Australian PM 'cursed' over plan for natives

[From the Associated Press, 21 April 2004]

COLAC, Australia -- An aboriginal woman clad in possum skins pointed a small bone at Australian Prime Minister John Howard Tuesday in what appeared to be an attempt to curse him in retaliation for his plan to disband the country's top panel on indigenous affairs.

The woman, known only as Moopor, was part of a group of Aborigines protesting Howard's decision to eliminate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, an elected body meant to allow indigenous people to run their own affairs. Although she later declined to speak to the media, citing unspecified aboriginal cultural reasons, Geoff Clark, the chairman of the soon-to-be-scrapped commission, said the woman cast a curse on the prime minister as a warning.

"Mr. Howard can ... ignore the message at his own peril and be put under a curse up until the next federal election," Clark told reporters. Howard later dismissed the comments, saying: "I don't think Mr. Clark speaks for indigenous Australia."

The ATSIC, which spends $1.4 billion on Australia's 400,000 indigenous people each year, has been rife with allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Howard said the body would be abolished because it has failed Aborigines. They remain the poorest, least healthy and least educated group in Australia's population of 20 million, and have the highest rate of incarceration.