Press Conference

Press conference, Ben Elton on Jabiluka
August 21st 1998, London

Ben Elton conducts a session for the press with Yvonne Margarula , Jacqui Katona and Christine Christopherson.
This conference came as a direct result of the Africa Australia Exchange where the issue of the mining at Jabiluka and the urgent implications for the land, its people and the world's population became known to the delegation. FAIRA and Pilotlight assisted in bringing the issue to the British media.
Following is a transcript of the proceedings of this international event.
You are welcome to submit your opinion about this issue.
Ben Elton Welcome everyone.
It's my pleasure and privilege to be here to introduce our friends from Australia and also to express my solidarity with the campaign which they are currently fighting, have been fighting in various different ways for a couple of hundred years now, but it has reached a specific point which we'd like to talk about today. In a moment we get a chance to hear from the people who matter - Yvonne Margarula, Jacqui Katona and Christine Christopherson. You'll forgive me speaking from notes but these are important issues and it's important for me that I don't screw up. And particularly if Yvonne is seen as the Traditional Owner of Mirrar Land, which is located in the famous Kakadu National Park, which we in Britain really know from "Crocodile Dundee". I think if you've seen that movie you know that we're talking about one of the great wonders of the world and it is of course acknowledged as such by World Heritage. Jacqui and Christine are members of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, and you'll be hearing from our special guests in a moment. But I've been asked to say why I'm here and why these three Aboriginal Australian women are here.

We're all here to oppose the mining of uranium on their land. It is their land traditionally, legally, although that's now very much in question, particularly since all three of our guests are currently on bail, having been arrested for trespass on their own land, and we're here to launch and continue an international campaign against that mine and also since we aren't in Australia and we like to have a local bent to our proceeding, we're here to alert the world to the problems of mining uranium at Jabiluka, which are of course international, because radio-active waste knows no fences or boundaries and all the riot policemen in Australia who might be able to keep the owners of the land out. But they certainly won't be able keep the radio-activity in, and that makes it all our problem. Despite the obvious moral problems which we hopefully can consider as our problems too.
I have personal contact with Australia. My wife's Australian and I've spent quite a lot of time there, and I've come to appreciate the beauty of the land and it's people and I'm aware and have been for some time of the plight of the Aboriginal People which is getting considerably worse because the current political climate in Australia is most distressing. What had appeared to be a slow liberalization and the slow beginnings of recognition of the unbelievable crimes and hurt that was done and the need for redress and fair-play to return to the political landscape in Australia. What appeared to be an ongoing process has been partly derailed and has got worse in the last year with the emergence of a very, very extreme right-wing racist party called One Nation which has in the way of being a pain in the arse, been able, through their lies, ignorance and deceit and blaming people for their own problems or whatever, to make a significant dent in the popular political vote and, as has happened in many countries before this has, forced the traditional political parties to the right rather than fighting these disgusting racist ideas as they should be fought. Which means that the most unfairly treated and dispossessed people of Australia as always, will be the victims, as in this case, the Aboriginal People. Until recently there have been no land-rights at all.
The indigenous population was entirely brutalized and disenfranchised by white colonization. An attempt was made to give their land back that was the "Native Title Act" of 1983, that was the liberalization process that I was talking about, but now this right has been withdrawn from nearly half the land of the country, that doesn't mean you've got half the country, that means the right to title, to fight for title, to fight for some connection with the land in which they've lived for 40,000 years, that right has been withdrawn by the "Native Title Amendment Act" of 1998. I believe that that's a direct result of Hanson as really an appeasement of the reactionary racist vote which exists in every country. And so we come to the specific, and that is the proposed Jabiluka Mine on the Mirrar People's land.
Mining companies don't want to have to negotiate with Aboriginal People, obviously they want to go in, take what they can, make as much money as they can and leave a devastated landscape behind them. Anybody who cares about land, and wants to preserve it for the future and for their children is obviously their enemy so any legislation to deprive Aboriginal People of their rights is good news for the mining companies and obviously that's where they put their money and their support. They want uninhibited rights to mine aboriginal land, and particularly at the moment they want to mine uranium at Jabiluka. There's already one uranium mine in the Kakadu National Park, World Heritage Area, they want another. The mine will destroy the Mirrar land, contaminate the area and it will contribute to global contamination, which we all suffer. And this is we say begins in one of the 10 most World Heritage status places in the world, not a very elegant sense but I'm not quite to sure how to put it. And the home of the Mirrar people, who are traditional people who are here today believe the result, apart from the shame of it all, will be the destruction of a culture which preceded the arrival of European culture in Australia by 40,000 years.
I feel very strongly about this, I am proud and privileged to stand beside people who have put their lives on the line, there's been a great deal of violence and state oppression against people defending their rights; violent arrests, threats of imprisonment etc, all against people who were there 40,000 years before we were.
That's it from me, obviously you're welcome to ask me any questions later if you wish, but particularly and much more importantly it's now time to hear from the people that matter, so perhaps Jacqui you'd like to start?


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