Saturday, November 03, 2012

alison anderson: "the combination of noble intentions and utter ignorance"

More from Northern Territory Indigenous Advancement Minister Alison Anderson

"I look at the men of Yirrkala and ask why they will not drive the 20km to Nhulunbuy to earn excellent money in the mine and the processing plant there."

"It is the kind of question the rest of Australia has been asking for years, as it tries to connect the dots, tries to understand why a long-running mining boom can exist literally next door to a culture of entitlement and welfare dependency."

She criticised those who expected the government to "do everything for them", saying the world was looking on and "wondering if we are children". Ms Anderson said that in her travels to remote communities she would be arguing "with adults who refuse to grow up".

"In the rest of Australia, people pick up the rubbish in their yards. They fix their own blocked toilets," Ms Anderson said.

"When they turn on their TVs and see remote communities covered in litter, and able-bodied men complaining about lack of maintenance of the houses they live in, they wonder why. They wonder why indigenous people in these communities won't do these things themselves."
In Australia, 3 per cent of the population are indigenous. In the NT that rises to 30 per cent. It does not just rise; it explodes and creates a whole new society, one this nation is still coming to terms with. The state with the next highest proportion of indigenous people is Tasmania, with just 4.7 per cent.

We are different. What does it mean to be indigenous here? Many things, of course, but some of the raw averages are interesting. It means we are young. For every non-indigenous child in the Territory there are 4.5 non-indigenous adults aged 20 to 59. To put that another way, more than four adults to look after each child.

However, for an indigenous child there are only 1.5 indigenous adults. In other words, there are far fewer adults to care for our children, to protect and inspire them, to feed and look out for them. Where are the missing adults? There is no way to put this gently: they are dead.

This is like the reverse of the old story of the Pied Piper, where the children were taken away. Here it is the adults who have gone, in places such as Lajamanu where 29 per cent of people are younger than nine years old. Something has spirited away many of the parents, the uncles and the aunties.
We are also remote. In all Australia 24 per cent of indigenous people live in remote or very remote areas. In the Territory that proportion is 81 per cent.

When I speak of remoteness, I mean not just remote from Darwin or Alice Springs but remote from each other. There are 527 homelands and outstations funded by my department. In many ways, this is a wonderful thing, and this government is committed to homelands and outstations. However, the extent of our remoteness is unusual, not just at the national level but internationally.

In service delivery, remoteness makes everything harder. Take transport, with road cuts during the wet season and expensive public transport. A return trip from Katherine to Lajamanu costs $320 and runs just twice a week. There will never be enough money to change this, not here or anywhere else in the world.

That is something we ignore, but we ignore it at our peril. Again and again. I see programs that do not factor in the true cost of remoteness, the travelling time needed to reach communities and the cost of planes to access them during the wet.
Ms Anderson also attacked the commonwealth's reliance on "bright and shiny and run like clockwork" NGOs that "fill in all the paperwork perfectly".

"They're good at lobbying and writing submissions. I don't mock that but I do suggest they're not so good at providing services, because they don't understand the communities ," she said. "Like so many non-indigenous advisers over the years . . . they're cursed by the combination of noble intentions and utter ignorance."
My people must grow up: Alison Anderson
My dream: a real future of our own making

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