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Noel Pearson on the ALP's indigenous policy « Previous | |Next »
December 11, 2006

Does anyone know where Labor stands on Aboriginal affairs? How will things change under Gillard and Rudd? What will be their concerns? How will their talk about good commonwealth-state cooperation bring about change? What does the federal and state governments working together to help fix indigenous issues in their state actually mean?

Noel Pearson, writing in The Weekend Australian, gives us an account. He says that:

The Government is showing that it is prepared to take on a hard debate about welfare, which is one of the most important policy areas for indigenous Australians. The question is, would a federal Labor government show the same determination in policy areas where opposition from well-organised welfare lobby groups is a certainty? Evans and McMullan have made statements that seem to be in favour of policies for welfare reform, control of supply of addictive substances, and restoration of personal and family responsibility and social norms. It will be a measure of Labor's policy maturation if it follows the lead that Evans has charted.

What of improving health care for indigenous people? Where does that fit? Healthcare is more than controlling the supply of addictive substances.

Pearson says that Labor's present policies have been developed in a series of speeches and essays by Senator Evans and Bob McMullan. He interprets Evans and McMullan to have taken a balanced approach to indigenous rights and responsibilities.

Pearson says that the important statements by Ecans and McMullan are about issues that indigenous organisations in Cape York Peninsula have been driving for many years. For instance, Pearson quotes McMullan saying that "if drug and alcohol abuse is not targeted directly, it will be impossible to resolve other problems"; and Evans saying that "Labor must engage more and adopt a less ideological stance ... in the welfare debate". In relation to indigenous rights Pearson says the Labor Party has consistently advocated indigenous representation at regional and national levels.

Pearson adopts a critical tone in reltaion to Evans' and McMullan's first attempts to develop Labor's stance on indigenous representation. This lacked substance. They spoke about the need for benchmarks and stressed the importance of accountability of governments to indigenous people. Labor, however, said nothing about any powers being vested in indigenous institutions or other means of compelling government agencies to perform better. Pearson says that it was an important development when Evans, in an under-reported speech at the National Press Club in Canberra, said that:

We need a national indigenous body (that) has the power to make governments - federal and state-territory - accountable. No government, Labor or Coalition, has ever made a serious attempt to give indigenous people the power to hold government to account. Labor is determined that (there) will be a strong and independent voice for indigenous people. And we are determined that the accountability mechanisms will differ radically from the ones in place now.

That's fine. The policy is developing. Will Jenny Macklin continue it? I hope so as I still have no clear idea where Labor stands on better healthcare for indigenous Australians.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:24 PM |