The Nanny State Strikes Again

During the election, a number of groups including the AMA noted the inattention paid by both political parties to urgent issues about the living standards, economic outcomes and health of Indigenous Australians. After the abolition of ATSIC earlier in the year (supported by Labor as well), the government seemed to go silent. A little like the abortion ‘debate’, a radical agenda for Indigenous issues has reared its head shortly after the election.

The ‘Third Way’ concept of mutual obligation was in fact pioneered in the 70s in Indigenous communities – through the CDEP scheme – effectively ‘work for the dole’ for Indigenous welfare recipients. In the wake of the grog bans in Queensland, and the critique of ‘welfare dependency’ by Noel Pearson, the rights vs. ‘practical reconciliation’ argument has taken an unexpected turn.

The government is now said to be working on – with the support of some Indigenous leaders and the fierce hostility of others – a range of plans to reshape Indigenous communities.

Included in the proposals are a massive expansion in the scope of mutual obligation:

Cabinet briefing documents prepared for the re-elected Howard Government reveal plans for Aborigines to be required to take action in exchange for welfare, including ensuring children attend school and having regular health checks.

There are also proposals to use payment cards that can store information and set electronic limits on what indigenous people can buy using government payments.

The documents show that over the next 12 months the Remote Area Exemption and other arrangements that exempt remote Aboriginal areas from mutual obligation rules will be scrapped. Proposals include the “no school, no pool” system to reward school attendance by stopping children from visiting the community swimming pool if they do not attend classes.

During the election, Mark Latham was criticised (rightly I think) by John Howard and Tony Abbott as a social engineer and a “behavioural policeman” – his floating of policy proposals which would have restricted payments to mothers who did not “read to their children” deserved condemnation for their interference in people’s lives. However, it seems in the Howardians’ mind, there’s one rule for the Whites and one for the Blacks.

Let’s not forget that until a few decades ago, Indigenous Australians could not vote, were subjected to limitations on their right to move around freely or marry without consent, had their children stolen from them, had large percentages of their wages held back “for their own good”.

Although alcoholism is a scourge in Indigenous communities, it is also a scourge in “mainstream” Australia. Is the solution a “smart card” which will prevent Indigenous welfare recipients from spending money on alcohol? We never seem to worry too much about what respectable middle-class citizens spend their swollen credit card debts on… In fact, moves to remove ATMs from pubs and casinos have been resisted strongly by rent-seeking industry lobbies and State governments living off sin taxes have passively acquiesced.

Pat Dodson says:

“This is not mutual obligation — nothing like it,” he said. “It’s fascism gone mad. It’s crazy stuff. Two hundred years of enlightenment and this is the best they’ve been able to deliver.

“This is not reform — this is social engineering at its worst.”

I eagerly await the vociferous condemnation of conservatives and libertarian Liberals of this unprecedented expansion of the reach of Government into some citizens’ lives – some citizens who are the Indigenous people of this country but not others. But I’m not holding my breath.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I think it’s a fantastic idea, and I hope it’s extended to all areas of welfare dependency, not just the indigenous area. It might just be one positive result of the Coalition’s dominance of both Houses that they’ll feel free to ignore the self-interested screams of Aboriginal industry bureaucrats like Pat Dodson and start to focus on policies that have some chance of working. Twenty years of trendy, left-liberal policies in Aboriginal affairs have resulted in an appalling mess, with outcomes going backwards in almost every area you might care to nominate. A new approach will inevitably make some mistakes too, but it’s hard to imagine it being worse than the current situation.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

BTW I DO find it quite difficult to reconcile my generally liberal/libertarian approach to most issues with my very strong belief that a much more interventionist, almost paternalistic approach is what is needed to get Aboriginal affairs policy back on track. Nevertheless, twenty years of practical experience suggests to me that a much heavier-handed, prescriptive, “mutual obligation” approach, involving many of Noel Pearson’s ideas, is much more likely to work than the present rights-based/unregulated self-determination ethos.

Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Mark
You have my condemnation. This is going way, way too far. Where do you draw the line? So Aboriginals have problems. So do lots of other people on welfare. Why the color scheme?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, I’d agree that Indigenous policy is in a mess and I don’t think pumping more money in is the only viable solution. The principle of self-determination which underlay ATSIC was a good one – but I think the structural settings let it down. There is no doubt that there are very bright, very thoughtful Indigenous leaders on both sides of the rights vs. “practical reconciliation” debate – but again this is a debate that is swamped by politics rather than a concern for outcomes (I’m not saying that’s your position).

I don’t see how we can go past the general principle of non-interference in people’s lives. I’m just as much opposed to attempts to dictate to non-Indigenous welfare recipients what they can spend their money on. There was a Commonwealth government proposal a while back which would have had ATMs bring up a notice on the screen if welfare recipients had failed to keep a Centrelink appointment. The banks quite rightly refused to participate in the data-sharing which would have enabled this to proceed. I don’t think that we can have freedom for some to go about their business as they choose and not for others. I’m not saying that there should not be obligations attached to welfare, just that these ought not to be intrusive, stigmatising or directed partially at one segment of the community based on their race.

The way forward for Indigenous affairs is the creation of genuine economic opportunities. There’s not much point going to school – Black or White – if you feel (reasonably) that nothing lies at the end of the educational journey. The Queensland government has done some good stuff here – for instance negotiating agreements with mining companies to take on Indigenous staff and apprentices in remote areas, and providing the school and technical education infrastructure to ensure these staff are properly trained. This has also involved a whole of government approach with certain Departmental CEOs being responsible for partnerships with particular Indigenous communities to cut across the dysfunctions of bureaucratic infighting and buckpassing. That’s the way forward – and involving Indigenous people themselves in determining their economic future – not any species of paternalism, however well-intentioned.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Tying welfare benefits to school attendance need not (and should not) be confined to Aboriginal welfare recipients. I agree it shouldn’t be colour-based, and I’m sure extending that sort of mutual obligation across the whole community would attract widespread support. Why should parents remain on long-term welfare support if they don’t bother to send their kids to school? At least if we returned to a system of enforcing school attendance, we might have some chance of breaking the generational cycle of welfare dependency.

Moreover, part of the measures of which you complain includes extending the “mutual obligation” system that already applies elsewehere to Aborignial communities as well. That involves removing current racially discriminatory aspects. Trouble is, there are few “work for the dole” or training schemes in remote areas. That’s why the CDEP program has evolved in remote communities, to take the place of urban “work for the dole” schemes. But a CDEP scheme requires a whole community vote to be impelemented, and many of them work very poorly i.e. they require token attendance at best to be eligible for the fortnightly payment. For instance, the Bagot community in Darwin has a CDEP program, but you’d never know it from the state of the grounds and buildings. Most participants do SFA. They’d be much better off being forced into general community “work for the dole” or skills training schemes.

We need to take a pragmatic rather than ideaologically-driven approach (either left or right ideology cf the debate about whole language versus phoics that we’re having on another thread). What works and what doesn’t?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Yeah, but Ken, there are problems with “work for the dole” schemes in cities too. Compared to the Keating government’s Working Nation programmes, there is evidence that “work for the dole” performs much worse in generating employment outcomes. Part of the difficulty is that the Commonwealth (as in other areas of policy where they have a strongly ideological bent) has suppressed its own evaluations of such schemes because they show that they don’t work as well as the previous Government’s. Not that this is restricted to the Libs. I had a consultancy in 98 to evaluate a programme by Queensland Health to raise awareness of breast cancer screening. The incoming Labor Minister canned the whole programme before the evaluation was done because it had been the previous government’s idea. So what works and what doesn’t can also fall prey to party politics.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mark

I agree. The evaluations I’ve seen of “work for the dole” suggest it’s much worse than the abolished Keating government programs at generating both skills and employment outcomes. One suspects it has more to do with saving money and ideology than with generating either skills or employment outcomes.

But that doesn’t mean “mutual obligation” per se is a bad idea, just that the federal government isn’t fulfilling its side of the mutuality bargain either. This is yet another area where the federal ALP could have seized the policy agenda and advanced REAL “mutual obligation” policies that would have been both popular and successful in a policy sense. But they blew it here too.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, we’re in agreement on those points.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

“I don’t see how we can go past the general principle of non-interference in people’s lives. I’m just as much opposed to attempts to dictate to non-Indigenous welfare recipients what they can spend their money on.”

Well that’s the rub really when there is a case of total market failure and the govt has to intervene. It aint the recipients’ money just as it aint the teenagers’ money around my place. If they don’t like my rules they can get a job, move out and please themselves how they spend their hard earned. In the meantime- This paternalistic bastard rules OK!

Martin Pike
Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Ken, sorry to be off point, but i’d be interested in your take on the young lib law student, andrew bolt, blogger ms fits et al. It is quite a blow-up, and involves legal ethics questions, as well as blog etiquette- they tracked Ms Fits down in real life and tried to get her sacked.
Go to my link above, or melbourne lefty or quantum meruit for a run-down. It’s a good story, trust me… Sorry, back to the discussion!

Robert Merkel
2022 years ago

During the election, Mark Latham was criticised (rightly I think) by John Howard and Tony Abbott as a social engineer and a “behavioural policeman” – his floating of policy proposals which would have restricted payments to mothers who did not “read to their children” deserved condemnation for their interference in people’s lives.
Pot. Kettle. Black (pun unintentional).
Anyway, back to the substantive issue. While I don’t like interfering in people’s lives either, I get the impression (from the media, I have no experience in the matter) that in a lot of cases the current approach simply isn’t working and is leading to the terrible outcomes that we regularly get beaten around the head with internationally. So it behoves those who wish to argue against a nanny state approach to suggest some alternatives that might work.
Personally, I wonder whether part of the problem is that the government is artificially propping up communities that simply aren’t economically sustainable. If indigenous communities had income of their own they would be able to tell the government precisely where to go; while they rely on government for handouts they can’t.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

BTW Just to make sure I get comprehensively tarred as a RWDB in this regard. I also reckon restricting what (long-term) welfare recipients (of whatever race, creed or colour) can spend their benefits on is a good idea (if logistically workable). We don’t give people income support so they can smoke most of it or spend it on alcohol and piss it down the gutter. So if it’s feasible with smart card technology to make sure people can only spend income support money on food, clothing, rent, transport, medical and schooling costs, then that would be a good thing IMO. It might be feasible to the extent that retail outlets use bar codes (which would facilitate control of the types of goods allowed to be purchased). But what about the need for welfare recipients to access cash to pay rent, public transport costs etc? If we had a completely cashless society it would be feasible, but we don’t. If we can’t avoid allowing people to draw cash, then such a system can’t work.

OTOH it might be possible to arrange a system of automatic compulsory periodical payments for rent made direct from welfare benefits or the recipient’s bank account. And usually welfare recipients have free bus/train travel, don’t they? And free medical care if they can find a doctor who bulk bills. Nevertheless, there would still be some things that would require cash, so you’d need to allow recipients some limited recourse to drawing some cash each fortnight.

Paternalistic? You bet. But who says taxpayer-funded income support should be a “no strings attached” right? I don’t reckon these sorts of restrictions should apply for the first 6 months of income support, because they would be unduly restrictive on short-term unemployed people who are really trying to get retrained and re-employed. And there’s a good case for exempting recipients over 50, because they have Buckley’s chance of getting another job anyway, and are much less likely to have young kids to support. But there’s a reasonable case for imposing tighter restrictions on long term welfare recipients within prime working age bandwidth (and especially if they have young kids to support).

I wonder how long it will take Paul Watson to respond with an anti-boomer diatribe?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

For a suggestion, Robert, see my comment above. However, I admit this is a thorny area and full of complexity. Some remote Indigenous communities can have real economic opportunity if they happen to be near a mining site and the native title and government co-operation cards fall the right way. Others don’t have the luck to be near something that can be dug out of the ground. There’s a more general lack of economic opportunity for people living in remote areas – including farmers particularly if one takes the line that much agriculture is unsustainably practiced in Australia and some areas are simply climatogically and environmentally unsuited for settlement. But hear again, I think I want to revert to the principle – non-interference and no racism.

I have no objection to self-determined limitations on particular consumption choices – where the community has agreed, nor do I have any objection to people like Noel Pearson persuading Indigenous Australians and policy makers that his proposals are the right way to go. The difficulty now is that ATSIC (dysfunctional as it was) has not been replaced by any body capable of representing Indigenous people generally in discussions with Government. It also seems as if some Indigenous leaders have had their views misrepresented in the Cabinet submissions and the Government can now pick and choose which “Leaders” to anoint as the voice of the Indigenous community in the absence of any representative body. So ipso facto any “solution” handed down from on high in Canberra is paternalistic. Therein lies the rub.

Incidentally, there’s a similar argument about the non-separability of rights and outcomes. According Indigenous people recognition also raises cultural esteem and that has knock-on effects which are “practical”. This is one of the reasons why a country like Canada – very comparable to us in lots of ways – has achieved far far better outcomes for Indigenous people than we have – we’re also way behind the US and NZ and seemingly stuck in a 20 year rut. So there’s need for rethinking in this area, but surely that has to be based on non-discriminatory policy and the will of Indigenous people themselves.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, needless to say I disagree. Any decent society ought to recognise that all citizens enjoy a right to support when they need it. Your proposal seems to me to be in effect akin to depriving people on welfare of civil rights the rest of us enjoy freely.

And it’s not just taxpayers’ money that’s at issue – if I do some work for the Government I can spend the remuneration however I choose. I suppose you’d say I’ve worked for it, but the same principle applies to people in receipt of parenting payments and various other forms of middle class welfare.

And incidentally, at least in Queensland, there is no concession on transport costs for unemployed people – and since the Government now requires people to look for a job within 90 minutes’ travelling time of their home, this can be a huge cost.

Unlike other commenters on this thread I suspect, I’ve lived on unemployment benefits at a number of stages in my life – the equivalent these days of $220 a week. Try feeding, clothing and housing yourself on that. And I used to go and have a beer at the local sometimes when on the dole and make absolutely no apology!

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

“all citizens enjoy a right to support when they need it”

What is the source of this right? Certainly not the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (to which Australia is a signatory). The closest it comes is Article 9, which provides a right of “everyone to social security, including social insurance”. But it doesn’t include any additional right along the lines of “to spend however they see fit without interference or conditions or obligations of any type”.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, I suspect you’re being deliberately RWDB-provocative now – are you taking a few tricks out of EvilPundit’s book?

If you have a look at the Beveridge Report, the Nugget Coombs White Paper and the other policy documents which founded the modern welfare state, you’ll see that there is a presumption that all citizens have equal rights to social benefits in case of adversity. This – and things like FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights” – were the context for the reference in the ICESCR to which you refer.

Find me a specific legal provision which gives you and I the right to spend our salaries as we choose. It’s just a general aspect of life in a free society. You want to restrict it to people who’ve “worked for it” – so your argument appears identical in its logic to observa’s ruminations above.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I mean “you and me” – phonics obviously let me down when it comes to grammar!

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mark

I’m certainly being deliberately provocative, and some of the propositions I’m putting are troubling to me too. But they’re seriously advanced, at least in the sense that I think it’s a debate that needs to take place, and there shouldn’t be taboos on calling a spade a spade.

Leaving aside any provisions in ILO covenants that may have been enacted in Australian domestic law (not really my area), I guess there would be nothing to prevent a particular employer from paying his workers in coupons only redeemable at the company store for particular types of goods. In fact that used to happen in the bad old days. But I suspect an employer who offered such terms today wouldn’t get too many takers.

In a sense, the position of welfare recipients is no different. If taxpayers (the “employers”) decide to impose conditions on how the income support they’re offering can be spent, then potential recipients are free to decline the offer and find some other way to support themselves if they wish.

The real question is whether the restriction on welfare recipients’ liberty that such a system would involve is politically acceptable having regard to the magnitude of any current social harm it would remedy i.e. it’s a utilitarian calculation. In the case of many bush Aboriginal communities, I have no doubt that the practical benefits that would accrue would be immense, whereas the benefits in some other areas may be more dubious. OTO having worked with welfare families in Sydney for some years, the sorts of endemic irresponsibility we see in Aboriginal communities are equally common there; it’s just that those families aren’t quite so obviously concentrated in discrete communities, so the behaviour isn’t so blatantly obvious.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

BTW I’m not talking about a welfare recipient who “ha(s) a beer at the local sometimes”. I’m talking about welfare families whose kids are malnourished, badly clothed, chronically sick and not sent to school, because the parents spend most of the welfare money on grog, drugs and smokes. This is a much more widespread phenomenon than you apparently imagine. Whose rights should be paramount? The parents’ right to spend the taxpayer-provided income support however they like, or the child’s right to basic food, shelter, clothing, health care and education?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

You’re right about coupons – that was a huge industrial issue in the States as well in the 20s and 30s in the big wave of unionisation. I don’t see how it could be justified in any sense according to market principles which are based on the free exchange of labour.

I think where we differ is that I don’t see social security benefits as being akin to the employment relationship.

I certainly think that social security policy needs a radical overhaul – training programmes need to have meaningful outcomes – and the evidence of churning and the structure of incentives in the privatised employment services market cries out for action. The biggest issue IMHO is the massive structural disincentives built into both the tax system and the rate at which benefits are reduced or cut-out for people to regain contact with the labour market.

I’m glad to see you acknowledge that these sorts of social pathologies are not restricted to Indigenous communities. It seems to me – not conceding your general point – that there would be practical obstacles in making the distinction that would be needed in order to target some welfare recipients. You suggest a time limit and an age limit. Both would be very broadbrush and would not capture for instance people who have been employed for a short time only to revert to effective long term unemployment. The way that eligibility for training is determined at the moment discourages a real effort to get people in that category back into regular work. It seems to me that your suggestions really imply some sort of distinction between deserving and undeserving poor. That’s in the system at the moment in a different way – and the complexity of the regulations and their discretionary application lead to innumerable tribunal appeals and ombudsmen complaints.

I personally like the concept of a guarenteed minimum income – pitched below the minimum wage – but above the current level of unemployment benefit. If this were consistent for all (disability pensioners, aged pensioners, unemployed people etc) one could abolish the entire Centrelink bureaucracy and free up funds for meaningful labour market programmes and save us all money.

Somewhat heretically, I personally am not in the slightest bit troubled if people don’t want to work – which is consistent with my notion of personal freedom. I do think that in the interests of equity and productivity, those that choose not to should only be entitled to an income that allows them to live in what Justice Higgins famously called “frugal comfort”. If someone wants to write poetry in return for benefits, that doesn’t bother me, but it also doesn’t bother me if they want to spend all day surfing. In practice, most people find work and/or self-responsibility meaningful without compulsion.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I should add that I would also like to see the Welfare System continue to provide support for people with disabilities to have maximum contact with the labour market and live dignified lives.

In response to your most recent comment, Ken, I don’t discount the number of families in the sort of circumstances you describe. Again, I don’t know that forcing people to be “responsible” works that well. One has to build in incentives as well as disincentives. It seems to me that the sort of problems you describe are exacerbated by the division of labour between family services, education and welfare bureaucracies. Although I suspect the solutions to child poverty and neglect are structural and long term rather than easily remediable by short term changes to welfare policy, I don’t pretend to have the answers. If ever there’s a situation crying out for a more coordinated approach between departments and State and Commonwealth governments, this is it. My analogy above with whole of government and regionalised approaches to Indigenous policy holds here, I think.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mark

I don’t have a problem with the concept of a guaranteed minimum income that’s well below the minimum wage but provides a basic frugal living amount. What I do have a problem with is providing that sort of payment with no strings attached to people who have parental obligations, and paying it at a rate that assumes they’re going to spend it on supporting their kids, only to see them spend it on themselves while their kids go hungry and get sick. So maybe we should be talking about imposing the sort of regime I’m proposing only on recipients of family support payments and non-custodial parents on welfare benefits.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Also, I don’t have time to research it (have to do some work – exam marking – aaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhh) but “payments in truck and kind” have been prohibited under Queensland Employment law since 1912 or 1915, I think. Can’t quote you chapter or verse but that’s my recollection.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

Mark,

I don’t think that your “Nanny State”

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Well, maybe so, Ken – but what troubles me is the wealthy divorcee in Double Bay, Ascot or Toorak who spends her time playing tennis, lunching and drinking cocktails and neglects her kids – she’s much less likely to come to the attention of Family Services than the Aboriginal mother who plays the pokies and sits on her front porch drinking tallies.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Why do you think I’m spending so much time commenting? I’m procrastinating and engaging in avoidance behaviour to postpone getting back into marking. I am actually marking in between comments, but I get so depressed after 3 or 4 very pedestrian papers in a row that I need to escape to the blog to let off steam. And arguing with you is a quite satisfying way of doing it.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Paul, I take your point – and such abuses are legion in “dry communities”. I’m partly framing this issue in the language of rights because I’d like to see a serious explanation from people who are supposedly philosophically and politically committed to liberal freedoms for why this sort of regime should be differentially applied.

Leaving this interesting discussion now for the tantalising task of marking take-home exams!

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, you know what, I’m not surprised! However, I’m spending my time when not arguing with you firing off emails to students saying “I haven’t marked your paper yet” so I’d best get stuck into it…

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Bugger. No-one to argue with now. When you get back, how do you manage to defeat cheating in take-home exams? I used to be quite keen on them, until we discovered (but couldn’t actually prove) that a couple of unscrupulous lawyers around town were earning extra drinking money by answering students’ take-home exams for them for three or four hundred dollars a pop!!!

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Momentary return – what we need, Ken, for this time of year is a thread on declining standards of university admission!

I suppose that strategy might be difficult to detect – but the obliging lawyers would need to analyse a case study and have done the course readings. It hadn’t occurred to me as a possible problem – as the students are full fee paying Postgrads doing a Grad Cert in HRM and presumably have a number of incentives to do their own work.

With undergrad take-home exams, I run anything that stands out as of high quality compared to other answers on the same paper through google. The easiest one to detect had something like this in it – “The Tasmanian government’s education policy is committed to…” – not the most auspicious website grab for a take home exam answer on crime prevention policy in Queensland!

Another one a few years ago was apparently written by a post-mortem Michel Foucault disguised as an international student. This was justified on “cultural reasons” when the student was taken to task.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I also liked the response to two near identical papers from two students who’d evidently coupled off during semester – “Well, my dad proofread both mine and Amy’s so that’s why they’re quite similar”.

blank
blank
2022 years ago

Let’s not forget that until a few decades ago, Indigenous Australians could not vote.

Why is this falsehood regularly trotted out?

No Indigenous person gained the vote in 1967. They ALL already had the right to vote.

Back in 1856 Aborigines had the right to vote in South Australia, and by 1896 they had the right to vote in Tas, NSW and Vic.

Aboriginal men and women voted in SA at Point McLeay in the 1890s and also for the first Commonwealth Parliament in 1901.

It is true that the Commonwealth tried successfully to restrict voting by Aborigines, however, in 1949 the right of Aborigines in SA, Tas, NSW and Vic to vote in Commonwealth elections was confirmed. In 1962, the Commonwealth franchise was extended to Aborigines in Qld and WA.

Only WA and Qld restricted voting on racial grounds.

WA came to the party in 1962, and Qld in 1965.

blank
blank
2022 years ago

Make that “Aboriginal MEN had the right to vote in SA in 1856”.

Aboriginal and white women had the vote in SA from 1894.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I stand corrected, blank – apologies for going with what I thought was common knowledge. I’ve checked and you’re right – the AEC has the details here. However, as you note, the story was not a straightforward one of equal political rights being automatically extended. I’ve long thought that s.41 of the Constitution should be amended – it’s the clause which guarentees a Commonwealth vote to those qualified to vote in State elections. As far as I’m aware, this is the only provision in the Constitution giving any sort of right to vote – and although the likelihood of States restricting the franchise is very low, it is still an undesirable legal basis for what ought to be an entrenched right of all citizens.

Link
2022 years ago

There is something wrong with all of this, there are no women’s voices.

Aboriginal people provide us with a complete conundrum. KOMPLETE. They are in many, many respects far more advanced than we, and we should never forget that they have a great deal to teach us about what is means to be a more complete and connected, human being. We, – great enligtened, dullards (go to Iraq to figure this out) that we are, insist that they join our society and behave like us. ie become mercenery, capitalistic, individual, consuming, greedy and non-spiritual. In fact they don’t really have a choice. Its an enormous problem, expecting them to take up our shonky, vain, stupid, ugly, western lifestyle and society.

Self-determination is the only ‘just’ way of allowing them to remain who they are if they choose to, or race with the rest of us rats if that’s what turns them on. Morally we are in no rightful position to be bullying these people.

But don’t let me stop you.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Link

You have unusual definitions of both justice and self-determination if you think it’s perfectly OK for anyone of whatever race to take social security benefits, spend the money on grog, gunja and cigarettes and let their kids go hungry and get sick. However much that may be a result, in the case of Aboriginal people, of the corruption and oppression engendered by the white man’s culture, the fact is that it’s the stark, appalling everyday reality in far too many communities. The question is how to break the cycle of abuse and poverty. The high levels of self-determination that applied under ATSIC appear actually to have resulted in outcomes that are significantly worse than 20 years ago in many respects.

So where do we go from there? Even more money and even more unfettered, unaccountable “self-determination”? I don’t profess to know the answers, but I DO know that the system in place for the last 15 years or so just hasn’t worked. And I reckon Noel Pearson’s ideas (which are in fact an exercise in self-determination) along with a wider application of “mutual obligation”, but with the Commonwealth actually fulfilling its obligations in skills training (rather than just paying lipservice), show some promise.

It’s difficult to make comments like this without succumbing to sweeping generalisations. But I certainly agree Aboriginal people are entitled to decline to participate in the rat-race of white society. But that’s by and large not what they’re choosing to do. Instead too many are under the impression that they can choose to embrace some bits of the dominant culture (i.e. consuming whitefella goods and services and spending whitefella money) but not others (education, training, working and saving to generate those goods and services). That choice is not only parasitic but destructive of Aboriginal society as well, because the resulting welfare dependency leads to idleness, despair, lack of self-esteem, alcoholism, violence, sexual abuse etc etc. That’s where mutual obligation comes in. “Self-determination” means the right to make one’s own choices, but choices have consequences. Where the choices made involve seeking support from government, then government can legitimately put conditions on that support to encourage the making of responsible, sustainable choices.

Link
2022 years ago

Gee well that’s what I spend the dole on! Hah! just kiddin (sort of). Oh and petrol, but I put that in my car. As I said its a complete conundrum, we have ripped the family based fabric of their society apart, spread them all over the place, fed em on white bread and television – its really no wonder they have an ‘eclectic’ approach to our culture. I don’t know what the solutions are. If we consider them to be a bit like children (sorry to be patronising) then giving them responsibilities rather than obligations might be a more constructive approach. eg I would like to see Aborginals more involved as in making decisions about land management. Not a bunch of white fella scientists in Melbourne prescribing remedies, but on the ground practical advice from black fellas. This doesn’t happen. Whiteys go in and tell black fellas how the land is going to be managed. And in NSW the NPWS talk about their ‘estate’.

All mother’s want their children to be healthy. Aboriginal people need to re-learn their bush healing skills and be encouraged to use them. etc etc. I wouldn’t mind having some clues as to how to survive in the Australian bush, there’s only one group of people who I can turn to for that kind of knowledge.

I agree with alcohol free communities. . . anyway I’ve more than made my point, thanks for your reply.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Link

The situation you describe may be the norm in NSW and Victoria, but it bears no relation to Aboriginal land in the NT (well over 50% of the land mass). Aboriginal people here control their own land in just about every sense. They decide who can enter it; whether roads, power and other infrasatructure can be built (and where); whether and where mining, tourism and other development can take place; when burning and other landcare measures are taken; who can hunt and fish on the land; and so on. That has been the case in Arnhemland since the Land Rights Act was enacted in 1978, and on other Aboriginal land at various dates since land claims were granted. Aboriginal people also run the local councils and health services in the communities on their land, and aboriginal legal services are also Aboriginal-controlled. Customary law isn’t formally recognised, but in reality it continues almost unhindered by the white fella legal system. In fact, Aboriginal offenders are frequently bailed so they can submit themselves to customary law punishment, and then their sentence is reduced to reflect the fact they have suffered it.

Just about the only service not directly Aboriginal-controlled is education. And even there, many schools have implemented bi-lingual education at the request of the local community. The result has been steadily worsening literacy levels and young men and women who are almost completely unemployable because they barely speak English let alone read or write it.

It would be difficult to imagine a more complete example of indigenous self-determination than Arnhemland, where all the above areas of Aboriginal control have existed since 1978. Despite that (or perhaps because of it), unemployment, crime rates, sucide, alcoholism, petrol sniffing and other drug abuse, violence, sexual abuse, family breakdown and just all other adverse outcomes also get steadily worse. Hence my preparedness to favourably consider “mutual obligation” strategies and Noel Pearson’s ideas.

Link
2022 years ago

‘Something’ is rotten in Denmark eh? I didn’t realise Arnhemland was such a bad case or had so many problems.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Can we drop the Orwellian ‘mutual obligation’ Howardian spin? This is a unilateral imposition of reciprocal obligations for welfare payments. There is nothing ‘mutual’ about this policy. If we are to return to variants of failed 18-19th century approaches to the ‘natives’ because late 20th century programs haven’t proved a cure-all for the the problems these approaches created, at the least we can call it for what it is.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Chris

I should have made this point earlier. I’m not really expecting the Howard government to implement a good faith, well-designed mutual obligation-based program in Aboriginal affairs that really attempts to achieve better outcomes in a systematic, constructive way. Previous experience with work for the dole etc suggests it will be half-baked, ideological and more designed to save money and be ostentatiously punitive to appeal to the conservative heartland voters than anything else. Nevertheless, a good faith effort at such an approach WOULD be worthwhile, and that’s what I think is worth exploring. And you never know, Howard might surprise us (although I seriously doubt it).

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Of course in my pappy’s day when they observed all these similar levels of child neglect, they just took the kids away and turned them into the aboriginal leaders of today. It wasn’t 100% successful of course but then nothing ever is.

Let’s face it Ken, our forebears were smart enough to cut out the middle men and women.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Ken, one thing I think we at least both know, this is probably the most challenging policy area of all, and I make no pretensions to confidence about the best policy direction to take – meaning I’m permanently open to suasion, as I sense you are. Fortunately, I’ll have an opportunity to discuss the latest moves with some Aboriginal colleagues next week. And this goes to my only real general position (and present objection), as I’ve no doubt about their dedication to improving the lot of their people, whatever it takes, whether it means ‘tough love’ or not – and my only bottom line is that any move should be worked out mutually. Pat and Mick Dodson have always struck me as worth listening to (as has Noel), and if they’re pissed off, and Pat seems really pissed off, my bet is the thing’s already doomed.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

“If taxpayers (the “employers”) decide to impose conditions on how the income support they’re offering can be spent, then potential recipients are free to decline the offer and find some other way to support themselves if they wish.”

Ken, I have some problems with this approach. The dole system of the 30s had something similar with vouchers, only redeemable on groceries and bare necessities. Sounds efficient in one sense until you realise the practice.

Governments were notoriously slow in verifying and redeeming the vouchers. So shopkeepers felt penalised and took it out on the voucher-holders. They were always the last to be served and often publicly shamed in front of others. Taking away a person’s dignity is not virtuous.

Paul Watson has often cited modern examples, which mostly I have escaped. As somebody who has been 5 years unemployed, who is essentially only unemployed because of employer prejudice against older workers (ie, I have current skills and qualifications), who as a recipent of a small super pension ($10,000pa) is only eligible for a modest pittance ($123 per fortnight) I find it objectionable to jump through hoops for it.

For instance, I was once almost compelled to do a basic literacy and computer skills course. This might not be a bad thing for LTUEs in general, but when I hold a degree with a double major in English and I teach computer skills voluntarily, and all of these are listed with Centrelink and my Job Network agency, I feel a bit indignant about it all. Fortunately the project got dropped anyway.

I’m not trying to suggest that some intervention isn’t desirable, but maybe if the whole thing was a bit more sensitive to individual needs and if it was recognised that other factors needed to be addressed, it might be more successful.

Yobbo
Yobbo
2022 years ago

Don: You could always have told them to “stick your dole up your arse” as many Australians (including myself) have done when faced with the choice of kowtowing to government agents.

And therein lies the point. Mutual obligation gets people off welfare by making it a pain in the arse to claim.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Yobbo, the difficulty with telling them to stick their dole up their arses is that most people in receipt of benefits aren’t in a financial position to do so. Don’s experience is by no means unique – someone I know who graduated with a first class degree in English literature was sent on a training course to learn how to be a service station attendant. Go figure…

Link, I’m not sure if you mean there are no women’s voices in the debate over Indigenous issues or in this thread. If it’s the first, I think some Indigenous women have been bullied in an attempt to stop them speaking out. That seems to be turning around in recent years, which is good. If it’s this thread, I’d love to see more women commenting on Troppo and in the Australian political blogosphere generally.

Chris, I agree. I worked closely with some Indigenous people in the Land Rights fight in and after 1988 – a point in time came when the issue of the role of White sympathisers was raised – self-determination is important in these struggles as well. It would seem to me incontestable that no solution in this complex and thorny area (as your rightly say) would have any chance of success without the active involvement and democratic participation of Indigenous people. That seems not to be happening with the present proposals in any meaningfully representative way.

Ralph
Ralph
2022 years ago

Ken,

I generally agree with your line of reasoning. Perhaps that’s because I’m part of a remote Northern Territory community.

There are many forms of discrimination our communities experience – including basic disregard for Aboriginal language, culture and self-sustaining potential.

But perhaps the most insidious forms of discrimination are those which your opponents are arguing should remain in place.

These forms of discrimination see Aboriginal communities denied the benefits of absolutely essential policies and systems that apply everywhere else in Australia, such as: making social security recepients look for work; applying sanctions for school non-attendance; paying tax on mining and national park royalties; making private land ownership possible; having rental leases for public housing (etc, etc).

I am certain that if these policies and systems were removed from any community – white or black – we would soon see the types of dysfunction and despair experienced in our communities.

These policies and systems are not social engineering – they are sensible management of a social democractic society with an appropriate mix of safety nets, incentives and opportunities.

Why should we miss out because Aboriginal people in high-paying ‘advocacy’ positions down south can make some easy headlines about forms of discrimination that they never experience.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

You’re sort of right, Yobbo. And you’ll be pleased to know I’m actually moving towards that situation now. I’m trialling as a cab driver and with luck should start in another week.

However, it was not the so-called mutual obligation that drove me there.It was mounting indebtedness. Living in country Victoria with two daughters in secondary school (one now at uni) does not allow you the usual mobility that might take you to an area of demand. Hence your options are limited.

I’m taking on the cabbie thing, and my wife has now got work a a kitchenhand. That will ultimately solve the debt problem. If I’ve got some income I can renegotiate my mortgage. It gets better, because I’ve got two credit card companies offering me a debt transfer interest rate of 4.9%. Since my credit card debt is now $12,000, that represents a saving of $110 per month. So after ten years of financial deregulation, I’m finally likely to benefit from it. Mind you, that’s why we needed income. I don’t think they’re so friendly to extending credit when your income is a small pension and benefits.

I know from my time working in the Labor market that the most poorly-rewarded jobs were fruit picking, cab-driving and piecework sewing from home. My estimates are that I’ll average around $11 an hour in a ten-hour day. But I guess that’s where the super pension and the spouse working help to top up the overall income.

It’s a solution more than an optimum solution. It seems a bit of under-utilisation of my education and skills. But when I’m aged 62, I can’t be too choosy. It might be a crooked wheel, but it’s the only game in town!

And think… if you ever need a cab in Warrnambool, you might even get an intelligent conversation!

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Don

I drove cabs when I was at uni, and also for a couple of years in the early 80s while I was getting my practising certificate after leaving the public service. I was even a radio dispatch operator for a while, operating solo on the 11pm-7am shift at Manly Cabs. You’re right that cab driving is a low paid grind, and you also need to work long hours to make even the $11 per hour or so average you have in mind (although if you’re a really good, experienced, cunning and aggressive driver, you can often do better than that). Usually you have to make a fixed pay-in for the shift to the owner or lessee of the cab, and if you knock off much before the end of the full 10-12 hour shift you find you’ve been working for the owner and have nothing for yourself. The upside is that, with that constraint in mind, you’re free to do whatever you want and go wherever you wish, and you meet some interesting people along with a lot of dickheads. There were also certain unofficial tax advantages to it in those days that probably don’t apply now. On balance it wasn’t such a bad job, although I certainly wouldn’t go back to it by choice.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

Yeah Ken, I think I can live with it. The system as it’s been explained to me is that drivers are guarenteed 50% of the take. But you only earn while you’re taking passengers. No fares, no income. Most seem to think you can average about 4 fares an hour – which means the gross would be about $20-24 and your own share half of that.

There’s no other expenses that I’ve been alerted to, apart from paying your share of GST and providing for tax (and getting corporate uniform and local directory and ABN). Workcover is provided. Cabs are insured, but have an excess of $1,000.

The upside, of course, is that Warrnambool (pop about 30,000) is hardly as stressful driving conditions as you’d get in the capitals.

Reading the Tax Pack, I didn’t think I’d be able to claim all that much. But one of my training drivers puts all hers through an accountant and claims a bundle as a self-employed person. She reckons she can get 75% of her home phone and mobile as a business expense, plus other perks like the uniform and cleaning.

I don’t know if small businesses fill in a different form to PAYE people, but I couldn’t see all those deductions myself and might have to use an accountant at least in my first year.

But all considered, Im looking forward to it. It’s nice to be doing some paid work again. It’s already done wonders for my wife’s morale – so I’m expecting a lift myself.

As you say, it’s not perfect, but there are a lot worse things in life than driving a cab.