On keeping an open mind on Indigenous Australia policy

06 Mar

I think it is very important not to rule certain things in or out on purely ideological grounds, a position that you will have noticed I have been developing here over the past year — especially since the Northern Territory Intervention. I do believe that Intervention was tainted by the previous government’s excessive reactivity to so-called political correctness, and also by excessive paternalism and unwillingness really to consult. Nonetheless, the Howard government was, after shameful neglect for a decade, confronting some real issues and not everything they did in response was bad.

That is what the Rudd government has clearly been considering, not pleasing everyone in so doing. On Australia Talks (ABC Radio National) last Monday was a very interesting discussion of some of these matters. At the moment you may also listen to the program or download it as a podcast.

What do you remember from Kevin Rudd’s historic apology to the Stolen Generations? He told us he wanted to ‘right a great wrong’, but beyond the importance of the symbolism, what do Indigenous Australians want from the new government? The apology was followed by a commitment to end political differences. The new bipartisanship cemented in the Joint Policy Commission headed by Kevin Rudd and Opposition leader Brendan Nelson. Last week, the government announced it would impose conditions on the payment of welfare benefits for many communities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. There was also a promise of $1.6 billion over four years for housing in remote areas, and schemes to encourage Indigenous people to own these homes.

At the same time, the federal government says it will continue to support the Northern Territory intervention, and has promised a review in June. You’ll remember former prime minister John Howard sent the troops into the Territory last year following the Little Children are Sacred report. In this program a look at policy directions and ideology with two leading academics and writers.


Marcia Langton
Chair, Australian Indigenous Studies, Melbourne University

Anna Haebich
Director, Centre for Public Culture and Ideas, Griffith University

Alex Brown
Doctor, Baker Heart Research Institute

Great stuff.

That day there had been some very good news:

Utopia finds key to Indigenous health

A new study has found that community-controlled health care has led to lower than usual mortality rates in the Utopia area in central Australia.

The 10-year health study of the region has been published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.

It looks at why the rate of hospitalisation and cardiovascular disease is lower in Utopia than other Northern Territory communities.

Professor Ian Anderson from the University of Melbourne says the results strongly suggest that self-determination leads to improved health conditions.

“The fact that the community is decentralised, they’ve got good primary health care services,” he said.

“They are able to have a good diet, they can hunt and they’re getting good physical activity and they can have a degree of control over their affairs, so this is I guess really a good news story about things that can be different within communities.”

Colleague Dr Kevin Rowley agrees.

“Control over your life circumstance is good,” he said. “The process of working with communities and identifying their aspirations and the way to achieve that is the key.”

Professor Langton pointed out during Australia Talks that this particular community was very remote, that is far from either excess tourism or access to alcohol, had a strong traditional culture still in place, a viable economic life based on art, in contrast to some other communities where these conditions have not applied. Nonetheless, it should be noted these outcomes are not the result of the Intervention or of paternalism, and there may well be lessons in that.

Go to Living Black for more interesting stories and discussions about the Intervention.

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Posted by on March 6, 2008 in Australia and Australian, current affairs, generational change, Indigenous Australians, Kevin Rudd, Reconciliation


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