More talk, no action in indigenous affairs

Andrew Laming Online Opinion Thursday, 30 June 2011

The world doesn't need another Opposition Indigenous spokesperson bagging out the Government of the day about Aboriginal health. But Jenny Macklin celebrating yet another round of consultation plumbs new lows in Labor's anthropological approach to central Australia; watching, measuring and talking about the gap. So it has to be said.

Jenny has released so many reports on Indigenous affairs now she doesn't know if she is Arthur or Martha. A visit to her website shows an entire page of links under her watch; links to reports done by wildly committed but now mostly forgotten authors, all noting the lack of data or that things are much the same as the last report.

Last week, they ran out of new titles for new reports. Last Friday's Stronger Futures in the NT had a familiar ring to it. Two years, a month and a day prior, Jenny released virtually the same thing in Future Directions for the NT Emergency Response. Both committed to exactly the same thing; more listening. Like the apology for the past, Labor loves documents titled 'Future' because the present is fast becoming an era of indecision, weakness and waste.

Then like now, Jenny used the same headshot photo. Only the adjectives have changed. Back then Aboriginal people were feeling 'hurt betrayed and less worthy' than other Australians. In 2011, it has been dutifully updated to 'anger fear and distrust.' Interesting that adjectives change at all, because Labor hasn't done much except watch the Intervention like a soufflé through the oven window.

In 2009 Jenny was 'consulting throughout the NT, wanting to hear the views of those affected by the measures.' After two years of spectating she is now 'talking with Aboriginal people… so we can build stronger futures together.'

Reading much further and most would reach for the Maxolon®, so lets try to define what a stronger future really looks like under Labor. In housing, only around half of the $1.8billion can be accounted for in dwellings. The rest appears to have been skimmed by spivs, charging up to ten times the value of the refubishments performed. It now emerges that it cost $1.7million dollars for every single Aboriginal job created; even if most just swept slabs, carried materials and kept out of the way.

True, school attendance bounced up from 40% to 60% when the Coalition implemented the Intervention. But under Jenny it has flat-lined at 60% ever since. Labor haven't the wit to apply existing laws on school attendance or to financially compel dead-beat parents to drop their kids off. Isnt that part of getting a parenting payment? Pearson achieves over 80% attendance using Jenny's funding, but she hasn't found a way to implement his ideas because her mates privately hate Noel.

Hyperendemic unemployment was once due to lack of jobs. But now that there are more unskilled mining jobs than there are working-age remote Aboriginals, that's no longer an excuse. Truth is Labor took an axe to mutual obligation in 2008. Their new 'hardship clause' exempts anyone with less than $5000 of liquidity from being breached. The entire cohort of Aboriginal youth can now refuse interviews, training or job offers with impunity.

The unavoidable price of sparing communities was alcohol-seeking migration to regional towns. Alcohol damage so often correlates with unemployment. Australia is relatively unique in its creation of a welfare world were boredom and alcohol tear communities to pieces. Only when we get kids to school and transition communities back into work, will alcohol again be safe in these communities.

Taken together, Labor's fixation with rights (despite all the lovely talk about 'stepping up' and 'getting tough') prevents it enforcing laws which apply to everyone else. They perpetuate the double standard which Pearson is trying to remove; the fact that if you are Aboriginal, you are exempted from rules like sending kids to school, taking up a suitable job or training, paying market rent, repairing wilful damage, or alcohol laws. That runs contrary to most of human civilisation where subtle elements of compulsion play a limited but important role.

Of course some interventions are unpopular, none more so than the ones which work. Labor credibility is stretched to the limit in Central Australia. Before election 2007 they snuck around communities talking about how they would axe the ghastly intervention while to the rest of us they talked tough to be like John Howard.

Upon election, Kevin Rudd fell over himself to apologise for the actions of his predecessors. But truth is his legacy is just as appalling, worse when the wasted goodwill and dollars are factored in. I have little doubt someone in the future will have to apologise again to Aboriginal Australia for the inaction and report writing of the last five years. All kids must go to school, welfare must be conditional upon accepting suitable work, grog consumption has its limits and kids must be protected. All we need is a Government prepared to enforce the rules that exist in the rest of the country.