Sunday, October 28, 2007

labour white ants black responsibility

"... if I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase “social justice” fall easily from the lips of a Labor politician in my home state, I would be an extremely wealthy man"
- Noel Pearson
There is the aboriginal rights agenda and the aboriginal responsibility agenda.

Both are important but the current reality of widespread aboriginal welfare dependency, substance abuse, child abuse and domestic violence make the responsibility agenda more important.

The indigenous child abuse documented in the Little Children are Sacred report created a political climate where the responsibility agenda backed by Noel Pearson received support from both Liberal and Labour Parties. Rudd has promised that the Northern Territory (NT) intervention will continue under federal Labour and would be reviewed in 12 months

However, the NT Labour machine is deeply divided about the intervention with Chief Minister, Clare Martin and her Family Services Minister, Marion Scrymgour only sometimes paying lip service to it while white anting.

Scrymgour, an indigenous MP, described the intervention as the "black kids' Tampa" and labelled Canberra's approach as "vicious new McCarthyism" (in a speech last Wednesday, in Sydney)

She continued:
"Aboriginal territorians are being herded back to the primitivism of assimilation and the days of native welfare". "It has been a deliberate savage attack on the sanctity of Aboriginal family life."
On the other hand aboriginal backbencher Alison Anderson, who represents the central Australian electorate of Macdonnell, has responded:
"It is a disgrace the people who know nothing about living among the poverty and abuse in remote communities have condemned the intervention"

"My people need real protection, not motherhood statements from urbanised saviours. I live my law and culture and represent my people regardless of what's fashionable. My people need the help and want the help from this intervention."

Clare Martin says she's behind the intervention except for the permit revocation plan, the alcohol laws and the whole panoply of work for the dole and welfare reforms. What's left?

Noel Pearson has critiqued Rudd's general critique of Howard as it applies to the situation of aboriginal people:
Let me explain my reservation with reference to Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd’s critique of what he describes as the neoliberal fundamentalism of the Howard Government: “Modern Labor … argues that human beings are both ‘selfregarding’ and ‘otherregarding’. By contrast, modern Liberals … argue that human beings are almost exclusively selfregarding.” Rudd concedes that the selfregarding values of security, liberty and property are necessary for economic growth. He argues that the other‐regarding values of equity, solidarity and sustainability must be added in order to make the market economy function effectively, and in order to protect human values such as family life from being crushed by unchecked market forces.

My reservation about this analysis is that it is mainly concerned with those who are not deeply disadvantaged in a cultural and intergenerational way. Kevin Rudd’s father was a sharefarmer, and his untimely death brought hardship to his widow and children. But hard work and appreciation of education were passed on to Rudd from his parents. Rudd’s ideological manifesto is concerned with the effects of neo‐liberal policies on people who may have less bargaining power than the most sought‐after professionals, but who are nonetheless firmly integrated into the real economy – not only because they have jobs, but because they are culturally and socially committed to a life of responsibility and work. I welcome the debate Kevin Rudd sought to revitalise about the long‐term effects on most working people of neo‐liberal policies: what will the effects be on family life, on people’s sense of security and purpose, on social cohesion? How great is the risk that families of the lower strata of the real economy will descend into the underclass?

These are real issues, but the important question from an African‐American or Aboriginal Australian perspective is: what is the correct analysis of self‐regard and other‐regard in the context for those already disengaged from the real economy? Disengagement is the problem in Cape York Peninsula ...

The moderate left, as represented by Kevin Rudd, would probably argue that neo‐liberal dominance increases the number of disengaged people and the difficulties of returning them to the working mainstream. This may well be true. However, disadvantage can develop and become self‐perpetuating, even without neo‐liberal government policy. In Australia, Aboriginal disadvantage has become entrenched during decades when social democrats, small‐l liberals and conservatives influenced policy; many policies for Indigenous Australians have been liberal and progressive.

The insight which informs our work in Cape York Peninsula is that disengagement and disadvantage have self‐perpetuating and cultural qualities – problems not covered by Rudd’s analysis. These are the problems of the underclass, people who are psychologically and culturally disadvantaged. (Rudd does not spend time thinking about the underclass. In the scramble for the political middle, who does?) His is an analysis of the prospects of the upper 80 or 90 or 95 per cent of society, and how they will fare under social democrat or neo‐liberal regimes. If Rudd’s analysis were extended to the truly disengaged, his model would probably be interpreted like this: some people are successful and, as well as being self‐regarding, they should be other‐regarding. And then there are the disadvantaged.

The problem is that it is assumed that the life chances of the disadvantaged depend on the other‐regard of the successful – either a precarious dependency in the absence of state institutions, or an institutionalised dependency which my people have come to know as passive welfare. In reality, what is needed is an increase of self-regard among the disadvantaged, rather than strengthening their belief that the foundation for their uplift is the welfare state and the other‐regard of the successful.
- source

These things seem clear to me:
  • Pearson has a far deeper understanding of the situation facing aboriginal people than Rudd, Howard or any other politician
  • Pearson's support for the Federal Government intervention in the Northern Territory is clear but also qualified, he has never supported every aspect of the intervention
  • Labour under Rudd project themselves as humanists who place more stress on "other regarding" than "self regarding" than do the Liberals. This makes them more predisposed to withdraw support from the hard decisions that need to be made wrt aboriginal people
  • Some significant Labour politicians (eg. Clare Martin) are white anting the intervention whilst paying a bit of lip service to it
  • The aboriginal welfare bureaucracy and some of the traditional Labour social base will pressure Rudd to wind back the intervention if and when he become Prime Minister. It remains to be seen how he will respond to this

reference: (source of quotes and information about NT Government stance):
The Weekend Australian, October 27-8, 2007

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