It won’t get published because it’s too long, but worth saying just the same:
Peter Murphy’s always entertaining pro-CLP spin doctoring column sometimes obscures issues that really warrant more serious reflection.
This week’s column (12 September) blaming Warren Snowdon and Jenny Macklin for all the accumulated ills of Aboriginal affairs is a case in point. Murphy not only ignores the fact that the Howard government was in charge of the area until 3 short years ago, but also that Labor has largely continued the Howard government’s NT Intervention policies. In fact many commentators assess that Labor’s embrace of the Intervention is a major reason why Snowdon experienced such large voting swings against him in remote communities.
However, should those electoral reverses now lead to a wholesale expedient abandonment of Intervention initiatives? My own view is that they shouldn’t. The Intervention was like the curate’s egg; good in parts. More police and medical services and much greater (if botched) spending on housing were undeniable positives, as was the crackdown on alcohol, drugs and porn.
Income management is more problematic. It would have a valuable role to play if applied only to welfare recipients persistently acting irresponsibly, but not when arbitrarily and indiscriminately imposed on everyone.
More generally, many Intervention initiatives have been imposed on communities with little or no involvement of Aboriginal people themselves. Long experience, not to mention unchallenged research by the Productivity Commission, shows that the only initiatives that work in remote communities are ones created by “partnerships” where communities have a genuine sense of “ownership” of the program or enterprise.
Community ownership needs to be matched by full accountability for the way programs are actually run , but without genuine partnership and mutual respect nothing sustainable is ever achieved. Those lessons appear to have been forgotten in the panic to be seen to be doing something to attack child sexual abuse and endemic Indigenous disadvantage.
If Murphy was delivering a real evaluation rather than a partisan puff piece he would acknowledge that none of these problems are susceptible to a quick fix and neither political party has yet found a magical solution.