Friday, August 15, 2008

how the taboo was broken

Indigenous policy: this is about the historical unfolding of awareness and policy making in Australia in the last 50 years. Twilight of old radicals? by anthropologist Peter Sutton is a must read for those who wish to further their understanding of these issues. There is historical detail here about what unfolded politically in Queensland that I haven't seen before. I have written a summary and included some quotes below for my own benefit but suggest you read the original:
  • Before 1960 the Left supported assimilation as a right offering opportunity to aboriginal people
  • Some Missions were compassionate protectionists and did some good work but were dissolved by the 1970s
  • The new "progressive" consensus was that these communities should be self managed with Land Rights
  • Traditional culture would be encouraged; assimilation was seen as racist
  • This 70s consensus has come undone as welfare dependency and drug abuse in many of these communities has spiraled out of control
  • Queensland Aboriginal activists and administrators have led the way forward to a new analysis
  • Things began to turn around in 1991 with the emergence of indigenous intellectuals such as Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton
  • The old guard activists still held street march demos focused on the symbolic and rights agenda but the leaders workshopped alternative legislation for governments
  • Wayne Goss (Queensland Premier) and Kevin Rudd (then Goss's cabinet office director-general) were far too precious as this unfolded
"In the meantime, the old rights-based progressivism in indigenous political thinking had a few more years to go before a relentless decline in the standard of living and safety of people in Aboriginal communities forced so many of us to ask an appalling question: Why did this descent into a seriously dysfunctional state seem to coincide with liberal progressive policies based on the rights agenda, and the creation of new degrees of community autonomy? The taboo on raising this was finally broken by an avalanche of evidence no one could ignore"
  • Pearson broke the logjam of public discourse about community dysfunction in several hard-hitting papers published in 1999 and 2000
  • print media in the north led the way forward and the southern urban soft Left has lagged behind discovering reality
"The issues now included welfare dependency, community autonomy, organisational corruption, the future of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, frontier history wars, racially differential morbidity and life expectancy, poor school attendance, declining literacy and numeracy, substance abuse, violence against women, child sexual abuse, customary law as a criminal defence, staying in versus leaving versus orbiting in and out of the ghettos, service mainstreaming, gang warfare and public rioting, the entry permit system and restrictions on media access, the future of funding for remote settlements, and the imminent expectation of rocketing urban migration by Aboriginal people leaving failing outback communities"
  • The taboo on reporting aboriginal dysfunction became broken
  • anthropologist have agonised over whether to report on the distinctive nature of Aboriginal communities or the overwhelming evidence of levels of dysfunction and abuse ...
"We have tended to be protective of the people with whom we have worked, to the point where the recent descent of so many places into dire conditions seems almost scientifically inexplicable"
  • two important factors which have been neglected but must be faced are the social and cultural factors influencing mental health, and the nature of changes in sexual behaviour
"Truth is not necessarily a good uniter of people. Fictions or simplifications so often better bind us, at least for a time"
  • the pieces of this puzzle are in the air, no one yet knows where they will fall

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