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The Forum > Article Comments > Needs must when the devil drives > Comments

Needs must when the devil drives : Comments

By John Tomlinson, published 18/1/2011

The Northern Territory intervention was long in the planning and came at an opportunistic time for neo-liberal bureaucrats.

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Mr Tomlinson rightly asks:

"How was it, then, that the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments, with billion-dollar budgets devoted to indigenous programs, had been unable to lift a group of people [in remote communities] the size of an MCG football crowd out of the morass of poverty, addiction, disease and social dysfunction?"

A most appropriate question.

Meanwhile, in the urban areas, particularly in the south and east, more than twenty six thousand I(ndigenous people have graduated from universities - almost all since 1980 - and record numbers are enrolled. How many of those Indigenous people are from remote communities ? How many people in remote communities have seized, or have been able to seize, the opportunities that are already available, opportunities which urban and southern people have been seizing for decades ?

Yes, it's a good question: why is it that people in 'settled' areas of Australia, who have copped far more racism, colonialism etc., than anybody in remote communities, have risen up and prevailed over their history ?

How is it that, with a quarter of all NT Indigenous adults perennially enrolled in TAFE courses, there are almost no skilled people whatsoever in remote communities ?

How is it that people in urban areas have far better health and employment rates than people in remote communities ?

How is it that people, on their own land, funded by royalties from mining on their own land (was this almost the sole reason why we worked for land rights in the 1970s and 1980s ? Just so that people could pimp their land ?) can't generate a single decent enterprise to provide self-sufficiency in any meaningful sense ?

How is it that people in remote communities, at least in communities which have ample water, haven't had the gumption to lease out patches of land for a group of their own people to set up vegetable gardens and orchards and chook yards, to provide fresh food for their own people at city prices ?

Good questions, Mr Tomlinson: thank you for the opportunity to ask them. Perhaps you have the answers ?
Posted by Loudmouth, Tuesday, 18 January 2011 9:57:08 AM
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I think you've hit the nail on the head loudmouth, this isn't a race issue, it has become a location issue. I would suggest that if anyone currently living in australia relocated to these areas lacking resources and jobs, and living off welfare, that in several generations they would be faring as bad as aborigines in remote locations. When I was a child, my family had to move many times due to lack of work where we were living. This is life. Adapt or perish.

I'm assuming that the authors many quotes (and credit for providing references) are similar to his own opinions. Such as "as time passes it becomes clear that the intervention was an exercise in social engineering to destroy Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal attachment to their traditional lands and to force Aboriginal people into suburban agglomerations and adopt a white life style "

This brings me back to adapt or perish. Do you really think that the aboriginal way of life or culture has remained static for thousands of years? Or did it adapt with environmental changes etc? If the former, then I would say their way of life is doomed, as one who cannot adapt will fail. Their culture must adapt, even if this means adopting some of the advantages aspects of the 'evil white culture' you seem to despise. History is full of different cultures clashing and competing and the ones that survive are the ones which are open to change.

My second point is that in my opinion it is inaccurate to talk of a 'white lifestyle', or even 'white' anything when talking about Australian cities. Looking around where I live in Melbourne I would have to say that 'white' (i.e. caucasian) people are only a part of a greater multicultural population. If you wish to blame others for aboriginals plight you would now have to blame all 'non-indigenous'. Unless you have another barrow to push that is.
Posted by Stezza, Tuesday, 18 January 2011 11:10:29 AM
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You're right, Stezza, it's a matter of location rather than race or culture.

In fact, I thought that Mr Tomlinson was being a bit provocative by writing of people having to "adopt a white life style". Having to ? You mean the Toyotas, the money, clothes, grog, shops, 24-hour TV, publicly-funded houses on privately-owned land, the full range of welfare benefits, plus the full range of remote-area benefits, plus royalties ? What aspect of the white life-style, if you want to call it that, do people in remote areas NOT want to adopt ?

Answer: the work which most people have to do to get those things. If people don't have to look for work, precisely because they are in locations where there is guaranteed to be none, then how can we talk of equal rights ? 'Equal rights' implies, surely, the right and the obligation to work and support oneself, if at all possible. And surely this means the obligation to either exist independently of the welfare system, or to seek and find work where it may be, and therefore to gain the necessary skills for employment. Surely welfare payments are a temporary last resort ?

What on earth good is it doing to people for Centrelink not to require them to work, and therefore to train for work, like other human beings ? Are they somehow above all that, entitled to all the benefits but not liable for any of the responsibilities ? Are we suppose do be still upholding some sort of feudal system ?

Is this what so many of us put decades of effort and good intentions into ? Are the rest of society mugs for working for a living, working to pay taxes ?

Never again.

Meanwhile, in the towns and cities, to which Indigenous people are moving at 1 % p.a., people have better health, housing, employment and educational prospects. Aren't they far more likely to be genuinely self-determining, by individual and family, than the ghastly fraud in remote communities?

Indigenous dynamism is in the urban areas, not in remote communities.

Joe Lane
Posted by Loudmouth, Tuesday, 18 January 2011 1:38:32 PM
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I probably would be in agreement with the authors of the comments to Mr.Tomlinson's post had I been born in this land or had I been fed with the values prevailing in the Australia of early settlers. But I arrived here, in Melbourne, from Europe just after WW2.

However the euphoria of finding myself in a beautifully spacious city (as it was) come to an end when I observed the abject state of the few aborigine left in that city.

Since I searched for the causes of their misery and for fifty five years I have not been able to comprehend how those kind, polite, gentle European people around me had let those unfortunate falls so low.

Now I am dying with a deep regret for not having been able to help much in restituting to their children a bit of that dignity and pride they must have had when they were in charge of their unfenced land.
Posted by skeptic, Tuesday, 18 January 2011 9:47:42 PM
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Hi Skeptic,

One in every nine Indigenous adults is a university graduate, almost all since 1980. While the rate of home-ownership is half of the Australian average, this also has been achieved substantially since 1980. More than 70 % of all Indigenous people live in urban areas, and are employed there. In fact, on almost every index, Indigenous people in urban areas are better off, usually far better off, than Indigenous people in remote areas. Except of course for royalties.

From an Indigenous point of view, all of Australia is Indigenous, not just the remote bits of desert and swamp. All of it, including the areas around cities. People with traditional links to urban areas have little difficulty perceiving themselves as having a right to live and work in urban areas.

In remote communities, there is little meaningful work for people, and in any case people have lost many work-skills that they might have had. With no need to look for work, there is little need for education, so lo and behold, the kids often don't get any schooling beyond Grade I. But the people there receive welfare payments (subject to quarantining) like any other Australians, remote-area allowances like any other Australians, and mining royalties.

Most of these payments are not available to Indigenous people in southern urban areas, yet they are the ones who finish secondary school, who go on to university, who seek out employment, and who strive to buy their own homes.

In the urban areas, people have got on with the business of living, while in the remote communities, it seems as if people have entered into a devil's bargain, and traded human opportunities for utter dependence and financial security, but with all manner of dreadful social consequences. In that sense, they have taken themselves out of the 'game', the 'game' that they live off.

Joe Lane
Posted by Loudmouth, Tuesday, 18 January 2011 10:09:41 PM
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The responses to John Tomlinson's article are pretty much what I would expect from people who still have that underlying prejudice against the Government expenditure on Aboriginals.
Since the sixties and early seventies, when a form of political correctness developed in Australia that insisted that all people of Aboriginal descent be referred to as 'Indigenous' and descriptive terms such as Half caste, part coloured, quadroon and octoroon no longer be used,residents of remote communities, mostly traditional people still practicing their cultural rituals and speaking english as a second language are deemed to be at the same level of development as urban 'Indigenes'
Successive Governments of both political parties have continued to employ policies that continue to fail.
The Intervention is just the latest ill conceived policy that continues to deny that although the people concerned are mature adults, they must be treated as children who should not participate in the decision making process that affects their lives.

The Rights of these people have been usurped by Government.
They are forced to accept the ill conceived policies without redress or access to appeal.

Meanwhile, the benefits of advancement are enjoyed by detribalised 'Indigenes'.
People of remote southern communities do not refer to themselves as indigenes or Yolngu but by their clan names or "Aboriginal'.

They will continue to suffer the consequences of the Intervention whilst ever the decisions affecting their lives are endorsed by the "Indigenous Bourgeoise"; that new class of people with Aboriginal Heritage who are reaping the benefits and advising Government Ministers.

Instead of fly in- fly out visits ,Governments should spend more time in consultation, listening to the people whose lives are being affected.

A well considered article John right on the money.
Posted by maracas1, Wednesday, 19 January 2011 12:30:50 PM
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