Taking Back the Moral High Ground

Australian Aborigines and genocide

We should consider a serious question regarding genocide:

"Would it be a good thing to eliminate the Aboriginal population of Australia by assimilation into the larger population; or is genocide by assimilation a bad thing?"

The answer to that question should be considered carefully by all Australians, especially by the Aborigines themselves.

Mick Dodson, an Aboriginal leader who wrote the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report "Bringing Them Home" along with Sir Ronald Wilson, has been quoted as saying "assimilation is genocide".[67]

Stanley Davey, writing for the Federal Literature Committee of Churches of Christ in 1963, held the view that the racial assimilation of the Australian Aborigines was just another form of racial genocide.

    Threat to Racial Identity. Added to the humiliation of this inferior status is growing resentment to the promotion of an assimilation policy which anticipates the scattering of the race amongst the white dominant population with a view to its ultimate absorption.

    ...The present policy of assimilation is seeking to solve the problem posed by the existence of this minority group by the process of elimination. Elimination by extermination in Nazi Germany, Czarist and Communist Russia has been condemned. Is it to be condoned in Australia because of a different method in achieving the objective?"

Speaking on the government policy of assimilation from the 1880s to the 1960s, Sir Ronald Wilson, President of Australia's Human Rights Commission, said,

    It clearly was attempted genocide… It was believed that the Aboriginal people would die out.[69]

Colin Tatz, Director of the Centre for Comparative Genocide Studies at Sydney's Macquarie University, puts forward some interesting points on genocide.

    Australians understand only the stereotypical or traditional scenes of historical or present-day slaughter. For them, genocide connotes either the bulldozed corpses at Belsen or the serried rows of Cambodian skulls, the panga-wielding Hutu in pursuit of Tutsi victims or the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.

    ...There are two ways of approaching the issue. One is to use the yardstick of the only extant international legal definition of genocide, namely Article II (a) to (e) of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948:

      In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

        1. Killing members of the group;
        2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
        3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
        4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
        5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    [Professor Robert Manne] believes, with Raimond Gaita, that genocide can be committed by non-murderous means, such as the biological assimilation of Aborigines.

    ...The broadest view comes from the reputable scholar Henry Huttenbach: he defines genocide as "any act that puts the very existence of a group in jeopardy".

    ...Even so, we have to look to the philosophy inherent in the legal wording of Article II, namely, that genocide is the systematic attempt to destroy, by various means, a defined group's essential foundations.

    ...Raphael Lemkin was correct when, in 1944, he coined the word genocide to mean co-ordinated or systematic actions aimed at destroying a racial, ethnic or religious group's essential foundations.

    ...The National Inquiry [the "National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families", established in May 1995] reported in April 1997. Of the 118 official investigations - judicial inquiries, parliamentary committee reports and royal commissions - into aspects of Aboriginal affairs this century, this is by far the starkest and strongest indictment, concluding that Australia has knowingly committed genocide through the forcible transfer of children, as a matter of official policy, not just yesteryear but as recently as the 1970s. A finding of genocide was presented: the essence of the crime, it was stated, was acting with the intention of destroying the group, not the extent to which that intention was achieved. The forcible removals were intended to "absorb", "merge", "assimilate" the children "so that Aborigines as a distinct group would disappear".

    ...Matthew Storey points out that "genocide does not require malice; it can be (misguidedly) committed 'in the interests' of a protected population". Gaita contends that "the concept of good intention cannot be relativised indefinitely to an agent's perception of it as good". If we could, he writes, then we must say that Nazi murderers had good, but radically benighted intentions, because most of them believed they had a sacred duty to the world to rid the planet of the race that polluted it.

Various commentators have equated assimilation with genocide.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide would support that view:

    Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

Taking Back the Moral High Ground