Rapping on race (instalment 297)

 As frequent Troppo readers will know, I’ve been banging on about Aboriginal affairs issues  for a very long time.   I’m pleased that my obsession has at least momentarily been picked up by the mainstream media in the wake of NT prosecutor Dr Nanette Rogers’ recent decisive (and courageous, given what often happens to public servants who embarass the government that pays their salary) public  intervention exposing the appalling state of indigenous affairs in remote and regional Australia.   Whether indigenous affairs’ 15 seconds in the media spotlight will actually result in any substantive change remains to be seen.

Paul Toohey’s article in this week’s Bulletin certainly  says  some of the things I’ve been thinking.   Toohey encapsulates most of the reasons why so many Labor supporters are deeply disappointed by Clare Martin’s expedient neo-conservative leadership.  

However, the most extreme op-ed ponderings  have in some ways been  the most interesting.   Michael Duffy, for example, was in no  doubt about a final solution in Saturday’s SMH:

The ill effects of welfare have become grudgingly accepted even by romantics since Noel Pearson gave his famous “welfare poison” speech some years ago. But few people have faced up to the implication of this insight, which is that if you take away the welfare, most of the communities have no future, and therefore should be shut down. Aboriginal people should be paid to move to the cities and assimilate. There is no other solution.

History Uber-Warrior Keith Windschuttle reached an identical conclusion in yesterday’s Oz:

The remote Aborigines are thus loaded with twin economic burdens: they inhabit regions that have no jobs or business opportunities and the state gives them an income with no effort on their part. The only solution is to stop funding and thus close down all those settlements where unemployment is chronic and where there are no economic prospects, which is most of them.

To date their opinions have simply been ignored, rather like an indulged senile  old uncle who farts loudly at the dinner table.   But mightn’t we actually learn something by exploring the solution they propose?   What would actually happen if we depopulated  inland Australia (or ethnically cleansed it,  to use a more emotionally charged expression) by cutting off funding to non-viable Aboriginal communities?   And are there any workable alternatives?

For a start, I don’t think there’s any doubt at all  that many if not most Aboriginal communities will never have a viable economic base.   That is, there will never be more than a relative handful of local jobs that aren’t directly sustained by government funding. Moreover, at least the way that funding is delivered at present, the  inevitable outcome is chronic welfare dependency, which then leads to boredom, idleness and despair and  inexorably onwards to massive alcohol and substance abuse.   And, as night follows day, that means horrendous levels of family and community violence and sexual abuse of women and children.  

Stronger policing and tougher sentencing might keep a lid on it, but don’t address the underlying causes.   Moreover, indigenous Territorians are already imprisoned at a very high rate, and  the NT already has more police per capita population than any other state or territory.  

Does that mean there is no alternative but to “close down” all these communities, as both Duffy and Windschuttle assert?   What would then happen?   For a start, most non-indigenous  towns in inland Australia would instantly become economically unviable too, because their major raison d’etre is as service centres for surrounding  Aboriginal communities.   Thus, the non-Aboriginal populations of regional Australia (including National Party-voting pastoralists)  would be none too pleased with any government that introduced such a policy, nor would it appear to be in Australia’s national interest to further exacerbate the phenomenon of an island nation where everyone crams into increasingly overcrowded coastal cities while leaving the inland virtually uninhabited.

The ethnic-cleansing option would also be political suicide in the cities.   At present, very few Australians ever deal with Aboriginal  people on a day-to-day basis.   Most have never even seen a “traditional” “full blood” Aborigine except on TV.   Windschuttle seems to imagine that simply shifting them all to town would be a piece of cake, that indigenous Australians with no experience whatever of urban living and almost universal levels of functional illiteracy (not to mention very poor command of spoken English) could somehow simply “enjoy suburban lives indistinguishable from other Australians”.   Hopefully that could be achieved in the long run.   I don’t disagree with a long-term objective of “normalisation” (apparently the current euphemism for assimilation), but it can’t be achieved either rapidly or by compulsion.   The result of such a policy in the short to medium term would be that families transplanted from remote communities would simply bring their existing grossly dysfunctional lifestyles with them, and begin inflicting that behaviour on suburban voters.  

You don’t need to be a political genius to predict the electoral result for any party that presided over such a policy.   Hence Clare Martin’s instant rejection of suggestions for wholesale evacuation to Darwin of “refugees” from Port Keats/Wadeye.   For cynical/pragmatic politicians (i.e. just about all of them),  a stance of “out of sight out of mind” and wringing one’s hands in impotent mock despair when blackfella issues occasionally catch the fleeting attention of the mainstream media circus is a winning electoral  combination.

Fortunately, Duffy and Windschuttle are simply wrong in assuming that the only viable policy alternatives are either to  perpetuate the current grossly dysfunctional system or implement wholesale ethnic cleansing.   But, just as stark reality challenges the kneejerk assumptions of the RWDBs,    developing viable real world  policies will involve challenging entrenched but unexamined long-held values  of the ‘latte’  left.  

The key to reducing passive welfare dependence (and hence alcoholism and appalling violence)  lies in rigorously implemented genuine mutual obligation policies involving both carrots and sticks  and measurable performance targets.    Kids who go to school should get decent health care while they’re there, and decent meals as well at public expense.    Conversely, parents who don’t send their kids to school regularly should have their welfare benefits removed.   Schools should have indigenous attendance officers (members of the local community)  whose job is to hunt kids out of bed (or wherever) and get them to school.

CDEP should become a real community work program, not just  window-dressing for chronic idleness.   With a “captive”  local workforce required to actually work at least (say) 6 hours per day or lose the dole, communities would be clean and tidy, and  could grow  much of  their own food as they did back in the “bad” old mission days.   Moreover, with the addition of compulsory training in trade skills (again under threat of welfare withdrawal in default of attendance), local communities could build their own houses much more cheaply than at present.   The huge backlog in housing provision, where in communities like Port Keats they have 20 people per household, could be overcome without a dramatic increase in existing government funding.

Of course, many on the left will already  be foaming at the mouth, or at least dismissing me as just another racist right winger.   But what alternatves can they offer?   Manifestly it isn’t just a matter of spending more government  money.   Unless Aboriginal people have skills, jobs and pride, the cycle of welfare dependency, violence and horrendous abuse will remain unbroken irrespective of how much money is spent.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.
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32 Responses to Rapping on race (instalment 297)

  1. Maybe the debate’s moved on more than you think, Ken. Anyway, nice post.

  2. On Clare Martin’s rejection of the ethnic cleansing idea, that pollie (forget his name but he’s from North Qld and always quoted in leadership stories as a “strong Howard supporter”) who made a Windschuttlesque suggestion that the Indigenous people living on Palm Island should all be forcibly removed to the mainland, was careful to qualify this by saying they shouldn’t be moved to anywhere in his electorate.

  3. Ted Lindsay, I think.

  4. Christine Keeler says:

    God, they’re sounding about like nuclear waste.

  5. Patrick says:

    That is all sensible enough. One can carry the same logic well into the South Pacific (at least as far as Nauru, if not several others) – just a matter of time?

    I think the real sting in the tail though is that the same logic would seem entirely valid with respect of all highly disadvantaged welfare recipients whether white black or a more universal pallor of substance-abusive greyish yellow.

  6. Paul Norton says:

    A far more constructive proposal is being developed by Griffith University’s Cape York Institute.

    This is that, where the remote towns don’t have a basis for a viable local economy, the residents are encouraged to “orbit” between the town and other centres where employment and economic opportunities are available, i.e. they travel to Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane, the southern states, etc., for part of the year to work, run businesses, etc., and return to the settlement for part of the year, bringing back revenue and also role models of employed, skilled community members with connections in the “real” economy.

  7. Ken Parish says:

    Patrick

    I don’t have any problem with applying mutual obligation approaches to dole recipients generally (although most urban “work for the dole” schemes are a tad pointless, whereas the sort of work I’m suggesting for indigenous communities is necessary work as well as relieving idleness). Moreover, we also need to recognise that older unemployed don’t have the same options to re-enter the workforce as younger ones, and that for all age groups there may be other contributions to the community that should be recognised as alternatives to “work for the dole” (e.g. creative work). That equally applies to Aboriginal communities.

    Paul

    It sounds like an excellent concept, and isn’t in any way inimical to what I’m suggesting. In fact they’re complementary.

  8. morganzola says:

    No, it was Peter Lindsay (no relation). Ted Lindsay was the former ALP MHR for Herbert before he lost it to his namesake.

    I agree with much of Ken has to say above, and I’d usually be characterised as a “lefty” – albeit more of the flat white than latte variety.

  9. derrida derider says:

    “developing viable real world policies will involve challenging entrenched but unexamined long-held values of the ‘latte’ left”
    Talk about straw men! Where are these “latte leftists” who are so keen to hand out sit-down money and who never examine their values? It’s conservatives who cherish what is, and therefore are loath to take a good long look at what they hold dear.

    And I don’t agree at all that welfare dependency itself is worse than the alternatives. In its absence there would be more, not less, misery for these people trapped in economically unviable areas with socially unviable attitudes. People tend to see the association between welfare receipt and misery and assume that the first causes the second, where it is mostly the second causing the first.

    The first thing to note about work-for-the-dole type things is that they cost the taxpayer a lot MORE than welfare, especially if they are permanent. The second thing is that someone who is unemployable for an employer due to drugs, grog, petrol, ignorance, attitude, etc is generally unemployable for work-for-the-dole too. I know – in a past job I’ve tried to set them up. And what are you gonna do for the kids whose parent’s income has been cut off because of their bad behaviour?

    None of the solutions to these sort of deep-seated problems are fast or cheap. But the temptation to look to compulsion should be avoided, not because it’s always “unjust” (it often isn’t), but because it usually doesn’t work.

  10. Paul Norton says:

    Sorry Ken. I should have said that the Cape York Institute proposal was far more constructive than Windschuttle’s and Duffy’s proposal. I didn’t mean to imply criticism of yours.

    I think to a large extent the policies which should be put in place should be ones which have the general agreement and probability of cooperation from the members of the communities (other than the minority of the most seriously substance-impaired and/or criminally delinguent). It may well be that the communities would support a strong mutual obligation approach as appropriate for their circumstances.

    I must also admit that in 1994-96 I had a few unfortunate experiences with people at my University who, for reasons of well-intentioned but misguided cross-cultural sensitivity, were prepared to cut too much slack for non-Anglo males (including, in one case, a male of indigenous descent) in relation to their treatment of women – even in cases where the women who were badly treated were members of the same culture as the men, and objected to the bad treatment on grounds which had purchase within their culture.

  11. Ken Parish says:

    DD

    You would certainly need to have local family group homes to care for kids whose parents had been cut off welfare for not bothering to send them to school. But invariably they’ll be the same parents who would have their children removed under the same more general child welfare principles that apply to everyone else i.e. the kids are severely at risk due to alcoholism and violence. At present, as Nanette Rogers and others powerfully convey, there seems to be a reluctance to intervene and remove kids from such situations, flowing at least in part from misguided fear of creating a “stolen” generation. As long as they’re housed in a government funded family group home in or near their home community (a network of which wouldn’t be cheap to establish), then it’s rescue we’re talking about not “stealing”.

    I agree that alcoholism, violence and welfare dependence are inter-related in complex ways, but I don’t otherwise accept what you say at all. In fact it’s precisely the latte left nonsense that I think needs to be rejected if we’re to make any inroads into this dreadful situation i.e. you’ve just proven that it ISNT a straw man because you exhibit precisely the misguided attitudes I’m talking about. By rejecting strategies involving “compulsion” you are by definition advocating that the passive “sit down money” syndrome be perpetuated despite having manifestly failed. Arid sophistry about whether welfare receipt causes misery or vice versa gets us nowhere. It’s chicken and egg, and we have to find a way to break the cycle.

    Chopping off the dole money of people who persistently behave irresponsibly might not in all cases prevent them from continuing to buy grog and alcohol, but it’s certainly going to cramp their style pretty substantially. Moreover, I’m not rejecting the arguments of numerous others (including indigenous legal academic Larissa Behrendt) that we also need stronger law enforcement. People who continue on a pattern of alcohol abuse and violence after failing to participate in employment programs and losing their benefits, need to be removed from the community so they don’t continue causing damage.

    The problems need to be attacked on numerous fronts, but certainly mutual obligation in relation to social welfare must be part of it. It’s partly the lack of not only compulsion but just about any form of relevant incentive at all towards work and skills acquisition that has led to the ongoing utter failure of indigenous affairs policies over the last 30 years.

    Finally, I agree that solutions won’t be fast or cheap. But they certainly involve getting kids to go to school and adults to get skills and get a job. And in a culture with no natural social sanctions or expectations to underpin any of those outcomes, you only achieve them by injecting an element of compulsion, however much some on the “latte left” (e.g. yourself) may decry it without bothering to propose any policies of their own (apart from more of the same that has got us to the current point of despair after 30 years).

  12. StephenL says:

    When people attack the “latte left” I usually think they’re referring to me, or at least my friends. However, I only disagree with one word of your article. I have great trouble with the notion of “removing” all welfare payments from parents who’s kids don’t attend school (assuming you’re including their unemployment benefits as well as family payments).

    However, I have no problem with reducing them. How far I’d be willing to cut the payments is something I haven’t thought deeply about.

    I haven’t discussed it with a lot of friends, but I would think that most would agree, provided such a policy was part of a comprehensive program such as the one you are outlining, rather than a stand alone punitive program.

  13. derrida derider says:

    Ken, I don’t drink lattes, and I certainly don’t think of myself as a leftist (I’m pretty keen on free markets in most things, in fact). I grew up in a small country town with a considerable Aboriginal population. Even 40 years ago, when there was no welfare, that population suffered from demoralisation, ignorance, squalor and grog-fuelled violence (mind you, there were whites you could have said all that of too. And they didn’t even have the excuse of racism – they were the perpetrators of it).

    It’s just I get the shits with people who rabbit on about “welfare dependency” without having thought hard about what the alternatives are. And there certainly is a strong tendency to blame the problems on the welfare rather than the welfare on the problems.

    On compulsion, did you actually read what I wrote? I’m not keen on it because of the empirics, with which I have professional experience. I’ve nothing against it in principle.

  14. Ken Parish says:

    DD

    The empirical results of your own efforts at implementing work for the dole programs aren’t relevant unless:

    (a) they were in a remote indigenous community (given that social and psychological factors are very different in a society that, however dysfunctional, remains very communally organised in contrast to the atomised individuality of urban society);

    (b) they involved all the functional elements mentioned in my post; and

    (c) they also involved additional elements I didn’t have time to develop in a blog post e.g. well resourced and designed alcohol and drug treatment and rehab programs, also backed by mutual obligation sanctions.

    Moreover, I’m not suggesting that the programs I’m advocating would miraculously turn hard-core abusive alcoholics into model productive citizens overnight, just that it would lead to progress over time, which is the reverse of the seemingly inexorable deterioration that current programs are producing (and have done for 30 years).

  15. steve munn says:

    I think the idea that Aborigines need to leave remote communities to seek employment and access to better services is nonsense.

    The Northern Territory culls 600 saltwater crocodiles each year and the NT government wanted to allow 25 of these to be killed by so-called game hunters, who are willing to pay up to $30,000 per kill. Sadly, the federal Environment Minister vetoed this plan. I think an opportunity has been missed to create employment for Aboriginals in remote communities.

    When I went on my around Australia trip in the early 1990s I was disappointed by the lack of cultural tourism opportunities. I wanted to learn more about traditional indigenous culture from indigenous people, but almost no such opportunities existed at that time. The only such experience I had was a couple of Aboriginal women at Uluru lighting a fire by rubbing sticks together then using the heat of the fire to extract gum from spinifex which they used to fix a spear tip to a spear. I thoroughly enjoyed this demonstration. I suspect there is a huge untapped demand from local and overseas tourists for indigenous cultural tourism.

    Coastal indigenous communities are currently used to a very limited extent in border protection and as army reserves. I think these programs could be greatly expanded.

    Australia’s only contribution to world cuisine is the Macadamia nut, and even that industry was started by Americans. Maybe indigenous communities could assist in identifying and cultivating other plants that may have commercial value.

    I also see employment opportunities for remote indigenous communities in conservation projects like feral animal and plant control.

  16. JC says:

    Ken

    Isn’t there a hippo hidden in the closet over an issue that most of us don’t wish to talk about but even try to ignore.? I have no desire to delve into the reasons all that much but the average IQ of kids in these areas is about 75, which means most are fucntionally unable to adapt and prosper in the mainstream. This is a real problem most probably brought about by the low diet standards in these communities, especially for kids.

    How on earth can we help them mainstream with these headwinds facing us?

    Another reason for this low performance could also stem from low stimulation kids receive in these remote areas.

    For some of these kids what we understand to be an eductiona is vitually impossible.

    Yet we condemn them in other ways as well. The high level of a minimum wage being a good example. Try and lower the min wage to gedt these kids into paying jobs and we would all be accused of slavery.

  17. Ken Parish says:

    Joe

    You’re quite right. In fact some IQ studies suggest even lower average IQs than that. I blogged about this fairly recently. However, at least half of the discrepancy between indigenous and caucasian IQs (and conceivably most of it) derives from cultural, nurturing and nutrition issues, and an unstimulating early environment (which actually feeds into permanently retarded brain development). Those factors are remediable over time, but the current generation of kids are almost certainly doomed whatever we do, at least in terms of ever being able to compete in the economic mainstream on a “level playing field”.

    Hence carefully structured programs designed to deliver education and training and jobs in the local community are probably the only ones that can succeed in many communities. These sorts of factors tend to suggest that the immediate term potential of ambitious “mainstreaming” programs like the Cape York one Paul Norton mentioned may be a bit limited

  18. Jacques Chester says:

    It’s funny to answer a guy with the same initials as I, but anyhow:

    IQ is not an entirely useful measure in some cases, but I would suspect that the two major causes of low IQ scores in the aboriginal population would be caused by:

    1. Malnutrition and disease.
    2. Cultural differences and very limited education, undermining the gC score component of most integrated IQ test batteries.

    But 1. is the major kicker. The human brain requires an abundant supply of protein to develop and a stable supply of glucose to function. Malnutrition defeats both.

  19. JC says:

    Great post by the way, Ken. You seem to have offered the best solutions out of anyone around. After Keith’s piece and yours, you suggestions are a better fit to this hellish problem.

    Right or left, this is a truly a shocking problem that we all need to acknowledge is a deep scar to our nation.

    These poor people seem to have been thrown around from one program to amother as though they were living in a pteri dish. Truly shocking!

  20. JC says:

    I agree Jacques, however when the scores are that low they are very difficult to ignore.

  21. Yep, it is an excellent post. A good example of ‘post-ideological’ or centrist thinking. Better than posturing which occupies so much space these days.

  22. derrida derider says:

    Ken, its not just first-hand experience. I’ve also done a lot of reading in the labour market program evaluation literature. The frequency of disappointing results is, IMO, due to a failure of the program developers to look hard at the actual people they’re dealing with – “unobserved heterogeneity” ain’t just a theoretic construct.

    And you haven’t answered my point about the causation in welfare dependence. There is a real tendency to say “these people are poor, these people are welfare dependent, therefore welfare dependency makes you poor” (Charles Murray is the extreme exponent of this ‘argument’). My point is that it’s not as though poverty is or was unknown in places where there is/was no welfare – quite the reverse in fact.

    JC, I think our minimum wage is too high. But if you think any wage would make most of these people employable, you’re dreaming. There are, unfortunately, people whose marginal product in the workforce is negative.

  23. Geoff R says:

    If people actually went back and read the reconciliation/self-determination literature of the 1980s, most notably the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody, they would see that economic participation was a central concern. Socialists (remember them?) always argued that effective citizenship required access to economic resources. Perhaps Labor governments have preferred rhetoric to real redistribution of resources but this is not something reconciliation supporters can be accused of.

  24. Greg says:

    I’d also suggest that the usual practice of offering tax incentives to corporations (often the really big outfits who don’t need such beneficence) for locating their production centres in particular areas might be employed to good effect, providing substantial jobs where they’re demonstrably needed.

  25. JC says:

    DD
    JC, I think our minimum wage is too high. But if you think any wage would make most of these people employable, you’re dreaming. There are, unfortunately, people whose marginal product in the workforce is negative.

    I can’t honestly remember where I read it DD, but the story is that up to some point in time Abor menfolk had pretty lots of jobs going with the cattle stations. The station owners paid these guys lower wages than westerners because they were unreliable workers- they went walkabout.
    Then the dogooders came in and broke up this perfectly good arrangment forcing the owners to pay regular award wages. As a result hiring for this group plummeted, as they weren’t doing the job the higher pay required.

    This is another example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

  26. Ken Parish says:

    Greg

    Have you ever been to Port Keats? It is a remote township on the far side of the croc-infested Daly River, at the end of a rutted dirt road hundreds of kilometres long. In the dry season youy can get there in a 4WD, but for 6 months of the year it is accessible only by air. There is no trained workforce, no support industries or services and little public infrastructure (except a general store, council office, school etc). A corporation which established a production centre there would instantly go broke unless it could persuade government to spend several billions of dollars installing the infrastructure and services needed for any business to survive. Manifestly no sane corporate CEO would make such a decision and no sane government would agree to spend funds in that way.

    The above also answers Geoff R’s comment. Gesturing hypnotically and uttering the magic incantation “self-detemrination” and “reconciliation” does not abolish the harsh reality of the facts on the ground outside the rarefied confines of Deakin Uni. There will never be a significant number of jobs in real, self-supporting industries in most remote communities, because it will always be prohibitively expensive to create the material and human conditions to allow that to occur. The only feasible jobs will be those created and sustained indefinitely by government money. That’s why I’m advocating such solutions to provide indigenous people with a measure of self-determining dignity and independence (however artifically created and sustained) at least as a transitional measure while they acquire the skills to compete in the real economy in places where real jobs exist.

    There will certainly be occasional exceptions, like pastoral enterprises that support a few people (though nowhere near all those of working age in any given community) or tourism businesses in areas tourists might actually want to visit (though again only jobs for a few people, and certainly not in a place like Port Keats that no-one in their right mind would want to visit except for a specific purpose).

  27. Ken Parish says:

    And while we’re on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (which was mentioned above), I’m intimately familiar with it because I spent 6 months roaming the Top End and Kimberley gathering evidence for it on behalf of the North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service in 1989-90, and then preparing and presenting it and submissions resulting from it.

    It was certainly an amazing though frequently also depressing experience. But one aspect that we shouldn’t avoid highlighting is that the whole Commission was in the end conducted on a false premise (although many of the recommendations were nevertehelss valuable, as was the whole process). Aboriginal people were not (and presumably still aren’t) imprisoned at any higher rate than anyone else per offence committed. There are certainly a lot more indigenous people in prison per head of Aboriginal population, but that’s because they commit vastly more crimes per head of population than anyone else. Moreover, from memory the statistics also showed that Aboriginal prisoners did not commit suicide at any higher rate than prisoners of any other ethnicity. There are just more of them in prison, and they have louder lobby groups drawing attention to their particular situation, so it seemed like the problem was worse among indigenous prisoners.

    I’m not in any sense suggesting that the high indigenous crime rate isn’t a massive concern and something we all need to address urgently (most of the victims are indigenous too), nor that we shouldn’t be exploring alternatives to imnprisonment like restorative/community justice schemes. But we also should avoid conducting debates based on false assumptions.

  28. JC says:

    Ken
    Have we in a way unwittingly copied the American reservation policy of sorts and simply plonked these people in settlements?

  29. JC says:

    The reason I ask this is becasue they seem to be further ahead of the curve then we are and it seems they have had little success.

  30. stephen bartos says:

    two quick thoughts – one: taking welfare benefits from parents who don’t send their children to school could well make those children even worse off; hate to say it, but changing the form of the benefits from cash to food, health, and other approved purposes might be the better option. The left/right “food stamps bad/good” arguments are not really apposite when the incentives for parents and the welfare of children are what are at stake.

    second, and more broadly, I am currently worried about the usefulness of the term “aboriginal community” in this debate. The basic governance unit in aboriginal society seems from my experience to be the family – and relevant to the debate about abuse, it is typically a large, extended family with numerous aunties with considerable authority, whose authority is undermined by a government funded “community” where the dollars and therefore power go to men. From the family it moves up through a couple of levels to nation; and here governance is very diffferent across Australia, particuarly in respect of the west vs. east, yet we seem to assume that it is all the same. Also, many of the sites for contemporary aboriginal “communities” are in fact whitefella settlements in the form of ex missions or ex stations – so how organically “community” are they really? Everyone uses the word community because it sounds so friendly, so obviously a good thing – but maybe some of these communities aren’t, and all we’ve done is create dysfunctional units based on preconceptions (much like post-colonial borders in Africa have created dysfunctional states). Still thinking about this one, and if Ken has any view would dearly like to hear it.

  31. Geoff R says:

    Ken, I probably agree with much of your argument. My point simply was that the 1990s policy documents of the ‘reconciliation era’ did stress economic opportunity. In the reworking on the Deakin unit on indigenous history I replaced the chapter on the Royal Commission by a chapter on indigenous participation in the workforce and have included a specific essay question on the pros and cons of the self-determination ideal. I would agree that many of the 1990s undergraduate units on indigenous history didn’t consider the economic position of indigenous people today, but this isn’t something the Deakin course can be accused of. Your arguments are interesting and I will refer to them in my lectures. We could ask why if the Europeans and the Japanese can subsidize a peasantry on their traditional lands why can’t white Australia? George Megalogenis recently correctly contrasted the largesse on rural telecommunications (taxpayer subsidised on the grand scale) with the low spending on basic infrastructure for indigenous communities.

  32. steve munn says:

    I think Aboriginal communities in remote outback and Top End areas could be paid for providing “ecosystem services”. This would include things like maintaining traditional burn regimes as well as the elimination of exotic flora and fauna. A further ecosystem service would be trapping in order to monitor the condition and numbers of local species of fauna- something we currently pay ecologists/biologists to do.

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