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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

mutual obligation#2 « Previous | |Next »
December 15, 2004

The public debate on mutual obligation as a mode of governing welfare dependency that has construct indigenous people as victim, continues. Some movement in sorting through the issues has been made by Pat Dodson and Noel Pearson. I will spell out what they say on this because they have cleared away some of the rubbish lying around.

They affirm that mutual obligation is a cultural principle of traditional Aboriginal society and say that government has a role in assisting Aboriginal communities to restore responsibility through mutual obligation. They then say:


"The mutual obligation agreement struck with the Aboriginal community at Mulan in Western Australia has been supported by the community's leadership, and should therefore be supported by the wider Australian community."


They qualify this affirmation of the Mulan agreement by asking a question about the detail:

"...what is the logical connection between the obligations that the government wants the community to commit to, and the incentives that it is offering in return? It is hard to see the natural connection between children's hygiene and the more convenient provision of petrol."


Dodson and Pearson then generalize the principle of the Mulan Agreement as the right pathway, and so displace the rights versus duties as the central issue of the debate. They say:

"Government and indigenous communities who no longer wish to sit on their hands while blindness is caused by trachoma, kidney failure is caused by scabies and deafness is caused by unresolved ear infections, should be supported."


A this point we should not forget to add that those indigenous communities who no longer wish to sit on their hands about violence against women by men, caused by alcohol and drugs, should also be supported:

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Dodson and Pearson then address the responsibilities of Aboriginal people and those community leaders who are charged with engagement between the community and governments. These indigenous people:


".... have a responsibility to ensure that in the negotiation of the new relationship between Aboriginal people and governments, they obtain the resources needed to sustain their culture, language, physical wellbeing and other aspects of their lives for the future of our people - but not at the expense of the basic human rights of those whom they represent."


There is the key point. Mutual obligation should be directed at ensuring Aboriginal communities have both the resources and basic rights to enable them to live a flourishing life. We have shifted to thinking about a positive (enabling) conception of power, rather than working within the liberal negative conception of power as a paternalist imposition on individual rights.

What then are the problems/difficulties/roadblocks associated with this new mode of governance? Dodson & Pearson say:


'...the Federal Government's "practical reconciliation" agenda is at present not sufficiently well developed and funded....It is also very important that the notion of "mutual obligation" is not trivialised...The Federal Government must restrain its bureaucrats from playing at social engineering, otherwise the important principle of mutual obligation will be discredited.'


Robert Corr highlights another problem: the difficulties local indigenous communities will have in being able to strike a good deal with the federal government to ensure that can deliver the outcomes they desire. They will need help to strike a good deal for themselves. Where is that help going to come from?

Mark Bahnisch is rightly concerned about the implications in this mode of governance for liberty and racial equality. This provides him with a criteria to make a distinction between good and bad approaches. He says it makes a big difference whether mutual obligation:


"...is a piecemeal approach applied in paternalistic and bureaucratic fashion, or whether it is actually directed towards empowering Indigenous people and creating genuine economic opportunities and recognising cultural dignity and specificity."


He comes down in favour of the empowering pathway because it is more likely to ensure liberty and racial equality.

We have travelled a fair distance in a short amount of time in achieving a tentative policy consensus.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:06 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
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» Rights, Responsibilities, etc... from Troppo Armadillo
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