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Australian conservatism: Gary Johns « Previous | |Next »
November 11, 2010

I always wondered about Gary Johns, as a conservative being both at home in The Australian and being a member of the ALP. Then I recalled that the ALP has been in the process of shedding its progressive base and becoming more mainstream for quite some time. It is now being outflanked by The Greens permanently.

John's deep conservatism around indigenous issues is troubling. He appears to have returned to, and to speak from, the Australia of the 1930s. 'Troubling' means that it is a still a shock to this kind of voice in 2010.

In his Referendum must not be used to settle old scores in The Australian he writes:

The Gillard government's intention to discuss the wording of a constitutional amendment to recognise Australians of Aboriginal origin provides the opportunity to ask where we are headed in Aboriginal affairs.Should this amendment be seen by activists as a chance to settle old scores, they had better think again. The long-run trajectory for Aborigines in Australia is integration. The experiment with separate development in the past 40 years has been a dismal failure.To appreciate the nihilism of Aboriginal Australians sitting on their land being fed by the Whiteman, just watch the film Samson & Delilah. Two black kids sitting on their land eating from tins, drinking bore water and staring into space is not much fun.That does not mean there has not been a flowering of the talents of people of Aboriginal descent, but do these people warrant a special mention in the Constitution?

That rhetorical question ---do these people warrant a special mention in the Constitution?---jars. "These people" are Australian citizens entitled to their individual freedoms.

Johns has argued that the underlying cause of Indigenous disadvantage in the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia is the result of ‘bad policy’ of ‘self-determination’. He argues that Indigenous disadvantage can only be solved by changing the system of government support and infrastructure so that people face the true costs of their decision to stay in remote communities — that is, to encourage mobility to more buoyant labour markets where jobs are available.

More generally, Johns argues for a policy of ‘economic integration’, on the grounds that the modernisation project is (necessarily) inconsistent with cultural maintenance. His position is that the right way ahead for the welfare of Aborigines is not as a separatist, self-governing society, but as an identifiable and individualistic part of the wider Australian community where, already, many Aborigines have made significant contributions. The former pathway, that of a separatist, self-governing society, is equivalent to shunning white society to live on welfare. It is the myth of escape; a myth because self-determination has failed too many Aboriginal people. The solution is economic integration.

The core problem that I have with John's argument is that aboriginal people have found a way to live in remote communities, become economically independent through their painting, and are able to keep their culture. Why cannot indigenous people own and run their pastoral stations? The white way is not the only way. Nor is it an either/or as Johns assumes.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:23 AM | | Comments (2)


The post (summarising Johns' position) says we need to "[change] the system of government support and infrastructure so that people face the true costs of their decision to stay in remote communities — that is, to encourage mobility to more buoyant labour markets where jobs are available".

So when are white communities going to face the same requirement? There are lots of rural and remote communities who never cease complaining about the need for Govt. support in various ways.

When are the white inhabitants of those communities going to be told that Australia can't support them living out in Woop Woop any more, and they better move to the cities and get jobs?

Yes Johns' argument is basically what AO Neville makes in his (in) famous book from 1943 'Australia's coloured minority : its place in the community.' Which community is that?