Neoliberalism is a key driver for the control of Aboriginal lands and assimilation

To make any sense of the aggression behind most current Indigenous policy in Australia you need to study the impact of neo-liberalism around the globe
says Jeff McMullen

Jeff McMullen: Neoliberalism, market fundamentalism and the colonization of Aboriginal policy

This article by Colin Penter The Stringer 14 March 2014

The Devolution

"Neo-liberalism is a hungry beast and this 21st Century strain of capitalism is shaping the agenda for control of Aboriginal lands ... Australian Government policy is heavily influenced by neo-liberalism through its extraordinary emphasis on managing access for mining companies to resources on Aboriginal lands. This involves controlling what is still perceived as 'the Aboriginal problem' and forcing a social transition from traditional values and cultural practice to 'mainstream' modernism of a particular brand.

It also involves displacing many Aboriginal people from their traditional lands and concentrating them in 'growth towns ... To make any sense of the aggression behind most current Indigenous policy in Australia you need to study the impact of neo-liberalism around the globe" says Jeff McMullen

The Australian journalist, writer and social justice campaigner Jeff McMullen has written two cogent and articulate critiques of the colonization of Aboriginal policy making in this country by the cancer of neo-liberalism (or what others call market fundamentalism).

One of Jeff McMullen's articles The New Land Grab is available on line here (in The New Internationalist blog). The second piece is a book chapter titled Dispossession- Neoliberalism and the Struggle for Aboriginal Land and Rights in the 21st Century which appears in a new book In Black and White: Australians at the Cross Roads (edited by Rhonda Craven, Anthony Dillon & Nigel Parbury). This article is available here on Jeff McMullen's own website

In drawing on the work of David Harvey and others, and incorporating the voices of Aboriginal people, McMullen makes the case that neoliberalism is a key driver of the agenda for the control of Aboriginal lands and assimilation of Aboriginal people in Australia.

Neoliberalism, McMullen argues is the ideological underpinning of a uniquely Australian strain of state-corporate capitalism that aims to control Aboriginal communities to enable exploitation of the land and mineral wealth on Aboriginal lands. McMullan argues that the real goal here is the upward redistribution of land and mineral wealth.


Jeff McMullen at ABC Broken Hill studio (2010) - Image: Australian Broadcasting Commission

McMullen demonstrates the way that successive Federal and State Governments have used the coercive powers of the state to impose an agenda of modernization, control of Aboriginal lands and assimilation and assault on Aboriginal rights and culture.

Drawing on David Harvey's book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, McMullen identifies 4 essential features of the neoliberal agenda and analyses the extent to which they are manifest in Aboriginal policy making in this country:

  1. Privatization and commodification of public and community goods. This has occurred through the privatization of Aboriginal lands, via policies that open up Aboriginal land to resource exploitation and attempts to override community land ownership and impose private property ownership rights.
  2. Financialization to treat good or bad events as opportunities for economic speculation.
  3. Management and manipulation of crises to establish a neoliberal agenda. This includes using the Northern Territory Intervention as justification for exerting greater control over Aboriginal communities to enable market and corporate exploitation of the minerals and resources on Aboriginal lands and the use of 'military style campaigns to exert control and challenge Aboriginal sovereignty.
  4. State redistribution of wealth, not to the poor but to the rich and powerful.

Analyzing Aboriginal policy through the lens of neoliberalism as McMullen does, helps us to understand what drives social policies such as the Northern Territory Intervention and the social engineering to control Aboriginal people still living on traditional lands, as well as the aggressive land grab by mining and resource companies, aided and abetted by Federal and State Governments, which divides Aboriginal communities, and even Aboriginal families. He writes:

'Neoliberalism connects the agendas of modernising Aboriginal culture and allowing mining companies to vigorously exploit and minimal cost the mineral treasures on Aboriginal lands'.

McMullen points to the divide and conquer tactics of mining companies and governments in the Kimberley and Pilbara in Western Australia, across the Northern Territory, on Cape York and in parts of NSW and South Australia, as manifestation of these neoliberal agendas.

McMullen is scathing about the role played by influential Aboriginal leaders, such as Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton and Warren Mundine who have become influential advocates and brokers for neoliberal policies and have gathered adherents and supporters in both political parties and corporate Australia.