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Indigenous health « Previous | |Next »
May 28, 2007

A report by the AMA on indigenous health suggests that institutional racism contributes to Indigenous people having lower life expectancy than whites---the difference is 17 years. The institutional racism means that Aboriginal people receive inferior health treatment that reinforces the limited health services in remote and regional Australia.

Bruce Petty

Helen Hughes, in her Lands of Shame, argues that the social dysfunction in Indigenous communities, can be traced to the socialist homeland model, that favoured exceptionalist and separatist indigenous policies. It advocated the return of those Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders who had remained relatively untouched by education to tribal settlements and outstations in the remote lands being returned to them under native title legislation. There they could live traditional lives as hunter-gatherers uncontaminated by modern Australia, away from mission stations and government camps. She argues that these traditional Aboriginal cultures should have been dismantled through economic assimilation.

There are two responses to this argument. First, there is a desire in Aboriginal communities for traditional identities, legal protection for inherited rights to land and the transformation of some aspects of traditional culture in the process of seeking jobs, training, and education as a way out of material poverty.

Secondly, the poor health of Indigenous communities is partly due to public health spending being heavily weighted toward treatment in public hospitals --the end of the line in health care--and not in primary health care.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:20 AM | | Comments (26)


I would like to see Noel Pearson parachuted into the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. But I don't think he would do it.
Yes the white Australians are a racist lot and the black Australians are a lazy lot in regards to making lifestyle choices that are consistent with good health.
The Aboriginal race has lost its way and lost its ability to be united. I am not blaming them for anything just saying that they need to stand up and take some responsibility for lots of issues too.

I am not aboriginal, but my cousins are.

I have seen them struggle with the burden of their aboriginal background, a burden that both sides of the debate lay there.

Much has been lost in the last ten years, hope and dignity and far too many lives.

Symbols are important, it is how we define the character of any debate. That we have not formally apologised to those that have received the least from what we have taken from is a disgrace of unforgiveable magnitude

I concur with Noel Pearson when he argues that remote Indigenous communities need to acknowledge, and take responsibility, for the destructive impact of alcohol and domestic abuse.

I also accept that this responsibility involves some policies of social obligation and owning the outcome of their behaviour and decisions; eg., sending children to school, reducing household consumption and maintaining houses.

However, I am [not] persuaded by Mal Brough that public money for welfare and housing should be premised on all Indigenous communities being required to giving up communal ownership of their land and embracing private property.

Some may want to do that--those in Hopevale in Queensland for instance; others reject it ---eg., those in the camps around Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
Those decisions ought to be respected.

There is no doubt that the living conditions in many remote indigenous communities have slid backwards since the 1967 referendum.

In the 40th anniversary celebrations of the referendum at Old Parliament House, Rudd showed up Prime Minister John Howard over his continued refusal to apologise to Aborigines over removal of children from their families. A Labor government would "say sorry" immediately on winning power. There's an important symbol.

Nicola Roxon has announced that a federal Labor government would spend $260 million over four years on bridging the life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. The package includes $187 million for child and maternal health and education services, and $10 million to help eradicate rheumatic fever.

I think that is minimal. However, it is coupled with a literacy plan to address the literacy and numeracy gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal across reading, writing and arithmetic.

Steps in the right direction do you think?

Small steps.

There are symbolic and practical needs that have to be met.

This is a shame that both sides of politics share. Neither has been particularly effective at lifting standards.

Yes on the face of it trading your land for something that you already have is silly.

I think the time for symbolic apologies is long past but if you need one. "I'm sorry" There that fixed everything.Does the P.M and every successive one from now till the end of time have to stand up and apologize for something that they didn't do and for that matter is completely repulsed by the acts of white settlers and stolen babies and all.
The sad fact is that a large percentage of Aborigines are incapable of maintaining a healthy life style, incapable or unwilling to maintain a property, unable to take responsibility for raising their children in a positive family environment, unwilling or unable to be educated and are generally unemployable except in sinecure positions if at all. I make this statement without malice. I really see no resolve in this situation other than to make opportunities available to those aboriginals that want them and keep building the houses after they are smashed down

you are not the commonwealth Government and the process of reconciliation is about Government policies of assimilation by taking children away from their families not your individual actions.

You can sue the Commonwealth for past actions that have harmed you ----eg.,military personal suffering the effects of cancer from Maralinga---even though the Government today is not the same personnel in the 1950s.

On the other point about responsibility making opportunites available is a good idea, it is also important that indigenous people are involved in the decisions, as opposed to programs being handed down.

It is about developing the capacity of Indigenous communities to run their own affairs and so prioritise their own issues.

Garry, am absolutely APPALLED at your " am persuaded by Mal Brough" comment that funding for aboriginal communities be premised by these giving up communal ownership in favour of private property.
We are dealing with a People traumatised, not by some fanciful think-tank nonsense relating to imagined "socialist policies", but by two hundred years of ongoing and brutal oppression.
We have NO moral right to dictate how monies should be used in trying to start remedying the dreadful plight of an oppressed group. Better this Howard government commenced (belatedly) in repairing the multifarious damage done by offering the simple Apology, demanded as late as acouple of days ago, this time by dignified Loitja O'Donohue- and again snubbed by a surly and anal PM.
Only when some attention is payed to the psychic damage; the injuries to the spirit of indigenous people, can ANY other move on more material matters even begin to have any hope of working.
That, above all, includes mean-spirited economic rationalist nostrums aimed at saving monies for tax cuts for the rich, such as removing welfare payments from aboriginals and leaving vulnerable people open to the vagaries of the so- called free market.
Rather, let us see increased funds to state governments, with appropriate accountability mechanisms, to get things finally moving as to health and education.

you are quite right to be appalled by my comment that

I am persuaded by Mal Brough" comment that funding for aboriginal communities be premised by these giving up communal ownership in favour of private property.

The sentence should have read I am not persuaded by Mal Brough's policy of offering government money on the condition of Indigenous people giving up their community control of land.

The Aboriginal "Crisis" will not be solved by academic policy makers. The only solution can come from the aboriginal communities. They must want change. The only communities that work in my opinion are the alcohol and drug free ones. This is the only way to move forward and the Aboriginal leaders know this. Bucket loads of money has already been thrown over many years.

The disadvantages of Indigenous communities, which give rises to lower life expectancies, cannot be overcome without government money. If government is to be used to break out of welfare dependency then it cannot be done without some sort of decision about different policy options. about breaking welfare dependency and economic development.

That is not necessarily academic--the policy culture and academic culture are quite different.

I would argue that the claim is that there is only one solution to this raising life expectancy is an example of te approach that needs to be avoided What is preferrable is that there are a number of ways of addressing alcohol, drugs and domestic violence and that indigenous communities need to decide which way to approach this. They may need help to develop this capacity to make decisions.

Isn't that what Noel Pearson is arguing?

It's easy to sit back in judgement of the negative examples of indigenous people. It is more illuminating to meditate on what the experience of some of the sadder cases presented on telly really might be and to consider the history of the individual's ancestors over the last two hundred years in the creation of modern dysfunction.
To do this honestly and without prejudice would probably allow a person a new insight into what it must be like to "kick against a six-goal breeze for all four quarters", for someone born into this externally-induced dysfunctionality.
In the mean time we can forget the examples of the vast numbers of Australian indigenes who have done well, often despite having to cope with adversity that would break us, were we to have to experience it.

I think its time that the leaders of communities stood up as leaders and try to put some pride in being aboriginal because that is missing. City ones have that I think. Not all I know but in the main. Without it they cant move forward and we will see the same problems in 20 years time. As I said before grog is a big problem and the leaders need to lead by example on this.
Aboriginals in prison is another big issue that is bred by low self esteem low education, alcohol and a general sense of hopelessness. This is where we are now after years of throwing money and white mans good ideas.
I am all for investing in communities but I guess I would like to see them become communities.

On Australian story on ABC television Noel Person observed that it was only in the 1980s that the Cape York Aboriginal people stepped out of the mission stations.

I reckon that they are doing well. They've --the Cape York Institute identified welfare dependency and economic development as the key issues, and they are developing new leaders who have university training and live in the community.

You mention Pearson but you don't discuss what he is doing in Cape York.

I think I made my point clear

I agree with Paul on this.You concentrate on the negative --how bad things are in Indigenous communities--- and not on the positive----the way this is being addressed and the successes they are having. As you well know there are successes ---eg., Indigenous art as economic development that have been highlighted on junk for code.

This undercuts the assumption that all Aborigines will ever be is 'drunken dirty blacks', which is still prevalent in rightwing white discourse.

A more useful approach is to evaluate the success stories eg., those of Noel Pearson.

'Assimilation' only works when there is some sense that you'd get a fair go for going half way.
Does not matter if you are black, or one of the many disgruntled and alienated white Australians, starting with the unemployed and those on the receiving end of W----------s, who have also given up the ghost in the face of what seems to be insurmountable hostility from the Alan Jones/ Tony Abbott/ Hendyist Hansonist "mainstream".

Yes I suppose I do look too hard at the negative. I guess that comes from being very annoyed that after all these years an Aboriginal has less worth in the eyes of the majority of white Australia than a working migrant/refugee.
As I said before I have a high opinion of Noel's commitment. He is producing a model for others to follow. It will be much harder to create "Touch the Earth" type programs in inland Oz though.
But yes I can see the positives :) but wont be going anywhere near debates about your atrocious taste in aboriginal art again.

Is Pearson producing a model for others to follow? Consider this argument by Gregory Phillips says in the National Indigenous Times.

Soon after the new alcohol bans on Cape York Indigenous communities came into effect, I visited the community I worked with, and while Pearson's mates in the state government were loudly proclaiming the success of prohibition because there were less people visiting local clinics for alcohol-related injury, they did not measure, or were painfully unable to assess, the level of anger and frustration in the community's drinkers. Take the grog away without also providing healing services for that person to deal with why they were drinking in the first place, and you might end up with a dry drunk.

In these cases, even though the physical drinking is gone, the mental, emotional and spiritual sickness remains and simply gets played out in other more internally self-destructive ways.Thus, Pearson and Brough's answer is naïve. Far from being radical, they are doing what every other public intervention has tried to do and failed: use control alone, and use it in a morally panicked way.

I don't agree with Phillips' moral panic obsession claim, which implies pointing the finger and demonising all Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal men.

I suppose Pearson is the most vocal person who makes sense on aboriginal issues. Well he's the one that has the face out there anyway and he is trying to put forward ideas. So I guess he is trying to produce a model for others to follow.

Yes I realize alcohol is a drug and just shutting the door of canteens isn't the way. The way is to show people another way and address issues as mentioned too. There has been success with just serving 3.5% beer and no wine and spirits in some places I think. There is of course an aspect of contravening a persons rights in the issue too.
Violence, Rapes and other crimes associated with Grog are too numerous to ignore and the heavy handed police tactics used in the past aren't very popular at the moment. If you can suggest another way of dealing with problem areas I will be happy to hear it.

On 27 May 2007 I published my latest book;

INSPECTOR-RIKATI® on IR WorkChoices Legislation (Book-CD)
A Book about the Validity of the High Courts 14-11-2006 Decision
ISBN 978-0-9751760-6-1

I chose the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal DOOMSDAY as they then lost their rights, so have other Australians with WorkChoices.

Contrary to popular belief Aboriginals did not gain equality in the 1967 referendum but in fact constitutionally lost their rights to be equal as other Australians, were delegated to be an “inferior race”.

Aboriginals voted in the first federal election, but then were unconstitutionally denied to vote when the “WHITE ONLY” legislation was introduced in 1908, to deny them to vote.
You do not resolve this then to amend the Constitution and make it worse for them.

As for the lack of proper medical and other facilities in Aboriginal communities, it is well overdue we do not refer to them being Aboriginals, but that they are Humans and Australians and as such should be entitled to have the same services provided then other Australians.

My website sets out more about this also.

Oh yeah and I can really see them parading in the streets with signs saying STOP CALLING US ABORIGINALS.
Time to put your tin foil hat back on.

G.H.Schortel Hivaka,
In a multicultural liberal Australia think we can talk in terms of Indigenous-Australians or Aboriginal-Australians just as we refer to Greek-Australans or Lebanese-Australians.

I agree with you that justice means that Indigenous-Australians are entitled to the same educational and health services etc as Anglo-Saxon Australians.

The aboriginal community is deeply divided over Noel Pearson's approach to ending passive welfare and substance abuse. Kevin Foley and Mick Dodson, for instance, see this as a rightwing approach that implies that indigenous people have lost their way.

Foley and Dodson hold that practical reconciliation, which is advocated by Warren Mundine, a former ALP President, is a return to 19th century approaches that focuses on individual behaviour reform, and ignores that the system is punitive.

Aileen Morton-Robertson, a Queensland academic, says that such an approach is like:

telling a pelican to stop eating fish and start eating pasta or it will get nothing.

Given the deep divisions the best that I can do is try to make sense of the issues in the debates as best as I can, and ignore all the polemics about Pearson and Mundine being Howard Government 'pets.'

Of course they are divided. The aboriginal race is made up of different groups like all races/cultures.
First job is to recognise that they are different and stop trying to put them all in one box.
Second is to realise that "some" have lost their way.
As you know lots of indigenous communities and indeviduals are a huge success.

the aboriginal race? Race is commonly seen as biological. Do you mean people, culture, community?