Australia stung by racism charge by World Council of Churches

Publication of a report branding Australia a racist country has stirred a political storm here. The study by a five-member team of the World Council of Churches accuses this country's federal government of failing to meet its constitutional duty to achieve justice for Australia's Aborigines. It calls for strong government action in such areas as land rights, health services, employment, and education.

But its strongest criticisms are reserved for the Western Australian and Queensland state governments, where most Aborigines live, and where no land rights have been granted.

At the same time the study concludes that racism is entrenched in "every aspect of the Australian society."

The report was written after the five-member team recently visited Australia to investigate the country's treatment of its aboriginal people. It concluded that racism ". . . is tied up with historical economic, political, cultural, and religious interests."

"The black people in Australia . . .," it found, ". . . are a minority group and are alienated from the decisionmaking levels as well as the corridors of effective power."

The publication of the report in Australia and its release internationally have stirred controversy for state governments as well as for the federal government.

The premiers of Western Australia and Queensland blasted the report and the people who produced it. Queensland's Premier Johannes Bjelke-Petersen described the report as "worthless exercise compiled by a bunch of hypocrites." Western Australian Premier Sir Charles Court said the report was a "shameful collection of exaggeration, distortions, and self-contraditions."

But Sen. Peter Baume, the federal minister for Aboriginal affairs, said he thought the factual basis of the report was "not too bad" and that its criticisms were potentially very useful.

The two states criticized in the report had refused to cooperate with the team that compiled it, complaining of "bias" when the group was in Australia several months ago.

The report, titled "Justice for Australian Aborigines," was compiled by Elizabeth Adler (East Germany), head of the Evangelical Academy in East Berlin; Quince Duncan (Costa Rica), a member of the World Council of Churches' Program to Combat Racism; Bena Silu (Zaire), a member of the council's executive; Pauline Webb (Britain), director of religious broadcasting for the BBC World Service; and Prof. Anwar Barakat (Pakistan), director of the Program to Combat Racism.

The report says Aborigines have been denigrated socially and spiritually by hostile governments, paternalistic churches, indifferent and powerful bureaucrats, and brutal law officers.

It said neglect of their needs had caused alcoholism, disease, illiteracy, and unemployment, to a degree charitable programs could not hope to overcome.

The report said "Aborigines have become the invisible, unseen, and unheard people in Australia.All the good intentions contained in programs which treat Aboriginal people as the objects of charity and paternalism are dwarfed by an overriding reality of massive deprivation, poverty and injustice."

The members of the team criticized the Queensland and West Australian governments for what they described as "hostile and racist ways to prevent Aborigines from gaining land or any measure of self-determination.

"These governments appear hostage to the mining, tourist, and pastoral interests and show blatant disregard for the human rights of Aborigines as well as federal government legislation."

The report said Aborigines regarded churches as "partners of the government, providing the means of controlling the Aboriginal population and encouraging their assimilation into white society."

It said Aborigines were often the victims of police harassment and brutality, particularly in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland.

"When police are called to a conflict between a white and an Aborigine, no matter what or who was the cause of the conflict, it is highly likely that the Aborigine would be arrested," the report said.

Senator Baume said the report had merit but did not acknowledge Australian government accomplishments in the past 10 years, "inadequate as they may be."

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