Aboriginal land rights are certain to become an important issue in the coming national election, which could be held next month. The porbability has been underscored by the Aug. 29 action of the Western Australia state government in taking possession of a private company's oil rig to counteract drilling delays caused by Aboriginal claims that the land is sacred to them.
Trade unions had refused to put the rig into operation out of respect for the Aboriginal claims. And the state government reacted by taking control of the rig and the exploration lease held by the US-owned Amax Petroleum Corporation and by hiring nonunion labor. The rig itself is owned by CSR, Ltd., a major Australian company.
Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has supported the actions of the state government, refusing to use the national government's constitutional powers to protect Aboriginal sacred sites.
Now the trade union movement is threatening to retaliate against the state government and against Amax and CSR, which are also partners in a major iron ore project in West Australia.
Aborigines have condemned both the prime minister and the state premier for refusal to act on their behalf.
Charles Perkins, head of the Aboriginal Development Commission and the most senior Aboriginal employed by the federal government, has denounced the government's refusal to act and spoken bitterly of state Premier Sir Charles Court's "stormtrooper Nazi attitude." He has warned that the drilling issue could lead to racial violence.
Leaders of Aboriginals from thousands of miles around the disputed land at Noonkanbah cattle ranch in north West Australia began gathering Tuesday to determine what further action to take. They already have launched protests in a United Nations forum and in the United States.
The UN protest, in Geneva, is led by Jim Hagan, chairman of the National Aboriginal Congress, who will put his case this week to the UN subcommittee on prevention of discrimination and protection of minorities. The US protest comes in response to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's visit to Washington to receive a medal from the B'nai B'rith organization for "humanitarianism."