Tim Blair


New Criterion



Tuesday, December 14, 2004
We are, as the pretentious like to say, on the cusp of change. The world is moving under us and we progressives must promote the politics of compassion against those who promote sheer, bloody-minded reaction to the seismic tide of history.

Remember the names Mulan and Mundine. They will stand for the coming era of Aboriginal policy as Wattie Creek and Lingiari did for the last.

Mulan is a largely Aboriginal, remote community that could stand for more than 90% of the similar communities in which most of Australia's Top End Aboriginal people live. It makes the adjective "marginalised" seem the cruellest of euphemisms. Universal unemployment and welfare dependency, drug abuse, child and wife abuse, poor health and education that compare unfavourably with most of the Third World, kids going blind a deaf through preventable infections and blowing their brains out with petrol fumes; short and brutal lives that create only more of the same. Who could defend the policies that sustain these horrors?

The Howard government is proposing for Mulan a policy of reciprocal obligation.
The federal government has proposed linking Aboriginal welfare payments to behavioural contracts, such as keeping children clean and at school.

It means, in effect, a return to a policy of cultural assimilation, focussed on those aspects of culture that are central to the capacity of remote Aboriginal communities to give their people choices; health and education. It is a policy that is, in its essence, more than a century old.

The leaders of the Mulan community have accepted the deal without rancour.
Mulan's Aboriginal Corporation administrator, Mark Sewell, said elders supported the agreement because they believed it would improve children's health and education at the same time as strengthening the Mulan economy. Mr Sewell said fuel bowsers would attract tourists and provide extra income to the 150-member community.

"It's a big responsibility, but it's a shared responsibility and we probably need that to make the changes," he said. "If it was too easy, there'd be no change."
Latham Labor's spokesman, Kim Il Carr, called the move "patronising and coercive".

Meanwhile, Labor Party President-Elect, Warren Mundine, has called Native Title for the expensive failure it has been for most Aboriginal communities. We can forgive him for neglecting the cost incurred by the rest of the community through economic development forgone, but the Labor Party will concede Mundine nothing but a speedy trial for heresy.

Latham Labor, through its spokesman Carr, is standing firm in the old paradigm, promoting grievance, separation and conflict:
Senator Carr laid out early directions in the portfolio to caucus members yesterday morning, reaffirming Labor's commitment to reconciliation, an apology, native title and the need to replace ATSIC with an elected representative body.

Senator Carr said while Labor recognised the need for reciprocal obligations, he did not want to be bogged down in a debate about rights and responsibilities.
Labor prefers the tried and true way of being bogged down.

On this afternoon's PM programme, a Labor official reminded Mundine that he had signed a pledge to support Party policy, whatever the costs, as Mundine sees them, to Aboriginal lives and interests.

You can be sure the Party offical concerned is a loyal member of one of Labor's factions, and therefore puts loyalty to that tribe ahead of the interests of the federation of factions that is the Australian Labor Party.

Those leaders holding munificent office in the Aboriginal grievance industry swing out the usual terms of abuse: paternalism, racism, fascism, cultural insensitivity. The shrewder players, like the Dodson brothers, manoeuvre themselves to wield influence under the new paradigm while protesting loyalty to the old.

HREOC, our highly-paid citadel of human rights reactionaries, is opposed to change, of course, since thriving populations generate little work for rights activists, officials and lawyers. It seeks to bury the proposals under thousands of words of hostile drivel, of which this is just a sample:
We should not rush to a wholesale acceptance of a mutual obligation policy approach on the basis of a superficial attractiveness and apparent consistency with Indigenous cultural values or for reasons of political expediency. Consideration must be given to whether such an approach actually empowers Indigenous people and communities to take control of their lives and be self-determining. On this basis, we must question the ease with which an emphasis on ‘welfare dependency’ and ‘self reliance’ has distracted attention from the broader spectrum of issues related to the economic marginalisation faced by Indigenous people.
Who cares that black lives are at stake, when white careers are threatened?

Take your old Uncle's word for it. The Gondwanaland of Aboriginal policy is breaking up, and Latham Labor and its allies are on the bit that will soon be as politically remote and frigid as Antarctica.

None of this would have been possible without Latham Labor, but they don't deserve any praise for it.