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

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July 14, 2007

After listening to the different indigenous voices at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas I have to agree with Tandberg:


Pat Dodson agrees. He says:

The intervention, and the accompanying headline-grabbing phrase "rivers of grog", was used as the political trigger for an unprecedented use of the military and police to occupy indigenous communities. Their role was to support a regime of coercive paternalism in which grog and pornography were to be banned, medical examinations imposed on children, and welfare payments managed and linked with school attendance.

There is no argument that the urgent immediate priority is to protect children. The welfare of our children and our families remains the key to our lives and future.

He adds that this priority is undermined by the Government's heavy-handed authoritarian intervention and its ideological and deceptive land reform agenda; and the Government has not made a case in linking the removal of land from Aboriginal ownership and getting rid of the permit system with protecting children from those who abuse them.

I concur with Dodson when he says that:

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the Howard Government has used the emotive issue of child abuse to justify this intervention in the only Australian jurisdiction in which it can implement its radical indigenous policy agenda. Reforming indigenous land title is central to the Howard Government's national indigenous policy program: an agenda that has been swept along by an alliance of established conservatives forces that have long opposed Aboriginal self-determination and land rights...There should be no doubt about what is at stake here. The Government's agenda is to transform indigenous larger settlements into mainstream towns and extinguish by attrition the capacity of indigenous people to maintain small homeland communities.

He says that though assimilation was comprehensively rejected by mainstream Australian society as racist, it is now back in vogue as this Government's indigenous public policy direction.This reflects the paucity of intellectual and philosophical discussion about the position of indigenous people in Australian nation building.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:54 AM | | Comments (19)


Well, what can you say?
After a couple of weeks of sober reflection in the wake of all the initial manufactured emotiveness, what alternative conclusion could even a half-intelligent person arrive at, on consideration of the facts.
Actually, this reader for one thinks Dodson's assessment is rather on the kind side.

smh gave most of a page to native american society today. a mixed bag, and still nothing like as well off as whites. but vastly better off than brown ozzies, chiefly due to land ownership and resulting local autonomy.

the oz government won't fix the problem. they are the problem. the whites are more comfortable, but collar-trained, and unable to help. many, of course, don't want to. like american white trash, a fair few white ozzies feel better about themselves by sneering at degraded brown ozzies.

Pat Dodson does go on to say that:

The conservative response to this human tragedy [indigenous powerlessness, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, self-harm, violence and child abuse]is to advocate removing the barriers that separate indigenous communities from mainstream society. The institutional features embedded in remote communities that protect indigenous people's identity and ways of life are the very barriers that conservatives insist should be removed. Communal land ownership, indigenous community governance and indigenous control over people entering their settlements are all at stake.John Howard will exploit indigenous voices in this debate to validate an ideological agenda to absorb indigenous people into the dominant society.

The women's voices at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas were much angier than Dodson, but they were saying the same thing abouthe significance of self-determination and the Howard/Brough attack on that principle.

Unlike Dodson they connected that attack to future uranium mining.

Thelma Mankiller pointed out the differences between native Americans and indigenous Australian re land ownership and local autonomy
at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas Things started to improve for native Americans when they gained both land ownership and local autonomy and so could deliver the services they needed themselves.

This is what the Howard Government is refusing to do in the name of a return to paternalism and assimilation.

How will it change with Rudd?

it is unclear at this stage, as the ALP has just agreed with Howard's intervention in the name of clever strategy. But Dodson does outline an alternative plan:

An alternative and inclusive plan should be developed. Such a plan would guarantee the fundamental recognition of Aboriginal land ownership as a basis of partnership. The plan would address issues of land and welfare reform matched by long-term public investment in housing, education and health facilities.

The plan could incorporate original aspects of the Government's strategy such as the ban on alcohol and pornography, and linking child welfare payments to school attendance. However, it would also offer a corresponding investment in treatment and rehabilitation services with an assessment of a long-term investment program in eduction and training.
And judging from the Adelaide Festival of Ideas the delivery of that program in education and training would be in the hands of indigenous people. That is the best pathway whatever the pitfalls.

I would think that the intention of business in the top parts of W.A to employ guest workers from Fiji and other countries would hamper opportunities for employment that aborigines might have. Karratha is one place that is having a lot of trouble finding staff for shops.

Eh, Sauer Thompson!!
Precisely, that is.
Dodson was very kind to the government, considering the harshness it deserves for its redneck sick nastiness toward people doing it tough in our society. Could talk more about the milk shake wage rise for low-payed workers, as yet another example of the selfsame contemptible and contemptuous attitude from Howardism, but will get straight to the point instead.
Actually would tie this discussion to a comment from the significant social commentator Prof. Fred Argy, noted in a thread commenting upon an Andrew Norton article, 4/7, at "Domain", entitled;
" will the public support conditional welfare".
Argy attempts to retreive that discusion from poor law mentalities and populist witch hunting and scapegoating, to consideration of "underlying market inequalities" and a discussion that gets past the dogwhistling, button pushing, conditioned response labels "passive welfare" and retributive "conditional welfare", to a consideration of "inequalities of income to inequalities of opportunity".
Now, to me, Australian Welfare beneficiaries and Aboriginals alike are equivalenced fairly to the Jews of Hitler's Reich by the current eqivalent KKK and Nazi bigots including in the governemt and its think tank fellow travellers.
But this writer says, " No more ( modern equivalent of ) Jew- Baiting!", therefore!
BTW, Argy was very sceptical in his comments concerning Rudd's conservative direction as to Welfare issues. Too much of Abbott in them, no doubt!
Once again, the Labor Right reinforcing the paradigm rather than challenging it, as Argy did?

This weeks 4 Corners is on the aboriginal issue. It will be interesting to see what slant they take.

re your WA comment. It's a tough problem the employment one. There was employment for indigenous people in the pastoral industry but the equal wages legislation knocked that on the head, and the industry mechanized.

To participate in the market economy you need skills and that means education, which indigenous people don't have. So I can understand the hugh emphasis on education by the indigenous women at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.

However, what I do not understand is why the attempts at education have been such a failure. Inappropriate education delivered by white seagulls can only be part of the answer.

I'm also uneasy with the punitive approach to welfare that is part of the conditional approach for welfare.Very uneasy.

I appreciate that the indigenous kids need to go to school to be in a position to read and write and so have the minimal qualifications to participate in a market economy. But there needs to be carrots as well as sticks.

I'm not persuaded that the "rivers of grog" scenario is the cause of why indigenous kids don't go to school.

This account by Tony Cunliffe in the Age about the CoAG pilot projects that were conducted around Australia for three years from 2003 is sobering.They were designed to reduce red tape and improve the social and economic prospects of indigenous communities through effective government partnerships.

The trials' most celebrated failure occurred in the Northern Territory:

An independent assessment of the Northern Territory trial site of Wadeye, by respected former public servant Bill Gray, unearthed a procession of fiascos that Government tried hard to veil. For example, the community leaders identified housing as a key priority, yet the three years of COAG trials resulted in just four homes being built while another 15 became derelict.While the trial was supposed to reduce administrative duplication, the number of funding agreements being administered by the community actually rose by 50 per cent.

Cunliffe adds:
In Western Australia's far-east Kimberleys trial site, media reports identified a government allocation of $1.3 million to run the trial, of which nearly $1 million was commandeered for salaries, travel and administration by federal government bureaucrats.

He says that evidence indicates that no amount of police or military intervention will create jobs in jobless communities. Nor will punitive sanctions create a will to live and succeed in an environment in which accountability and rights are a one-way street. No amount of indigenous compliance will make up for a complete lack of public accountability from government.

I'll watch the 4 Corners show with interest. Two points.

In the light of the failure of the CoAG pilot projects mentioned above we need to address the way that federal bureaucrats engage in the dissembling and subterfuge that consistently characterise their public analysis of their own performance.

Secondly, we have moved to the stage, where if real and sustained improvement is to be delivered, then indigenous communities can no longer be treated as homogeneous. The painstaking work of customising solutions for individual Aboriginal communities — remote and metropolitan — needs to be developed and nurtured.

Yes education is the answer. But that has been the answer for as long as I can recall.
I found your comment about white seagulls a bit unfair to all the good people working hard out there. The bureaucrats swoop in and out but the people on the ground just roll up their sleeves as usual and get on with it hoping that those like the Mal Boro man in their $200 jeans and check shirts don't make things worse. A good example of this was when The Mal Boro man rocked into the first town and said their local work for the dole scheme was axed because they wanted to create real jobs. The two aboriginal women leaders looked at each other and rolled their eyes. What real jobs you wanker! they were thinking.

But back to the seagulls comment. Can I draw your attention to "The School of the Air" which has been doing a marvelous job for over 50 years servicing remote area education needs.

as we know the cycle is one of low levels of literacy, hopeless school attendance, atrocious health, high unemployment, violence, grog and ganga. Judging from what the speakers at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas said, indigenous hazardous use of alcohol, and destructive and dysfunctional behaviours generally, are responses to and symptoms of personal and inherited trauma. If a comprehensive healing process is necessary to deal with the original trauma, then that needs to be community based.

There are many ways to tackle the cycle: the Howard Government' state of emergency" rhetoric and military-like planning of interventions have taken the short term apprach on the grounds that a main cause of dysfunction and crime in remote Aboriginal communities.

However, this ignores investing in education, which is the long term strategy. But what point is education when there are no real jobs? I cannot see many years of sustained community engagement leading to real jobs, even if it does get the kids attending school. They attend school, what then?

Noel Pearson's From Hand Out to Hand Up Report Aboriginal addresses welfare reform through cutting work-for-the-dole programs, but it does so without investing in new enterprises.

The Four Corners report that will screen on ABC TV tonight is on welfare reform in Cape York. Will it be critical of Pearson's approach? Will it enable the voices of the woman to be heard?

In his 'Abyss beyond the bottle' column in the Weekend Australian Pearson says:

The theory that informs our practical work in Cape York Peninsula is based on our rejection of the symptom theory of substance abuse. Phillips has stated that inter-generational trauma is an explanation, not an excuse. I would add that neither does historical explanation necessarily suggest a solution. Auto-catalytic dysfunctional behavioural patterns and negative social norms have become problems in their own right, and the methodical rebuilding of social norms is anecessary foundation for social and economic development.

I believe the fundamental structural and behavioural reforms we propose to implement in Cape York Peninsula will turn around the situation in our communities in a matter of years. Our remote communities can be transformed into strong home bases for Cape York people, safe and peaceful places where children receive a primary education that does not disadvantage them, and large numbers of adults learn to re-engage with the real economy instead of depending on passive welfare."

So how do you engage with the real economy?

Yes the alcohol is a major problem but in fairness to the aboriginals
a. What else do you do when there is nothing else to do?
b. Australia in general has a problem with the drug alcohol and if all the white people that get drunk every night in their homes suddenly decided to get drunk out the front of their houses or sitting in the streets. Well we would look as bad as them perhaps.

Difficult question to answer.
Firstly I think the indigenous leaders need to recognize that numbers in some areas now are far above what they should be to really do anything else than receive welfare. Basically they need to push hard with contraception education.

I was disappointed that with all that greenery in cape york shown on 4 corners that we didn't see any crops growing. Not a single tomato.

From what I could make out, the 4 Corners programme was about Pearson's Cape York Partnerships that started November last year. Five months into the pilot projects (ie., in March this year ) a document called 'Making an Impact. was created and submitted to Brough. What we then saw was Brough's response.

The research that was undertaken in the local towns of Cape York underpined the report 'From Hand Out to Hand Up-'--Pearson's blueprint for welfare reform---which was handed to the federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough, in June. This provided the basis for the policies outlined re the Northern Territory intervention. So Noel Pearson and the Howard Government are working closely together.

The only employment mentioned was tourist guides at Mossman Creek. Presumably, such opportnities do not exisa in Aurukun or Hope Vale.

Gary, agree with your comments 16th, 17th re legacies of the past, including cultural conditioning, also genuine employment opportunities since even the village idiot knows you can't come off welfare if there is no work available to go to.
Would you contemplate the possibility that what also has been needed has been a more committed approach from White Australia; a bit of "Kokoda" spirit starting with an Apology to reassure indigenous people that wider society appreciates the nature and origins of their problems and is prepared to commit- body and soul- to helping find a way out for them?