More than 100 people gathered at Picnic Point in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, on Saturday 2 February, to protest the auction of 37 houses against the wishes of their decades-long residents.
The homes used to be social housing, but the company that owned them collapsed last year. More than 100 Indigenous residents are at risk of homelessness.
“We weren’t given a chance to appeal or fight what’s happening”, Bernadette Gibbs, a Kooma woman of the area, told Red Flag. “We just got a letter. No one’s taking any responsibility. We rallied to get the housing in the first place, but now the government’s not worried about 37 families – we’re at the bottom of the line. We are having our lives taken away.”
Patricia Conlon, a traditional owner of the country on which the houses were built, is helping the tenants in their campaign to win housing justice.
“My biggest concern is, why doesn’t the government step in?”, she said. “Why can’t they purchase these houses to give these people an opportunity to live? They say they want to help. Thirty-three other houses from this block have already been sold. The government was part of lifting those caveats that allowed these houses to be mortgaged and sold … It should be rent to buy, it shouldn’t be rent and rent and rent for years.”
The tenants have been told that they will receive help in the private rental market, but the Palaszczuk Labor government could immediately intervene and return their homes to social housing. The only parliamentarian pushing the residents’ case is Greens MP Michael Berkman. He noted in a media release:
“If [the state government] doesn’t intervene this will be another episode in the long history of mistreatment and dispossession of Aboriginal people in this country.”
Conlon also said that residents have faced intimidation: “These families believe there is no hope. They were told their houses were going under the hammer and if they don’t let it happen, they’ll be arrested”.
Human Rights Watch, an international investigative and reporting organisation, says that it has “significant human rights concerns” about Australia’s treatment of refugees and Aboriginal people.
To drive a whole people out of their land—to turn it into something akin to the Zionist myth of Palestine, supposedly “a land without a people for a people without a land”—requires many things. Most obviously, it requires the killing and terrorising of Palestinian people on a colossal scale.
What would you do with $1.5 million? You could put down deposits on ten median-priced Sydney houses, or you could buy one outright and spare yourself the crushing mortgage repayments.
The level of suffering in Gaza is more than the human mind can comprehend. As the war enters its twentieth week, it feels increasingly obscene to be going about daily life while an entire people are being systematically destroyed, their lives, histories and culture blown to pieces or buried under rubble.
The Banyule Palestine Action Group has collected more than 600 signatures on a petition calling on Banyule City Council, in Melbourne’s north-east, to pass a motion supporting an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, in line with motions passed in other councils across Australia.
Asked how she stays hopeful as a 63-year-old socialist and Palestinian living in the diaspora, Reem Yunis replies: “I don’t have the luxury not to be inspired. My grandparents died without seeing a liberated Palestine, my parents died and were buried in the diaspora. Most of my people are living in the diaspora, and the ones in Palestine are being robbed of water, resources and every bit of land they have. We need to have hope and fight, because if we won’t fight for a free Palestine, who will?”