Thalia Anthony, Stephen Gray, ‘Was there slavery in Australia? Yes. It shouldn’t even be up for debate’, The Conversation, 11.06.20
Prime Minister Scott Morrison asserted in a radio interview that “there was no slavery in Australia”.
This is a common misunderstanding which often obscures our nation’s history of exploitation of First Nations people and Pacific Islanders.
Morrison followed up with “I’ve always said we’ve got to be honest about our history”. Unfortunately, his statement is at odds with the historical record.
This history was widely and publicly documented, among other sources, in the 2006 Australian Senate report Unfinished Business: Indigenous Stolen Wages.
What is slavery?
Australia was not a “slave state” like the American South. However, slavery is a broader concept. As Article 1 of the United Nations Slavery Convention says:
Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.
These powers might include non-payment of wages, physical or sexual abuse, controls over freedom of movement, or selling a person like a piece of property. In the words of slavery historian Orlando Patterson, slavery is a form of “social death”.
Slavery has been illegal in the (former) British Empire since the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade of 1807, and certainly since 1833.
Slavery practices emerged in Australia in the 19th century and in some places endured until the 1950s.
Early coverage of slavery in Australia
As early as the 1860s, anti-slavery campaigners began to invoke “charges of chattel bondage and slavery” to describe north Australian conditions for Aboriginal labour.
In 1891 a “Slave Map of Modern Australia” was printed in the British Anti-Slavery Reporter, a journal that documented slavery around the world and campaigned against it.
Reprinted from English journalist Arthur Vogan’s account of frontier relations in Queensland, it showed large areas where:
… the traffic in Aboriginal labour, both children and adults, had descended into slavery conditions.
Seeds of slavery in Australia
Some 62,000 Melanesian people were brought to Australia and enslaved to work in Queensland’s sugar plantations between 1863 and 1904. First Nations Australians had a more enduring experience of slavery, originally in the pearling industry in Western Australia and the Torres Strait and then in the cattle industry.
In the pastoral industry, employers exercised a high degree of control over “their” Aboriginal workers, who were bought and sold as chattels, particularly where they “went with” the property upon sale. There were restrictions on their freedom of choice and movement. There was cruel treatment and abuse, control of sexuality, and forced labour.
A stock worker at Meda Station in the Kimberley, Jimmy Bird, recalled:
… whitefellas would pull their gun out and kill any Aborigines who stood up to them. And there was none of this taking your time to pull up your boots either. No fear!
Aboriginal woman Ruby de Satge, who worked on a Queensland station, described the Queensland Protection Act as meaning:
if you are sitting down minding your own business, a station manager can come up to you and say, “I want a couple of blackfellows” … Just like picking up a cat or a dog.
Through their roles under the legislation, police, Aboriginal protectors and pastoral managers were complicit in this force.
Slavery was sanctioned by Australian law
Legislation facilitated the enslavement of Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. Under the South Australian Aborigines Act 1911, the government empowered police to “inspect workers and their conditions” but not to uphold basic working conditions or enforce payment. The Aboriginals Ordinance 1918 (Cth) allowed the forced recruitment of Indigenous workers in the Northern Territory, and legalised the non-payment of wages.
In Queensland, the licence system was effectively a blank cheque to recruit Aboriginal people into employment without their consent. Amendments to the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 gave powers to the Protector or police officer to “expend” their wages or invest them in a trust fund – which was never paid out.
Officials were well aware that “slavery” was a public relations problem. The Chief Protector in the Northern Territory noted in 1927 that pastoral workers:
… are kept in a servitude that is nothing short of slavery.
In the early 1930s, Chief Protector Dr Cecil Cook pointed out Australia was in breach of its obligations under the League of Nations Slavery Convention.
‘… it certainly exists here in its worst form’
Accusations of slavery continued into the 1930s, including through the British Commonwealth League.
In 1932 the North Australian Workers’ Union (NAWU) characterised Aboriginal workers as “slaves”. Unionist Owen Rowe argued:
If there is no slavery in the British Empire then the NT is not part of the British Empire; for it certainly exists here in its worst form.
In the 1940s, anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt surveyed conditions on cattle stations owned by Lord Vestey, commenting that Aboriginal people:
… owned neither the huts in which they lived nor the land on which these were built, they had no rights of tenure, and in some cases have been sold or transferred with the property.
In 1958, counsel for the well-known Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira argued that the Welfare Ordinance 1953 (Cth) was unconstitutional, because the enacting legislation was:
… a law for the enslavement of part of the population of the Northern Territory.
Profits from slaves
Australia has unfinished business in repaying wages to Aboriginal and South Sea Islander slaves. First Nations slave work allowed big businesses to reap substantial profits, and helped maintain the Australian economy through the Great Depression. Aboriginal people are proud of their work on stations even though the historical narrative is enshrined in silence and denial.
As Bundjalung woman Valerie Linow has said of her experiences of slavery in the 1950s:
What if your wages got stolen? Honestly, wouldn’t you like to have your wages back? Honestly. I think it should be owed to the ones who were slave labour. We got up and worked from dawn to dusk … We lost everything – family, everything. You cannot go stealing our lousy little sixpence. We have got to have money back. You have got to give something back after all this country did to the Aboriginal people. You cannot keep stealing off us.
Addendum: the above addresses only part of the story – e.g. convicts were also used as slave labour.
Natassia Chrysanthos, ‘Subjects on US slavery and fascism slated for cuts at Sydney University’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 11.06.20
History subjects about the making of the US, American slavery, fascism and anti-fascism are nominated to be cut from the University of Sydney’s arts and social sciences faculty due to budget-saving measures. …
It comes as the statues of slave traders are torn down in Britain and thousands worldwide protest against police brutality in the Black Lives Matter movement, after the death of George Floyd in the United States.
History student Annabel Pettit said she was hoping to study American slavery next semester.
“It feels like a vital time to be thinking critically, and learning as much as we can about what has led us to this particular moment in history,” she said.
“It’s disappointing news to hear as a student, and deeply concerning given the current global anti-racist movement and the upcoming US election.”…
Seventy history students have written to the arts and social sciences dean, Annamarie Jagose, petitioning to save the subjects.
“These are vital subjects to study in a world where the mass Black Lives Matter movement has been threatened by the US President with military action to disperse protesters,” they wrote.
Senior history lecturer David Brophy said students felt they were being denied the opportunity to study topics that were “really important at this point”.
“It’s not a good time for Sydney to be weakening its offerings in these areas,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a global uprising against racism centred in America, and we’re stripping away these units that speak directly to the current context.
“There’s also an intense discussion that’s sparked up again about the way we speak about history, the debate about the commemoration of figures involved in slavery. They would normally be expected to attract significant interest in a time like this.” …
‘falsity is the assertion that that which is is not or that that which is not is and truth is the assertion that that which is is and that that which is not is not.’
Aristotle, The Metaphysics, Trans and Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, Penguin, London, 2004, 107 (Gamma 7 1011b)
Austllink chairwoman Amy Mo, a Beijing education agent who has operated in the Australian market for 15 years, said the deteriorating relationship (between Australia and China) will bring “immeasurable economic losses to Australia”.
“If Australian politicians don’t regret and keep being the running-dog of the United States in the name of so-called values, Chinese tourists and students will not go there,” she said.
“I hope Australia can change its attitude toward China. If a country loves Chinese money but doesn’t like Chinese people, China surely is not willing to do business with it.”…
Luke Sheehy, executive director of the Australian Technology Network of universities, which include RMIT and UTS, said the sector had prioritised welfare of students during the COVID-19 crisis and campuses were “vibrant, safe and welcoming places”. …
Eryk Bagshaw, Fergus Hunter, Sanghee Liu, ‘Students “to be steered to UK instead”‘ The Sydney Morning Herald, 11.06.20
Brian Toohey, ‘A star-spangled spanner in the works: how US secrecy controls Australian weapons’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 25.05.20
The loss of Australian sovereignty within the American alliance is rarely raised amid the current alarm about whether the US is a reliable ally. Successive prime ministers have given the US a de facto veto over whether Australia can use its own weapons systems to defend itself.
At the same time, they have allowed Australian forces to become so tightly integrated into the Pentagon’s that it presumes Australia will automatically participate in a horrendous new American war, even when it’s an illegal act of aggression like the invasion of Iraq.
The erosion of our national sovereignty has not occurred suddenly. A Parliamentary Library research paper warned back in 2001 that American restrictions meant Australia could only use its advanced weapons for a short time before they became inoperable. Since then, Australia has become more reliant on complex weapons systems whose sensitive components have to be sent back to America for maintenance and repairs. Perversely, American secrecy prevents Australian personnel from learning how to perform these tasks.
The US also denies Australia access to the computer source code essential to operate key electronic components in its ships, planes, missiles, sensors and so on. Israel is the only country allowed even a partial role in repairing the electronic systems at the heart of the troubled-plagued F-35 fighter planes Australia is also acquiring.
Although there is nothing new about the possibility the US won’t always come riding to Australia’s rescue, President Donald Trump’s erratic behaviour has sparked a growing awareness that nothing is guaranteed.
Even more conventional US presidents will act in what they see as their own political interest and some version of the national interest rather than always committing American blood and treasure to defend Australia. Many otherwise hard-headed Australian politicians and commentators reject this reality, despite the lessons of history.
In 1963, Bob Menzies’ coalition government was keen to commit Australian forces to a cross-border war against Indonesia in Borneo. Menzies wanted an assurance from then US president John F. Kennedy that the ANZUS treaty meant the US would supply troops to support Australian forces. Archival records show Kennedy told Menzies that the American people had “forgotten” about ANZUS and no troops would be supplied.
In 1999, John Howard wanted president Bill Clinton to provide “boots on the ground” to help an Australian-led force quell violence sponsored by Indonesia in East Timor. Clinton refused.
Drawing on these lessons, an official National Security Update in 2007 stated it was the Howard government’s policy that we must be the “sole guarantor of our own security” and that it was “not healthy for a country to become dependent on another for its basic defence”. Although the defence minister Brendan Nelson wrote a supportive introduction to the update, no subsequent government has attempted to implement this policy.
A policy of greater self-reliance requires full access to all relevant computer source code. Resources would need to be devoted to beefing up Australia’s electronics industry to allow the defence forces to operate far more independently than presently. But this doesn’t mean all defence equipment has to be built in Australia – that would be prohibitively costly. Funds could be freed up by greater use of relatively low-cost drones and by scrapping mega projects such as the ludicrously expensive French/Australian submarine relying on US electronics. When eventually delivered sometime after 2035, the submarine will almost certainly be a financial and military disaster.
Meanwhile, there is no need to overreact to China’s imposition of an 80 per cent tariff on imported Australian barley. China began action in the World Trade Organisation in 2018 against Australia’s alleged dumping of barley.
The University of Adelaide’s Simon Lacey points out that currently Australia has anti-dumping action under way or proposed against Chinese wind towers, glass, electric cables, chemicals, herbicides, A4 copy paper and aluminium products, as well as steel.
China has now pointedly switched to buying more barley from the US to meet Trump’s demand that it imports a lot more from America.
Jarni Blakkarly, SBS, ’Melbourne refugee protesters fined $43,000 for breaching coronavirus rules’ 10.04.20
‘Victoria Police has arrested one refugee advocate and fined dozens of others a total of $43,000 for breaching coronavirus stay at home orders by conducting a protest outside a Melbourne hotel housing refugees and asylum seekers.
The protesters on Friday formed a car motorcade to protest the situation faced by the men inside the Mantra Hotel in the northern Melbourne suburb of Preston, where they say the men are in danger of contracting COVID-19.
The men inside the hotel have themselves been protesting their crowded conditions and what they say is a lack of personal hygiene supplies, such as hand sanitiser.
Protest organisers said the demonstration was done in cars so that all protesters maintained their required social distance at all times.
The Refugee Action Collective’s Lucy Honan was one of those issued a fine by Victoria Police for participating in the protest.
“We were told that we had breached the stay at home direction. We said we are there for compassionate reasons. Compassion and care is one of the reasons you can leave the house,” she said.
“It’s completely egregious and hypocritical. You have people inside the detention centre unable to physically distance, that’s why we were there, and instead of using those health powers to agitate for their freedom, the [Premier Daniel] Andrews government has used police to quash protests,” Ms Honan said.
Victoria Police told SBS News 26 demonstrators were fined for failing to comply with the chief health officer’s orders, while three were issued with traffic infringement notices.
“While Victoria Police respects the public’s right to protest, these are extraordinary times and the health and safety of every Victorian needs to be our number one priority at this time,” a police spokesperson said.
Protest organiser Chris Breen was also arrested at his home prior to the protest beginning. He was charged with incitement and is due to face court in August.
He told SBS News he was taken to the Preston police station where he spent nine hours in custody while police obtained a warrant to seize his phone and home computers.
“It’s absurd. People can drive to Bunnings, to get a haircut, to go to your holiday house in Victoria, but we aren’t allowed to drive around the block to highlight the deadly conditions for refugees,” Mr Breen said.
“Health rules around coronavirus can’t be used to shut down safe protests,” he added.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.
‘Big W shopper tasered by police in toilet paper fight’, Ash Cant, Yahoo News Australia, 05.03.20
A man has been tasered by police after an argument at a Big W over toilet paper.
The 50-year-old man was arrested over the alleged assault, which happened at the retailer in Tamworth, in northeast NSW, on Thursday afternoon.
“Police have been told a 50-year-old man began to argue with a staff member and another customer before he assaulted them at a department store in Bridge Street,” a NSW Police spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo News Australia.
Officers from Oxley Police District arrested the man just after 10am (local time) on Thursday.
He was tasered by police when they arrived at the scene.
Yahoo News Australia understands the confrontation was about toilet paper.
The man was taken to Tamworth Police Station, where he is assisting police with their inquiries.
The incident comes after shoppers have left toilet paper aisles empty in recent days as they scramble to stockpile the grocery staple amid coronavirus fears.
Videos have emerged of people clearing the shelves and now both Coles and Woolworths have imposed limits on how many packs of toilet rolls each customer can buy at one time.
On Wednesday, police were called to a Woolworths in Sydney’s west after reports of a person being threatened with a knife also allegedly over toilet paper.
Even hacked the Vatican. The Russians and the Chinese didn’t buy the machines. The Australians knew about it and took what their masters gave them – not to mention that Australian spies hacked the phones of the Indonesian President Yudhoyono, his wife, the Indonesian vice-president and other senior ministers (the response of the Australians when this was exposed is noteworthy) as well as bugged the offices of the East Timorese government during the ‘negotiations’ over the Timor Gap resources and then the federal government charged the ASIS agent who blew the whistle on this. The highly secretive case is on-going.
- Philip Dorling, ‘Arbib revealed as secret US source’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 09.12.10
Federal minister and right-wing Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib has been revealed as a confidential contact of the United States embassy in Canberra, providing inside information and commentary for Washington on the workings of the Australian government and the Labor Party.
Secret US embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available exclusively to The Age reveal that Senator Arbib, one of the architects of Kevin Rudd’s removal as prime minister, has been in regular contact with US embassy officers.
His candid comments have been incorporated into reports to Washington with repeated requests that his identity as a ”protected” source be guarded.
Embassy cables reporting on the Labor Party and national political developments, frequently classified “No Forn” – meaning no distribution to non-US personnel – refer to Senator Arbib as a strong supporter of Australia’s alliance with the US.
They identify him as a valuable source of information on Labor politics, including Mr Rudd’s hopes to forestall an eventual leadership challenge from then deputy prime minister Julia Gillard.
“He understands the importance of supporting a vibrant relationship with the US while not being too deferential. We have found him personable, confident and articulate,” an embassy profile on Senator Arbib written in July 2009 says. “He has met with us repeatedly throughout his political rise.’’
Other Labor politicians reported in US embassy cables as regular contacts include former federal MP and minister Bob McMullan and Michael Danby, the Labor member for Melbourne Ports.
A former secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party, Senator Arbib was a key backroom figure in the Labor ”coup” in June that resulted in Mr Rudd being replaced by Ms Gillard as PM.
He has been a senator since July 2008 and was made a parliamentary secretary in February 2009. Mr Rudd elevated him to the ministry in June 2009. He currently holds the ministerial portfolios of Sport, Indigenous Employment, and Social Housing and Homelessness.
Instructed to find out how decisions were made in the government, US diplomats were quick to focus on Senator Arbib as a “right-wing powerbroker and political rising star” who had made “a quick transition from the parliamentary backrooms into the ministry’’.
The US embassy noted that ”the New South Wales Labor party’s kingmaker” was integral in raising numbers for Mr Rudd to overthrow Kim Beazley as Labor leader in 2006, and that Senator Arbib was “a close adviser to Rudd and is his key conduit to the ALP factions’’.
“Arbib is an influential factional operator who has forged strong political connections with Rudd,” the embassy recorded. “We have been told that Rudd respects Arbib’s political expertise, and a contact noted that Arbib is brought into Rudd’s inner circle when politically important decisions are made.
“Arbib is said to be loyal to, but frank with, Rudd, and is one of Rudd’s closest advisers. Yet, publicly, Arbib has denied being part of Rudd’s inner circle.”
US diplomats also found that Arbib “is an astute observer and able conversant on the nuts and bolts of US politics’’.
Senator Arbib first appears as a contributor to US embassy political reporting while he was NSW Labor state secretary. In May 2006 he declared to US diplomats that Australia was at risk of becoming a ”quarry for the Chinese and a tourist destination for the Japanese’’.
He warned that it would be “a tough struggle for the Labor Party to win the federal elections in 2007”. But he thought Kim Beazley, because he was the opposite of the volatile Mark Latham, was ”the right man to lead the ALP at the present time’’.
However, he also told embassy officers that, unlike Mr Beazley, he supported Australia’s military commitment in Iraq “as well as the war on terrorism in general’’.
After the Rudd government’s election in 2007, Senator Arbib offered reassurance about then deputy prime minister Gillard’s political leanings, describing her as “one of the most pragmatic politicians in the ALP”.
He also confirmed Mr Rudd’s tendencies towards micromanagement and told the embassy that “Rudd’s staff would like to get their boss to spend less time on foreign policy and delegate more, but that they recognise that this is a hopeless task’’.
In October 2009, as Mr Rudd’s popular support began to sag, Senator Arbib openly canvassed emerging leadership tensions within the government, telling US envoys that Mr Rudd wanted “to ensure that there are viable alternatives to Gillard within the Labor Party to forestall a challenge’’.
Senator Arbib added that Mr Rudd still appreciated Ms Gillard’s strengths, while an another unidentified adviser to the Labor prime minister told US diplomats that “while the PM respects Gillard, his reluctance to share power will eventually lead to a falling-out, while Gillard will not want to acquiesce in creating potential rivals”.
In June this year, Senator Arbib and other Labor Right figures moved to depose Mr Rudd from the leadership, precipitating the events that led to Ms Gillard’s becoming Prime Minister.
Senator Arbib last night declined to comment on the WikiLeaks disclosures.
2. Daniel Flitton, ‘Explosive Wiki Rudd cable’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 06.12.10
Kevin Rudd warned Hillary Clinton to be prepared to use force against China ”if everything goes wrong”, an explosive new Wikileaks cable has revealed.
Mr Rudd also told Mrs Clinton during a March 24, 2009, meeting in Washington that China was ”paranoid” about both Taiwan and Tibet and that his ambitious plan for an Asia-Pacific Community was intended to blunt Chinese influence in the region. …
Paul Read, ‘Arson, mischief and recklessness: 87 per cent of fires are man-made’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18.11.19
There are, on average, 62,000 fires in Australia every year. Only a very small number strike far from populated areas and satellite studies tell us that lightning is responsible for only 13 per cent. Not so the current fires threatening to engulf Queensland and NSW. There were no lightning strikes on most of the days when the fires first started in September. Although there have been since, these fires – joining up to create a new form of mega-fire – are almost all man-made.
A 2015 satellite analysis of 113,000 fires from 1997-2009 confirmed what we had known for some time – 40 per cent of fires are deliberately lit, another 47 per cent accidental. This generally matches previous data published a decade earlier that about half of all fires were suspected or deliberate arson, and 37 per cent accidental. Combined, they reach the same conclusion: 87 per cent are man-made.
The cycles of the seasons are changing beyond that which can be explained by known forces, both ancient and modern. Every lethal wildfire since 1857 has happened at the height of summer. Until now. The size of these fires has never been seen in Australia’s history this side of summer, and certainly not starting as early as September.
Seasonal changes, in part due to climate change on top of natural oscillations causing the drought and westerly winds, have some origins in man-made emissions. More directly, however, the source of ignition is human.
It’s not lost on police, emergency services and firefighters at the front line that most of these fires were lit deliberately, or accidentally through recklessness, nor that they are unprecedented in their timing and ferocity. Since September, it has been a constant pattern that a few days after the fires roar through we have the first police reports that arson or recklessness was involved.
The mix of people lighting fires always follow the same age and gender profiles: whether accidental or deliberate, half are children, a minority elderly, and the most dangerous are those aged between 30 and 60. Ninety per cent are male.
The psychosexual pyromaniac has long been relegated to dusty tomes from 1904 to the1950s. At least among those caught, the profile emerges of an odd, unintelligent person from a chaotic family, marginalised at the fringes of society and deeply involved in many types of crime, not only fire.
If I had to guess, I’d say about 10,000 arsonists lurk from the top of Queensland to the southern-most tip of Victoria, but not all are active and some light fires during winter. The most dangerous light fires on the hottest days, generally closer to communities and during other blazes, suggesting more malicious motives. Only a tiny minority will gaze with wonder at the destruction they have wrought, deeply fascinated and empowered. Others get caught up with the excitement of chaos and behave like impulsive idiots.
As for children, they are not always malicious. Children and youths follow the age-crime curve where delinquency peaks in their late teens. Fire is just one of many misbehaviours. The great majority grow out of it. Four overlapping subgroups include: accidental fire-play getting out of control; victims of child abuse – including sexual abuse – and neglect; children with autism and developmental disorders; and conduct disorder from a younger age, which can be genuinely dangerous.
Whereas the first three groups can be helped and stopped, the last is more problematic. These children are more likely to continue lighting fires for a lifetime, emerging as psychopaths in adulthood. This tends to match the finding that only 10 per cent of convicted arsonists will go on to light fires again after prison. They are the recidivists, more fascinated by fire, more prone to giving in to dangerous urges when in crisis, more impulsive, less empathic – the hallmarks of a psychopath.
Some research suggests only a very small percentage of arsonists are ever caught, which has several implications.
One is that we have a biased profile of who they really are. Whereas the children and the dopey get caught, the more cunning would be less represented in our samples. More ominous, many more than 10,000 arsonists might be active.
One of the few prospective studies of almost 3000 fire lighters in South Australia alone found as many as 14 per cent of people in a community sample lit fires. This level is much higher than actual convictions would suggest. Further to this, community sampling suggests females represent 20 per cent of those fire lighters, even though convictions of females are only half this figure. If this trend continues into adulthood, it suggests we have a biased view of the typical arsonist to begin with.
Those we haven’t caught yet are still hiding, but we know enough to recognise them and, one day, maybe stop them.
In the thick of a deadly crisis, it beggars belief that some people would seek to make it worse. But we should be careful who we demonise. Not all children mean to do harm. Careful handling of them will reduce, not exacerbate, their problems and allow caregivers to refer them before the first match is struck.
Emergency services and communities on the front line will shine a light on the very best of humanity; others will disgrace themselves through idiocy or malice. Amid the chaos of confronting fires, the psychopath forever looms – not only the criminals who light fires in the forests and grasslands but perhaps also, figuratively, the people who profit from planetary destruction and ignore the urgent warnings of 23 emergency commissioners to prepare.
When the flames abate, we can have a sensible national dialogue about the prevention of wildfires, handling arson, and maybe even climate change.
Paul Read is an ecological criminologist and sustainability scientist at Monash University.