Dr Gwen Witchetty, the outspoken Professor of Native Title at Burchett Hill's Manning Clark University, has slammed the Gillard government's $4.5 million-a-year Chief Commissar for Climate Change Enforcement, Professor Tim Fruitbat, for his comments on Aboriginal custodianship of the environment, describing him as a "fascist-racist who makes Hitler seem like a fairy godmother."

Dr Witchetty made her comments while delivering the first of this year's Finkelstein Lectures on ABC Radio. She said that although she was not in favour of censorship, Professor Fruitbat should be "locked up for life" adding that, in a more enlightened society, "he would be speared and have his tongue cut out."

The Finkelstein Lecturer, whose appointment to the prestigious chair at Manning Clark three years ago was hailed as a landmark in Aboriginal attempts to "break through the wattle-and-daub ceiling" of promotion in public life, had taken exception to Professor Fruitbat's comments in an interview with The Leftie that Aboriginal people "could not be trusted" to look after "our natural heritage of flora and fauna".

"Wherever they went they destroyed protected native species such as goannas, crocodiles, wallabies and honey ants," Fruitbat told the magazine in an interview with its proprietor, property developer Izzy Schonkhaus. "They decimated protected native plants and grasses - baobabs to make canoes, eucalypts to build gunyahs and spinifex to do heaven knows what with. Even our very national emblem, the golden wattle, was ruthlessly harvested for its seeds. The fact that any species was protected by environmental law meant nothing to them."

In her lecture, Professor Witchetty said Fruitbat's chronology was "utterly defective" and he "should go back to his abacus". "Australia's first peoples," she said, "had their own environmental protection procedures in place." The problem was that these had been "blown out of the water" by the arrival in this country of "bog Irish and other Europeans like Fruitbat's ancestors."

She said the fact that Australia's "time-old landscape and its mystic denizens had survived for millions of years before the Fruitbats of this world turned up to ruin it proved that Aboriginal people were expert in enforcing environmental protection", and indeed should be "reinstated in that role, at a commensurate emolument, by government today."

Asked later by ABC News about Dr Witchetty's criticisms of his comments, the climate-change guru was unabashed. "What would she know?" he laughed. "She's just a silly old gin promoted above her intellectual station." However he later apologised for "any suggestion of misogyny" in the use of the term "gin" and issued a statement pointing out that what he "had really meant to say", was "bat".

ABC director of news and current affairs Gordon Flowerchild said it was "wonderful to see the cut and thrust of genuine high-IQ professorial debate" arising from an ABC programme. He said that the fact that both sides had been extensively quoted on air "demonstrates once and for all the ABC's commitment to balance" and showed that right-wing accusations of bias were "way off mark".

11 December 2012

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