Of dunnies, icebergs and blackfellas (part 2)

In part 1 of this post I attempted to outline some of the main principles that should underpin good policy in the indigenous affairs area, drawing especially on the work of the Productivity Commission and indigenous academics Toni Bauman and Marcia Langton.

In this second part, I intend focusing on the major individual elements of the Brough/Howard NT intervention (“the Intervention”).  It’s a relevant and even important exercise because Kevin Rudd promised during the election to continue the Intervention, albeit with a couple of specific exceptions and a general effectiveness review after 12 months.  Moreover, the new Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has foreshadowed extending some of the Intervention measures to the States, given that the massive problems in indigenous communities, with alcohol-fuelled violence and child sexual abuse and more generally, are every bit as bad in WA, SA and Queensland as they are in the Northern Territory. The Territory was simply a convenient target because of the Howard government’s much broader powers to intervene in a Commonwealth territory with few constitutional constraints.

One of the most most striking things about the Intervention is the evident split between measures clearly and directly targetted at child sexual abuse (the pretext for the Intervention) and a broader “social engineering” agenda having little immediate connection with that professed objective but equally clearly aimed at achieving a fundamental reshaping of Aboriginal society in the direction of “mainstreaming”.  I will deal with each in turn.

Anti-child abuse measures

The measures aimed at combating child sexual abuse include:

  •  sending in “emergency” teams of federal and interstate police and medical teams backed by the army providing logistic support;
  • significant additional federal funding for remote housing (though only for the current year); 
  • legislative provisions aimed at strengthening restrictions on the availability of alcohol in remote communities; and
  •  banning of  pornography in remote indigenous communities, supported by the mandatory installation of anti-porn filters on all computers.

My only major objection to these measures is that they are mostly short-term and extraordinarily expensive for a fairly marginal result, an outcome that flows in considerable part from seeing the Intervention as being just an “emergency” one.  This is an “emergency” that has existed in acute form and been well known to anyone who cared to look for at least the last 20 years, and will still exist in an equally acute form when the interstate doctors and police go home again soon.  Sending in teams of doctors and police supported by the army is an extravagantly expensive way of delivering short-term medical and law enforcement services to remote areas.  Even though the police and medical teams apparently have not detected any new cases of child sexual abuse, their presence has no doubt contributed to a more peaceful environment in remote communities over the last few months.  However, they were only ever intended to be deployed as a short-term expedient.   All the problems identified in Little Children are Sacred will remain and re-emerge when they leave. 

In the meantime, the emergency medical/police deployment has cost between $300 and 400 million of the total $500 million dollars current year price-tag for the Intervention.  This rather large amount of money could have been much better spent on funding permanent enhancement of medical and policing capacities in remote areas.  As an indigenous community health clinic doctor commented on the recent Four Corners program about the Intervention:

DR GEOFF STEWART, MANINGRIDA CLINIC MEDICAL OFFICER: Its a significant amount of money and incidentally, its more than what would be estimated to be required to bring all health services across the Northern Territory up to a level of funding where wed all be expected to be able to provide a comprehensive range of primary health care services. So weve already exceeded the amount that would correct the current under-funding of health services in the Territory.

At a very rough estimate, additional federal funding of $100 million per year in total would probably be sufficient both to bring all remote area health centres up to scratch and to fund an extra 50 or more NT police on top of the extra 38 police the NT government has already promised as part of its announced response to the Little Children are Sacred report.   The combined total would be enough to provide an extra 2 police officers in just about every remote indigenous communty in the NT.  Unfortunately, neither the previous Howard government nor Kevin Rudd promised to provide any such ongoing funding in the runup to the federal election, and the chances of Rudd doing so now in the face of emerging inflationary pressures and the need for fiscal prudence and an expenditure “razor gang” are somewhere between Buckley’s and none.  Moreover, State Premiers are already whingeing that their own indigenous programs are being short-changed because of the generous funding flowing to the NT under the Intervention:

In a letter to John Howard last month, which has been obtained by The Australian, NSW Premier Morris Iemma accused the Prime Minister of “stripping NSW of vital resources for helping Aboriginal people”.

While he supports the NT intervention, Mr Iemma is “deeply concerned that the commonwealth is failing to take a consistent approach to addressing the needs of Aboriginal people across Australia”. He says the Howard Government is directing 85 per cent of funding to remote communities, “largely excluding Aboriginal people in NSW, the bulk of whom reside in urban and regional centres”.

The same picture is evident for remote area housing.  The Brough Intervention roughly doubles federal funding for remote housing in the current year to around $200 million (in my understanding).  However there has been no commitment by either major party to do so on an ongoing basis, although it would take about a decade at that higher funding level to remedy the massive housing backlog that presently sees 20 people living in small houses in many communities.  As the PC’s Gary Banks observes:

Overcrowding in housing is a particular problem, even allowing for cultural differences, and has been shown to have particularly adverse impacts on health, family violence and educational performance. Over 25 per cent of Indigenous people were living in overcrowded housing in 2004-05 (up to 63 per cent in very remote areas), with little change since 2002.

By focusing so wastefully on the (electorally-driven?) theatrics of “emergency” action, the Brough Intervention may eventually be seen as a tragically wasted opportunity to make a real and lasting difference to indigenous living conditions in the Northern Territory.

 Social engineering measures

The broader social engineering “mainstreaming” measures of the Intervention are in some ways more interesting, in part because, if adopted by Labor as foreshadowed by Minister Macklin,  they will represent a triumph of a concerted conservative thinktank policy agenda on a scale not seen since the HR Nicholls Society triggered the reshaping of Australia’s IR landscape during the 1980s and 90s. 

The broad concepts of “mainstreaming” service delivery to indigenous communities, “mutual obligation” in relation to welfare entitlements, and moving in the direction of a productive, enterprise-based culture are all reflected in the Productivity Commission’s report discussed in part 1.   However, the PC’s reports did not themselves advocate specific policy measures; that wasn’t its purpose.  That’s where Noel Pearson and the conservative thinktanks come in.  They have been advocating a very specific set of policy initiatives for at least 2 or 3 years now (much longer in Pearson’s case), an agenda that has now been decisively implemented by the Brough Intervention:

  • The Intervention measures involving tying parents’ welfare benefits to their children’s school attendance, and quarantining half of welfare benefits generally to be spent only on food and similar items, emanate directly from Noel Pearson’s initiatives on Cape York. 
  • The Intervention measures involving 5/99 year community area leases and abolition of entry permits fairly clearly have their genesis in the work of the Centre for Independent Studies’ Helen Hughes and Jenness Warin (see especially here and here) . 
  • The abolition of the CDEP work-for-the-dole scheme and substitution of “real jobs” emanates not only from Hughes and Warin but more particularly from the writings of former Institute of Public Affairs and Benelong Society advocate (and former Keating government minister) Gary Johns (see, for example, here). 

All of them advocate those measures as part of a broad scheme to reshape Aboriginal society in the direction of individual private ownership of the family home and the development of a productive, employment-generating enterprise culture in remote indigenous communities in place of what they see as the current left/liberal-inspired separatist, welfare-dependent “museum culture” of voluntary apartheid (Pearson doesn’t employ quite the same rhetoric). 

The latter elements (especially private home ownership) are not seen clearly in the Intervention measures themselves, but are certainly central elements of the 99 year lease scheme developed a little earlier (in 2005) and implemented collaboratively between then Minister Vanstone and the Martin Labor NT government.  I suspect that the inclusion of these social engineering measures in the Intervention derives at least in part from Brough’s frustration with the slow pace of take-up of 99 year lease offers by indigenous communities.  The mandatory universal 5 year lease/permit abolition aspects of the Intervention, by which I was so greatly disturbed in my own initial reaction to the Intervention, are probably best seen as Brough’s somewhat impatient, bullying attempt to ram through a partial pre-emptive version of his grand social engineering scheme in reaction to what he clearly saw as Martin government duplicity and sabotage (albeit that there was also no doubt an overlay of Howardian electorally-driven “wedging” opportunism in the inclusion of these measures). 

Brough seems to have concluded that the Martin government was only making a pretence of supporting the 99 year lease scheme, even though a NT government body was the proposed headlease holder with land then being leased back to local residents and others for privately owned homes and business ventures.  In fact, I understand that some elements of the 99 year lease scheme  were actually devised by former Martin government minister (and former Northern Land Council CEO) John Ah Kitt.  Both the Nguiu community on Bathurst Island and now Galarrwuy Yunupingu’s Ski Beach community in Arnhemland have in fact signed up for 99 year community lease deals, and I am told that communities on Elcho Island were also at an advanced stage of negotiation for a 99 year lease deal when the Intervention came over the top and brought discussions to a screaming halt.  

While 99 year lease deals have been making slow but steady progress, it is certainly true that Marion Scrymgour (the local member for the Tiwi Islands and now Deputy Chief Minister since Clare Martin’s recent retirement) has strongly backed dissident Tiwis who remain opposed to the Nguiu community 99 year lease deal (which also involves the “sweetener” of federal funding for a long-desired boarding school at Nguiu).  Various other Labor MLAs have also been less than supportive of the entire concept and hence Brough’s impatience.   The fact that the Martin government adopted such apparently contradictory stances towards his predecessor Amanda Vanstone’s initial attempt to broker a collaborative federal/state approach to indigenous policy reform is a key to understanding why he ultimately opted for the blitzkreig, bullying, “crash through or crash” hostile takeover approach which characterises the Intervention. 

In turn the Martin government’s confused and contradictory stance on the joint 99 year lease policy may well itself be a result of a long-developing division between Martin herself and several of the indigenous MLAs, with the latter becoming increasingly impatient with the conservative, slow pace of her government’s efforts to redress drastic indigenous disadvantage. This seething undercurrent of resentment resulted 18 months ago in indigenous MLA Matthew Bonson writing a memo to Clare Martin expressing dissatisfaction with progress and demanding that she divest herself of the indigenous affairs portfolio, and then leaking it to the media. 

Brough appears to have decided that attempting an exercise in co-operative federalism on indigenous affairs with such a disunited rabble was a waste of time.  As the urgency of the child sex abuse situation became increasingly apparent in the wake of Lateline revelations  by DPP Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers and others, Brough decided to use the release of the Little Children are Sacred report as the pretext for much more far-reaching social engineering reforms which he saw as having been frustrated by a divided, inept NT government.

Although the divisive, hyperbolic rhetoric of advocates like Hughes, Warin and Johns is distinctly unhelpful, I don’t have any fundamental disagreement with the nature of the reforms that they and Pearson advocate and that the Brough Intervention adopts.  In my view it is almost beyond argument that the old indigenous policy recipe of self-determining, passive welfare-dependent remote communities (the dot-painting economy) has failed dismally, and that “mutual obligation”, education, training, employment in productive enterprise and much stronger engagement with the mainstream economy must be critical parts of a viable solution.

Although there are numerous deficiencies in the detail of delivery of the Intervention programs to date (far too many to canvas even in a long blog post like this one), my major concern with the social engineering elements of the Intervention lies in the fact that little or no effort has been made to consult or obtain the informed consent or a sense of “ownership” of any of these measures on the part of local indigenous people.  As the Productivity Commission and Toni Bauman both repeatedly point out, in the absence of local community support and a real sense of ownership indigenous policies simply don’t work effectively.

The unnecessary resentment resulting from imposing measures like welfare quarantining and tying benefits to school attendance without consultation or seeking a negotiated and agreed outcome is illustrated by this reaction from Imampa elder Margaret Smith on ABC Radio National’s Law Report:

Damien Carrick: Do you think it’s a good idea that 50% of welfare payments go to essential items, like food?

Margaret Smith: It’s like controlling our wallets, you know. Like our pocket moneys. If they had talked to individual people, we could have sat down and arranged everything, but going ahead and doing all that rule there sent from Canberra, it’s not right you know, it’s not on.

Damien Carrick: Do you think it’s OK to maybe put aside the rights of people who are strong, so that the people who are weak will be helped?

Margaret Smith: I think it should have gone right across Australia, not just Northern Territory. Indigenous and white.

Moreover, it is fairly clear that broad indigenous community agreement and support for such measures could have been achieved if Brough had been prepared to be patient and engage in the sort of careful explanation and negotiation that Toni Bauman sees as critical to finding successful solutions.  Noel Pearson has been able to obtain the informed agreement of most Cape York communities to a scheme involving tying parents’ welfare entitlement to school attendance and quarantining welfare benefits for food (albeit in the context of a scheme also involving teaching household budgeting skills – which simply isn’t present in the Brough Intervention), and I also understand that the mooted Elcho Island 99 year lease deal involves a similar welfare quarantining aspect to Pearson’s Cape York scheme.

Only a minority of indigenous people are alcoholics or drug dependent.  Most don’t drink at all.  Most Aboriginal parents are responsible people who want a positive, prosperous future for their children but feel themselves helpless to achieve it in the face of muddling, ineffectual federal and NT bureaucracies and endemic alcohol-fuelled violence by a significant minority of community members.  While they want to preserve their culture and traditions, they also want their children to enjoy the prosperity of mainstream Australians.  That’s why many send their children away to boarding school in Darwin and elsewhere, and are frustrated when most return home almost as illiterate and innumerate as they left.   They will support and embrace measures like those in the Brough Intervention as long as they are accorded genuine respect and included in the decision-making process, rather than being treated as ignorant, passive recipients of yet another do-gooding scheme from the Great Benevolent Whitefella.  It is these qualities of respect and inclusion that have been conspicuously absent from the Brough Intervention to date.  Whether it is still possible for Jenny Macklin to “retrofit” those qualities and salvage a successful outcome remains to be seen.   And the extent to which Macklin will actually be minded to persevere with negotiating 99 year lease deals in the face of opposition from Territory Labor ministerial colleagues like Scrymgour, Bonson and others is also rather doubtful.    

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 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 the early 1990s.
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Stewart Henderson
13 years ago

An excellent analysis which gives a grounding for thinking about these matters. Brough’s insensitivity and steamrollering tactics were very evident to me, though i think he actually meant well. He tried to make the most, in his hamfisted way, of what I’m convinced was an election-driven, and Howard driven, intervention. After all, they ignored a decade of similar reports.
Decisive intervention is important and necessary, but Aboriginal ownership of that intervention is the key to success. Pearson’s approach has the greatest merit.

Michael
13 years ago

The lack of a negotiated and co-operative agreement on the intervention is it’s fatal flaw. Not only is it posible that many measures in the proposed intervention could be implemented willingly, some communities have actually requested suh measures. One example that sticks out is, ironically enough, Mutijulu, where much of the concern was sparked. Mutijulu elders had from the mid-1990’s requested a suite of measures that included features such as no sit-down money, welfare payments linked to school attendance, etc. The Federal Govt (Howard Govt) couldn’t come to grips with this, partly becuae of inter-departmental turf wars, and nothing much came of these community intiatives.

The lack of a long-term plan is also damning. The CHCs are almost universally recognized as an expensive and misguided policy that is mostly useless (except for the medical staff, who are earning much more than their NT counterparts). While they have been running for months, the how and when of the follow-up is still being debated.

It isn’t just that short-termism is a problem for the lack of clear thinking that it entails – it is also prone to coervice measures in an effort to produce quick results. Obviously there are sensible measures that can be taken quickly, and they should be. But such a desire inevitably leads to the tendency to want to take control, the quarrantining of everyone’s welfare payments being the prime case. A recent study from N. Qld points out the potential problem with this. It found that the old mission settlements (grant-in-deed), the most regulated, now have the highest rates of violence, suicide and child abuse. Imposing external control may reap some benefits, but they are likely to persist only while that control remains in place, leaving a negative long-term legacy. Will the NT interention, without significant amendment, score some short-term gains at the risk of long-term negative consequences?

Toni Bauman
Toni Bauman
13 years ago

Thank you for referring to my work in your policy discussion. However, in doing so you have made an error in identifying me as Indigenous.

For yours and your reader’s information

Toni Bauman.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

Ken

This is an emergency that has existed in acute form and been well known to anyone who cared to look for at least the last 20 years,

This of, of course, true. The problem was that over that past twenty years, the Keating Culture Warriors acted like the gestapo as gatekeepers to the threads of deabte surrounding aboriginal issues that could be aired. It was only News Ltd. and Quadrant that dared challenge the Cultural Warriors, with the ABC finally also revolting when Tony Jones provided a platform for Nannette Rogers.

Michael
13 years ago

JG,

Trying to view issue through the lens of the ‘culture wars’ isn’t all that helpful.

Ken is being pretty conservative when he says that these issues have been known “for at least 20 years”. It’s more like 50.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

Michael

I am afraid I disgree with you most robustly. The situation in aboriginal remote communities and the conspiracy of silence is perhaps the darkest legacy of the Cultural Warriors. It is your denial of this reality that is “most unhelpful.”

John Rawnsley
13 years ago

Ken,
you said that the welfare reforms of the intervention ’emanate directly from Noel Pearsons initiatives on Cape York’. Pearson’s initiatives, outlined here, involve local Elders and a respected person (like a previous magistrate) to re-direct welfare payments of individuals who are not acting responsibly. This is markedly different from quarantining every recipient’s welfare payment (however, after the intervention was announced Pearson’s position was in support of these welfare reform measures).

The two proposals lead to seperate paths.

They both rely on the importance of ensuring (as an additional measure) that there is no adverse physical outcome as a result of individuals not having access to money to purchase alcohol or drugs and not having access to alcohol or drugs.

Pearson’s proposal to a degree addresses the concern about ‘ownership’ raised in the post.

I note the point above from ‘The Law Report’. The people I’ve talked to who are personally affected by quarantining are dissapointed that it is applied to everyone, not just the ‘trouble-makers’, but they’re prepared to accept this point because they see the acute nature of dealing with the abuse resulting from alcohol and drugs. My guess is that the population is divided on this point.

Bill Posters
Bill Posters
13 years ago

Both the Nguiu community on Bathurst Island and now Galarrwuy Yunupingus Ski Beach community in Arnhemland have in fact signed up for 99 year community lease deals,

Ken fails to note that Yunupingus endorsement of the lease system is not endorsed by a lot of other communities, who’ve specifically said it doesn’t represent their position.

Fred Argy
Fred Argy
13 years ago

Thank you Ken for your analysis. While I am have no expertise, I believe the Howard Government’s INTENT was honourable and timely (I will give them the benefit of the doubt on the politics!). But in its implementation and what you call “theatrics”, the intervention seemed to have the unfortunate effect of demonising all aborigines and further hurting their sensitivities – all because of inadequate consultation and respect. This worries me more than cost-effectiveness. But surely it is not too late to bring the communities into the tent.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
13 years ago

Ken and all:
Interesting points. I myself will be interested to see how Rudd avoids United Nations intervention in Australia’s internal affairs after Howard’s incredibly naive ad-hocery in this issue..

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

United Nations intervention in

Um, quoi?

If I understand you correctly, Ken, a substantial investment in ‘consultation’, right now, should be Jenny Macklin’s first priority, and ignoring her colleagues in the NT and Cth governments should be her second.

On which basis we might have a shot at genuine progress because community frustration is so high that there is scope to get buy-in on some radical measures.

Unfortunately, I also understand from the above that what has been overlooked in Brough’s intervention is mainly the hard yards!

Which raises the depressing question as to whether Labor, and Jenny, has the necessary commitment and fortitude?

The only bright side in that is that if they get started now they can probably afford a couple years without ‘visible’ progress.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

Graham Bell

Rudd can quite easily deal with UN meddling by telling them to Get Stuffed!

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
13 years ago

John Greenfield [15]:
Yes. Rudd might get away with doing just that – phrased diplomatically, of course. Being a different Prime Minister might buy us all time on the international front but it won’t abolish the threat altogether; only a substantial and very obvious improvement in the actual standard of living for all Aborigines will do that.

Patrick, Ken and all:
Consultation – real consultation: listening to what the locals have to say without shoving words in their mouths – is definitely the way to defuse the situation. Wonder how long it will be before some pompous do-badder bureaucrat or expert stuffs it up for everybody again?

Michael
13 years ago

Graham,

It will be interesting. A decade of Coalition Govt has resulted in some serious structural problems in Indigenous affairs administration. Whether or not you liked ATSIC or thought it effective, it provided a well-known and clearly structured pathway for dialogue at the regional level. The step after abolition was supposed to be to construct a new mechansim for on-going consultation – but Howard et al stuffed it up, and 3 years later nothing is in place. Hence, we’ve had a ineffective and ad-hoc consultative processes. The Indigenous Co-ordination Centres were part of the proposed Howard Govt approach, but without the regional representative mechanisms, they’ve been isolated. This will take some time to rectify.

Consultation is needed, but most remote communities ae sick to death of consultation without consequences. Fortunately a Labor Govt has good-will in it’s favour and they may be granted some breathing space to get the current mess sorted.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
13 years ago

Thx for the post Ken.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

I thought the problem with ATSIC was primarily that it did nothing of the sort of consultation that you suggest, Michael, and secondarily that it was hopelessly corrupt.

Graham, we don’t need ‘time’ on the UN front. The human rights commission could pretty much get f** under Keating, could pretty much do the same under Howard and I’d be stunned if Rudd saw things any differently.

Michael
13 years ago

Patrick,

There were plenty of charges of corruption, yet the inquiry ordered by the Howard Govt didn’t really find it. Ineffective, poorly administered? Yeah, but how wonderfully successful have things been in time without it?? ATSIC was ineffective largely because of the massive underfunding of Indigenous affairs. Local people were pissed off with ATSIC because they were led to belive that ATSIC had all the money to do everything when it didn’t. ATSIC had a poisoned chalice – becoming primarily concerned with service delivery and funding programs was a huge mistake because this meant it was to carry the can for decades of govt failure. Abolishing it was a long-held goal on the conservative site of politics, but not without its risks – the Govt was begining to run out of others to blame for the situation, given that ‘it’s all the previous Govts fault’ line was starting to look a little worn.

Having abolished ATSIC, it’s clear that some kind of elected representative body will have to be resurrected.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

Margaret Smith: I think it should have gone right across Australia, not just Northern Territory. Indigenous and white.

its clear that some kind of elected representative body will have to be resurrected.

I really see these as mutually exclusive, although others may disagree, and also closely related to the recurrent theme of consultation, which is really just a means to enfranchisement of some sort. I agree with the first, at least as a matter of principle, but not the second.

In practice, though, I don’t think the first is necessary – the consultation we are all in favour of would have, I believe, vitiated such reactions.

I don’t see the second as any sort of substitute and I don’t see it as achieving the sort of enfranchisement Ken, and the rest of us, seem to think necessary. So I don’t see any value in it.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
13 years ago

Michael:
My impression of ATSIC was that it was, like the RSL [now called R&SL], a potentially useful and beneficial organization that was run by some poorly trained, sometimes incompetent and occasionally rather dodgy individuals with an outstandingly talented one appearing on the scene from time to time.

Like the RSL, ATSIC never did reach its full potential. However, I still think ATSIC should be revived but this time with all the awful lessons of the past learnt.

A new ATSIC should be properly resourced for travel so that members of the Commission [yes, Commission, and to hell with political-correctness] can move easily throughout this vast country. There should be an appropriate eight-week administration and governance training course for all Commissioners BEFORE they take up their duties. All 900-page procedure manuals in arcane convoluted Legalese should be dumped into landfill and replaced by 30-page handbooks in plain English. The major thrust of their initial work should be [i] the immediate improvement in the most basic standards of living for all Aborigines, no matter where they live – from long-grass to high-rise, [after all, they are our fellow citizens!], and [ii] consultations with each and every community – time spent listening and talking is not time wasted but it’s sure to save us all millions of wasted dollars.

So we would end up with a body of Blackfellas talking about what matters to their fellow Blackfellas, what the hell would be so wrong with that!!!!

Patrick:
Just as Howard’s “Intervention” looked remarkably like little more than a move to re-steal Aboriginal land, so moves for an international intervention in Australia’s internal affairs would be aimed at potential mineral and agricultural wealth that could come leaping our of that same Aboriginal land. Surely you don’t believe that international solidarity, brotherly love, social justice, human rights, poverty alleviation and a dislike of neo-colonialism would have a damned thing to do with it, do you?

Never mind the high-sounding words of statements and resolutions, where serious money can be made, you don’t think anyone – in Australian or overseas boardrooms – really does give a damn about the well-being any inconvenient natives squatting on top of valuable assets, do you?

David Coles
David Coles
13 years ago

They will support and embrace measures like those in the Brough Intervention as long as they are accorded genuine respect and included in the decision-making process, rather than being treated as ignorant, passive recipients of yet another do-gooding scheme from the Great Benevolent Whitefella.

I believe that you are absolutely right Ken. There have been many proposals from Aboriginal communities over the years seeking actions that are similar, and at times a great deal more harsh, than those put in place under the Intervention. The missing ingredients in the Intervention are the lack of respect and a lack of understanding that all Aboriginal people are not the same. The woman you quote, Margaret Smith from Imanpa, is an excellent example of that difference.

The land and leasing issue is a difficult one. I don’t think that 99 year leases will get up in very many places. The period is simply too long for people who believe that their land is under threat. At the same time there is a desire in a lot of places for development and the only thing that many have to trade with is access to their land. Many will continue to consider leases that are more specific and shorter. In all of this discussion we need to keep in mind that this is not public land that is under discussion. It is land held under freehold title albeit with a lot of restrictions imposed. The owners, or their agents, have the power to make decisions about in the same way as anyone else.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

Graham, back to earth, mate.

Michael
13 years ago

Patrick,

The experience of the last few years strongly suggests that some kind of formal body is required to avoid the rampant ad-hocism of the last few years.

I’m not saying that ATSIC itself should be resurrected. It always suffered from being a creation of government. Perhaps a new organisation like the NAA might eventually develop into such a thing, with that the advantage that it is an Indigenous initiative.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
13 years ago

Patrick [22]:
It’s on earth that the money is made. Cynical about the motives driving various international interventions, aid programs , joint ventures and the like? You bet …. and count your change too. :-) L-O-L

David Coles [on 21]:
Good one.

Wonder why there has been next to nothing said about the legal implication for the property ownership-&-enjoyment rights of all of us as a result of the Intervention? And then there’s the problem of the ancient concept of Trespass too – the Intervention really has opened a can of legal worms. Still, it should keep a few generations of lawyers in work.

Michael [23]:
One People of Australia League [OPAL] perhaps?

David Coles
David Coles
13 years ago

Michael [23] Some kind of national representative body with legitimacy would be useful for Aboriginal people in dealing with governments. The ATSIC model didn’t work for a number of reasons. One was that it was expected by both the government and Aboriginal people to be responsible for everything.

Creating a body with no money to give away and no programs might work but, unfortunately, people are quick to dismiss bodies with no money.

The central and most critical criterion, as I see it, is that the body should be one created by Aboriginal people and definitely not governments.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

Margaret Smith

There are already enough elected representative bodies. They are known as the parliaments of the states, territories, and commonwealth.

I hope this helps.

Michael
13 years ago

David,

I agree that Indigenous control is the key. ATSIC was a case of live by the sword, die by the sword.

Another issue is the need to remove the Indigenous affairs, at least partly, from the whims and vicissitudes of the Govt of the day. The term of the last Federal Govt being the example that makes the argument. A constitutional or treaty-based arrangment seems to be the way to go, though this is a fairly contentious issue, at least in the detail.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

at least in the detail.

Ah, you don’t say. It is a little contentious in principle, as well! I am not sure that there is any reason for removing indigenous people from

the whims and vicissitudes of the Govt of the day

Why can’t I also be protected from those whims?

David Coles
David Coles
13 years ago

John, I am suggesting a body that can represent Aboriginal people that is established, or not established, by Aboriginal people. It would be useful, I believe, for Aboriginal people and to governments if there were a body that can deal with governments on behalf of Aboriginal people.

Doctors have a couple, Farmers have a few, workers have unions. Aboriginal people have had these organisations in the past. Time to create one now if they can and if they want to.

This would not be a parliament.

A treaty would be very useful in achieving a number of purposes for both the country and Aboriginal people but it will be a long time before most will be convinced. First, we will need to accept that they were here first and that the place was taken from them. I am not convinced that we have done that yet.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

David Coles

This whole obsession white bourgeois people have with “aboriginal people” and “self determination” is a naive denial of the fact that there is no longer any such group as an “aboriginal people” that could cohere around a central representative body. Like it or not, the “assimilation” process has long gone past the point of no return.

kyangadac
13 years ago

Couple of suggestions

1) Support grandmothers (aunties) – these are the backbone of most indigenous communities. These are the people who can(and do) intervene and protect children from being abused. Support them through sympathetic welfare reforms – not taking away money from these responsible people and through employing and training them.
2) Food for money – leads to corruption at outback stores and as is already evident ties up families and communities in bureaucratic red tape. Reform the food supply system that’s where the problem is – what’s the point of enabling people to spend their welfare cheque on chips and coke?
3)Provide decent accountancy services to community organisations – centralize wage payment systems to increase efficiency.
4)Fund and train and supervise administrators for local representative bodies. Ensure local representative bodies have free and fair elections. Fund and insist upon training in conflict resolution/group dynamics for local representative bodies.
5)Whats the bet that all(95%) of the housing to be built by the Brough splurge will be wrecked within 5 years? Going on past experience – nothing surer. Complete fiasco! waste of money! Should be stopped immediately! Establish housing co-operatives under administrative conditions outlined above (NB these are required by current mainstream housing co-ops) insist upon best practice design and sustainable maintenance mechanisms.
6) Teach Aboriginal language and culture in every high school in the country. The day to day racism born of ignorance is the single greatest impediment for advancing Aboriginal standard of living.

JJihn Greenfield
JJihn Greenfield
13 years ago

kyandagac

There is a much stronger case for the compulsory teaching of Greek and Latin in Australian high schools over the long gone kumbaya Dreamtime stuff. Also, most Australian kids would benefit immensely from a proper English education before they go start in on foreign/dead languages/culture.

JJihn Greenfield
JJihn Greenfield
13 years ago

David Coles said:

John, I am suggesting a body that can represent Aboriginal people that is established, or not established, by Aboriginal people.

Who are these aboriginals? The blackest human beings on the planet, from the Top End, like Djakapurra Munyarryun who opened the 2000 Olympics? The blue-eyed lily-white suburban Sydney girl in my history class a few years ago, who spoke eloquent bogan, but no abotiginal language, and would have trouble spelling initiation led alone be proud she had been through it. The young woman with an aboriginal grandmother and three other Anglo-Celt grandparents who born and raised in middle-class Sydney, educated at selective school and old elite universities, who caanot live without her Manolo Blahnicks, yet still insists she is an XYX woman? The Sydney born-and-raised uni student, part-timemodel and barman studying Commerce at a Sydney uni? The kids I grew up with Mt.Druitt who knew not a word of their ancestral languages nor had not been initiated, but were totally into Sherbet?

Doctors have a couple, Farmers have a few, workers have unions.

You are conflating issues of economic class and race. Doctors, farmers, and construction workers get together to share data, use their muscle in financial negotiations, to further their economic interests. Yes, may of them are aborigines. But they do this vis a vis the nature of their work. If the farmer becomes an accountant, the construction-worker, a trolley-dolly, their association with the previous unions ends. Sharing a race, now matter how remotely – which is clearly the state of play in 2007 – offers only tenuous connection for independent political organisation. As I said, no cohesive interests suggest themselves.

Aboriginal people have had these organisations in the past. Time to create one now if they can and if they want to.

Yes they have. But there is nothing I have read so far to suggest it is time to create one now. You are of course correct to note if they want to. Others here have criticised such bodies being formed by governments. I also applaud any spontaneous organisations of people who decide they have this or that common interests and/or goals. But surely it is for them to decide that now is the time to create on? Not whitey Luvvies.

David Coles
David Coles
13 years ago

John Greenfield – So we agree – more or less although I have to say that I don’t really care who calls themselves Aboriginal and who doesn’t. The more important issue is that many of those who are clearly Aboriginal in my part of the world have a lot of trouble and could probably use a hand.

Kyandagac – Your point on housing is out of date I believe. In the mid 90’s houses in the NT were indeed being lost after 5 years or so of use. Standards that were introduced for housing in 1996 along with the allocation – for the first time – of considerable funds to housing maintenance have addressed that situation. The situation is by no means perfect but a house built now in a remote NT community has every chance of a relatively long ‘life’. Unfortunately, housing associations along the model used elsewhere have generally not worked well and different approaches are now being tried.

One of the issues relating to housing – and only one – goes to the point that Ken is making about real engagement with the recipients of services about the nature of those services and their delivery. Housing in the so-called ‘major’ communities – the old settlements and missions – tends to be knocked about much more than that built on the land of the people living in it. Ownership, in all senses of the word, is a critical ingredient in ensuring that appropriate housing is delivered and maintained, as it is with other programs.

kyangadac
13 years ago

David Cole – fair enough – haven’t been in NT since before 1990 – although situation in WA especially in relation to housing is caught up in the politics of Homeswest and a variety of Housing Associations and maintenance and ownership are still an issue here. the biggest problem with coops is that of these being ‘taken over’ by individual extended families ( a problem with Housing in particular because the tenancy/ownership is relatively unchanging). I’ve seen various attempts to deal with the ‘family’ issue in a variety of contexts – which is why I was suggesting attention being paid to process issues such as conflict resolution and transparency. Whilst I agree with you about ownership, I think the issue is about facilitating ownership – 99 year leases (or any other form of ownership) do not solve immediate needs nor do they provide deposits and permanent employment to enable someone to get as loan to pay off a house.

David Coles
David Coles
13 years ago

Kyangadac – The family fiefdoms issue is a major problem for the housing associations – and with most other organisations in remote communities. I am not convinced, though, that greater attention to transparency and conflict resolution will achieve the necessary purpose.

I am also not convinced that 99 year leases are appropriate, particularly if taken by a government entity. I would prefer to see a system where the traditional ownership group – appropriately incorporated – for a community receives a head lease over the area with the capacity to issue sub leases to residents to try to give all residents a clear legal right to live in the place and to provide the TOs with some amount of compensation for having others living on their land. The length of leases would be negotiated in the normal way. This way we could possibly see a system where the requirements of the mainstream law and traditional law are both satisfied.

I can appreciate that this system might be difficult to organise in the early stages but it would provide the basis for a housing and infrastructure management system that starts to break down the attitude that that houses are provided by the government without any necessary contribution by the residents and without regard for the proprieties of land ownership.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

David Coles

I am not sure we agree on much at all. Yes, I agree there are many “obviously” aboriginal people who have a lot of trouble and could probably use a hand.. Come visit my neck of the woods; there’s more folks in trouble than you could poke a stick. All sorts. Serbs, aborigines, Islanders, Chinamen, Irish, Anglo, and all sorts of moggies.

None of this supports your ideas about a National body of Aboriginals to address these issues. The issues you raise are common garden variety CLASS issues. The main problem faced by the folks in your area and mine is UNEMPLOYMENT. To the extent this unemployment is caused by mental illness, alcoholism, drug-addiction, etc. that is a social welfare/health issue that does not require national racially based political organisations. If the mental health issues are manaageable, there is nothing like a steady job to fix most of these problems, and no need for racially-based political instititutions to achieve it.

I have to fly for now, but I am very disturbed by your Noble Savagesque attitude to property ownership.

would prefer to see a system where the traditional ownership group.

I am not aware of any society on earth where such pre-modern collectivism works. The solution you are suggesting is merely yet another invitation to corruption, free-riding, indeed “the tragedy of the commons.”

This corroborree-dreaming kumbaya approach has been tried and well and truly failed. It is time to give all Australians, including aborigines, the same opportunities that property rights open up for the rest of us.

Time to let the paternalism go.

David Coles
David Coles
13 years ago

It is time to give all Australians, including aborigines, the same opportunities that property rights open up for the rest of us.

Precisely!

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
13 years ago

David Coles

So you support abandoning the corrupt Land Councils, allowing individual aborigines to buy and sell the property, and abandon your dreams of political separatism?

David Coles
David Coles
13 years ago

I have dealt with Land Councils for over 20 years. Haven’t found them more or less corrupt than any other organisation. I am not convinced though that the role they carry is still as necessary as perhaps it once was. There is a long way to go before individuals will be in a position, on ALRA land, to buy and sell land, if ever. The title issues where there is an ownership system in place overlaid by a freehold system will be difficult.

There is, however, no question that, where title – both Aboriginal and freehold – is clear then the use and disposal of the land should be at the decision of the owner.

Never have been a believer in political separatism – just take a view that we need to get outcomes rather than state positions.