Sunday, June 22, 2008

on the first anniversary of Howard's Northern Territory intervention

Yesterday there were protest demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the previous Howard government's intervention into Northern Territory aboriginal communities ... and the continuation of that policy, at least, in part, by the Rudd government

I heard one aboriginal protester describe the situation where some remote communities are reducing in size as aboriginal people migrate to urban centres as "ethnic cleansing" of the bush. This was reported in the news on TV and not contradicted.

"Ethnic cleansing" of Australian indigenous people. I heard this and was incredulous.

These things stand out to me as necessary in the short term before the "indigenous problem" can be solved in Australia:

1) Aboriginal people need meaningful jobs, not handouts or pretend CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects) jobs. Welfare dependency is the real killer, which fuels drug abuse, child abuse and the rest of it. If meaningful work cannot be found in remote communities (and often it can't) then it's not a bad thing that those people move to areas where there is meaningful work.

2) White people, like me, need to follow the lead of aboriginal leaders like Noel Pearson and face the fear of being "culturally insensitive" and begin somehow, in some way to contradict ridiculous bullshit such as the "ethnic cleansing" remark above

3) At a policy level aboriginal people need to be treated the same as everyone else and not treated with kind hearted indulgence. This needs to apply across the board, to school kids who wag lessons in urban centres or young men who get drunk, steal cars, riot and rape young girls in the Aurukun. See my previous blogs, australia's shame and it's beyond had in aurukun

4) Is there systemic corruption operating at the level of the welfare bureaucracy? According to people such as Noel Pearson and Wesley Aird (see link below) there is and this needs to be exposed and corrected. This is where I lack confidence in the "nice" Mr Rudd, who promoted "sorry" as his PR brand.

Here are some quotes from recent articles I have found in support of these positions:
In June last year, when controversy over the newly announced Northern Territory intervention was at its height, lawyer Noel Pearson slayed its critics with a powerful argument: "Ask the terrified kid huddling in the corner, when there's a binge-drinking party going on down the hall, ask them if they want a bit of paternalism," he said. "Ask them if they want a bit of intervention, because these people who continue to bleat without looking at the facts, without facing up to the terrible things that are going on in our remote communities, these people are prescribing no intervention, they are prescribing a perpetual hell for our children."
- "Paternalism" helping black children by John Ray
The expectation among Aborigines is that they do not have to work, and the welfare model that was supposed to be temporary became permanent when Aborigines were exempted from the obligation to seek work. They were free to pursue land claims, which left them stranded on uneconomic land seeking rent from mining companies, and to practise self-determination, which left them at the mercy of those who controlled the purse strings within their own communities, not to mention an army of "helpers"......

The key to the post-intervention is economics. No matter how inventive public servants are in re-labelling employment programs, the market will not come to remote communities. If people are to locate near a labour market they will come to town and lest they end up in town camps and re-create the appalling behaviour of outstations then they will have to be managed. The short-term adjustment is akin to a refugee problem. The present policy is to hope or pretend that there is something innovative going on out there. There is not; the reason for the emergency response is that mayhem is going on out there.
- Jobs only way forward by Gary Johns
The old style of administration in indigenous affairs has been marred by a game of dishonesty played by both sides of the cultural chasm. The game is played where there is a benefit to be obtained by one side so long as it is not questioned by the (usually all-too-compliant) non-indigenous accomplice. The perpetrator of this trick is hiding behind a "cultural curtain" and is telling non-indigenous Australians to have absolute trust in everything they are told by an Aboriginal person because, so the scam goes, anything less would be offensive or culturally inappropriate. It establishes a form of behaviour whereby a notion of culture, be it romanticised or perverse, is given greater importance than the lives of human beings.

Such behaviour is dangerous at a societal level. There are millions of mainstream Australians who want to believe in and support the indigenous cause. But offering support without questioning the real priorities is not helpful. Many have been tricked into directing energy into peripheral issues. Instead of being angry when they see shocking images of poverty, neglect and abuse, so many people have allowed themselves to be convinced by high-profile Aboriginal people that they should instead be focusing on representation and some sort of treaty. It is time for mainstream Australia to be critical of the old messages.

At the policy level, the effects are devastating as each year millions of dollars are wasted either on or by indigenous people who trade off their culture for personal or family benefit. Sadly, many non-indigenous bureaucrats either contribute to, or won't do anything about, this corruption. The defence is a misguided belief that such behaviour is a matter internal to the indigenous community or somehow is founded in Aboriginal culture.
- Great Aboriginal Con by Wesley Aird
In a media release on April 30, Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said: "The Government is strongly committed to reforming CDEP and will be taking an evidence-based approach to producing a new system that requires people to take up job opportunities available in their local area."

The minister's statement strongly suggests yet another move forward to the past. While her statement speaks of requiring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to take up job opportunities, it is silent on what is to be done in those cases (most of them) where no such job opportunities exist.

The Rudd Government, in this area as in several others, is seeking to prepare the ground for a lapse back into the failed policies of the past.
- Pretend jobs hold back Aborigines by John Stone

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