Monday, November 15, 2004

A country worth protecting?

Madonna Palmer gives evidence on her son's death.  

A spate of stories in the corporate media about racism in the Australian army have made this Remembrance Day (November 11) a memorable one.

The Australian Army which now promotes itself as 'The Edge' -- in an endeavour to make military discipline and drudgery seem an exciting and challenging career path -- succeeded in pushing an Aboriginal youth over it in 1999 -- after subjecting him to constant racist abuse. An ordeal that began at the Kapooka recruit course and ended at Townsville's Lavarack barracks four months later, but only because nineteen year old Damien Palmer, hanged himself.

Jovial banter

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) photograph taken at Lavarack (a year after Damien's suicide) by a freelance photographer who has worked for the army since Vietnam, was organised by senior officers who "laughed and clapped" as the soldiers posed for this racist tableau. An army investigation into the matter, made it clear how this 'culture of racism' is maintained institutionally, by dismissing the episode as mere "jovial banter".

As Damien's mother stated to a parliamentary committee investigating military justice, "I don't believe the defence force is genuine in its attempt to stamp out discrimination, bullying and bastardisation."

"In fact, you send out a message that it is tolerated by your lack of action, your denial, or your failure to even attempt to answer criticism."

She also informed the committee about an Aboriginal soldier who was locked in a Lavarack army cell with a noose by white soldiers. Many allegations of systemic persecution, including at least one life-threatening act in a combat area, have been made by other victims to the committee.

Culture of racism

With a parliamentary committee investigating military justice, civil suits from victims of army racism being initiated and the adverse publicity these proceedings are generating for the Australian army, we will undoubtedly see the usual cosmetic changes (and spin) the State implements to conceal such institutionalised racism. Real change cannot occur in the Australian army (if only for the obvious reason of co-influence) while a culture of racism persists in the wider Australian society.

Racist taunts

The racist taunt "about the level of government handouts to Aborigines" directed at Damien by an army instructor, has been directed at all Aboriginal people by the, [war criminal], Howard government since it slithered into power. The dismantling of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), its replacement with the "PM's blacks" and the recent police raid on the offices of the National Indigenous Times are symptomatic of a campaign to crush Aboriginal self-determination.

Howard's paternalistic and divisive taunts have been spin-doctored by right wing historian Windschuttle and his ilk, then presented to the Australian public by the corporate press as some sort of intellectual fait accompli. A shameful exercise that absolves white 'Australians' of responsibility for the continuing low social outcomes of Aboriginal people, while managing in Orwellian doublethink style, to blame Aboriginal people for suffering the devastating effects of European invasion and dispossession. Australian army racism is a reflection of wider societal values, not the isolated, institutional aberration, the corporate media would prefer to portray.

In March, Damien's mother told the parliamentary committee that her son had been humiliated in front of other recruits by an instructor who stated that Damien was only in the army "because he was black".

In reality...

...Due to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Recruitment and Career Development Strategy (set up to assist the most socially disadvantaged people in Australia to enter the armed forces) Damien was in the Australian army...

...Despite being black.

Lest we forget

By Mick Lambe posted 15 November 04


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