s Long Bay jail in 2015. He had told them that he couldn’t breathe, but continued to be held face down on a mattress before being injected with midazolam.

You couldn’t hear a peep when the Turnbull government amended native title law to allow the Adani coal mine to go ahead in Queensland. Nor were the snowflakes of the right concerned about Aboriginal children being kidnapped en masse by the state.

In Australia, an Aboriginal activist can on one day be dragged through the mud by the media and the right for metaphorically calling for the racist Australian state to burn. And the next day, the prime minister can announce $3.8 billion in funding for the Australian military industrial complex to build weapons that would literally burn cities to the ground.

And what does the forever outraged conservative right have to say? Nothing, crickets.

The Australian government and media racism and hypocrisy know no bounds. As the oppressed stand up, we can expect the same critics to squeal ever louder. It’s our task to drown them out and stand in solidarity with those fighting back.

That means giving unwavering support to Onus-Williams.