Sunday, 22 June 2008

Angry Aborigines seek ban on Uluru tourists


Australian Aborigines have threatened to stop tourists from climbing the iconic rock formation Uluru in protest at government intervention in indigenous communities.

The warning comes a year after police and soldiers moved in to tackle high rates of social dysfunction in 73 remote Australian Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, where alcohol abuse, gambling and the sexual assault of children was said to be rife.

The so-called 'intervention' action was initiated by the former conservative Prime Minister, John Howard, prompted by a report that said children were being sexually mistreated in the poverty-stricken Outback communities. The policy has since been supported by his centre-left successor, Kevin Rudd.

In protests held in Sydney, Canberra and Tasmania yesterday, Aborigines said they had been unfairly targeted by the measures, which included bans on alcohol as well as restrictions on welfare payments. They said the intervention was racist and demeaning and argued that instead of sending armed officers into remote communities, the government needed to finance long-term measures to improve housing, build schools and improve health.

Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, is one of Australia's biggest tourist attractions. Vince Forrester, an elder from the Mutitjulu people who are Uluru's traditional owners and have the power to ban climbing on it, said closing the site would help highlight problems caused by the intervention. 'We've got to take some affirmative action to stop this racist piece of legislation,' he told a rally of protesters in Sydney. 'We're going to throw a big rock on top of the tourist industry ... we will close the climb and no one will climb Uluru ever again.'

Forrester, an Aboriginal activist, said the 'paternalistic' intervention had unfairly slurred all Aboriginal males.

Aborigines have threatened similar bans in the past which have come to nothing, largely because of the huge revenues that the tourists bring.

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