Noel Pearson, ten years on

Thanks to Ian for providing the link to this 1994 piece by Noel Pearson, deploring the Labor failure to allocate more money to health care or any other stragegies to address the devastation wrought by alcohol in the outback communities.

I just wish that the honorable members and senators would do something about the urgent need for alcohol-treatment programs, and about the money that is needed to root out the alcohol-caused cancer that is afflicting the remote Aboriginal Australia I know.

It may be fanciful to read this into the story but it looks as though the idea was that more funding was the major need and there is no hint of the deeper problems that underlie the drinking and its destructive consequences. Of course you can only say so much in one piece.

However it seems from the following paras that alcohol was perceived as both the promixate and the root cause of the major problems.

Alcohol abuse is the central social and health disease in Aboriginal society. At least, that is how it is in the society I know. The grog is killing Aboriginal culture and it’s killing Aboriginal people. On Cape York Peninsula, Aboriginal communities are in the grip of majority adult drunkenness. In our communities, binge drinking among the great majority of men and increasing numbers of women, is a weekly occurrence. Drug abuse has also become a critical problem, particularly among the young.

Physical and mental health problems, child abuse and neglect, violence to women and the breakdown of traditional law and culture all of the social ills of Aboriginal life on Cape York centre on grog. Grog can no longer be seen as a mere symptom of these social ills; it is inextricably linked with them. Diabetes, heart disease, malnutrition. . . are all related to grog.

It seems that somewhere between then and now Noel Pearson’s perception of the problem has been transformed by a better understanding of the evil consequences of the wrong kind of incentives. Lately I hear no suggestion that there is a need for more money. There is a need for a very different approach and that suggestion was not apparent in the 1994 piece (again allowing for the limitation on space).

Thanks in part to the circuit-breaking impact of Pauline Hanson there has been a huge advance in the willingness of the communitiy to face up to the failures of past policies. This process has not been assisted by the Johnny come latelies with their talk of genocide and their allegations about the so-called stolen generation.

Ian refers to Noel Pearson as a “part of a long line of people pointing out that some things had to change…and one would be hard pressed to find any more than a few positive outcomes in all this time.”

Maybe, but it feels as though we are on a roll right now. I never before had any sense of a critical mass of people pushing in the direction of serious reform to the welfare system. Now there is a critical mass and that could make the difference.

This entry was posted in Politics - national. Bookmark the permalink.
Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2024 years ago

We can only hope your gut instincts are correct, Rafe. I have a sense that if changes don’t accelerate with the current political set up, the future is bleak; I hope for the sakes of all our children that the Pearsons of the world can prevail. I can assure you that in the front line, remote areas, with a large aboriginal population, it’s not a pretty sight. The underlying frustrations, from lack of meaningful things to do, allayed with boredom and a feeling of inevitability, are scary. I lived in the US in the early ’60’s and left in December ’64, via San Diego, as the tensions that led to the LA Watts riots were building to a horrible climax.
On a more positive note – I’m very jealous of you being able to attend the speech the other night; sketchy transcripts just don’t cut it.