EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Will money solve the problems of indigenous Australians?
, June 7, 2008
Much more needs to be done to protect Aboriginal women and children from abuse and violence sanctioned by tribal traditions.One of the key elements of Mr Rudd's social justice program is to address the problems of Aboriginal Australians who, in many cases, live in distressing conditions of housing, health and education which are more commonly seen in the Third World.
His solution basically has two parts: on February 13 he made a "national apology" to Aboriginal Australians, and in the May Budget, greatly increased the already substantial amount spent on Aboriginal Australians.
The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, announced on May 13: "The Australian Government has set ambitious targets for closing the gap on indigenous disadvantage with respect to life expectancy, child mortality, access to early childhood education, educational attainment and employment outcomes."
According to Ms Macklin, over the next five years the Federal Government will spend an additional $1 billion to address the acute problems which have made Aboriginal health and living standards lower than they were 30 years ago.
However, we have been down this road before. During the Whitlam era, over 30 years ago, the Federal Government not only drafted the first land rights bill, but in the 1974-5 budget, more than doubled federal expenditure in a single year. The Fraser Government, elected in 1975, continued these policies under ministers Ian Viner and Fred Chaney. Its Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 provided for traditional Aboriginal owners to claim unalienated land in the Northern Territory, and similar acts were carried in most other states in later years.
When the Hawke Government was elected in 1983, it further expanded funding for Aboriginal Australians, as did the Howard Government elected in 1996. A measure of the increase in funding was that, in 2007, before the Federal Government intervention in remote aboriginal communities, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mal Brough, announced "$293.6 million in additional indigenous housing funding in this year's Budget to kick-start the strategy over and above the current level of indigenous housing funding of around $380 million per year." (May 8, 2007).
Despite this, the standard of living of tens of thousands of Aboriginal people in 2007 was worse than it had been 30 years before.
What Jenny Macklin announced last month is an expansion of well-meaning policies which have been tried and failed.
Could it be that successive federal governments have failed because they have been addressing the wrong problem?
Louis Nowra, the well-known Australian playwright and author, wrote a book early last year called Bad Dreaming: Aboriginal men's violence against women and children
Mr Nowra's politics are of the left — which usually blames white Australia for Aboriginal people's appalling health standard and educational levels.
But Bad Dreaming
has a far more convincing explanation of Aboriginal disadvantage. Mr Nowra shows, persuasively, that traditional Aboriginal culture has a brutal and barbaric attitude to women and children who are subject to frequent assaults from Aboriginal men and, all too frequently, subjected to sexual abuse which can only be described as depravity.
The effect of this on Aboriginal communities has been magnified by chronic unemployment, as well as by the ready availability of alcohol, petrol (for sniffing), drugs and pornography.
The result is that many Aboriginal communities, particularly in traditional areas, are "no-go" areas, where violence is endemic, police rarely enter, and women and children are every night abused, cowed and intimidated.
Sadly, Nowra says, traditional culture too often supports the abusers, not their victims.
Little wonder that, in many Aboriginal communities, houses are trashed, children do not attend school, and people are trapped in a web of depression and hopelessness.
Throwing money at the problem will not solve it. Aboriginal leaders such as Noel Pearson and Mick Dodson have publicly identified these issues.
What is desperately needed is the presence of sufficient police, social workers and others in each community, with authority to intervene in domestic disputes, arrest perpetrators of violence, and offer security for women and children threatened by it.
There must be an aggressive effort to end the culture of violence by showing that the law will protect all Australians, including Aborigines.
There needs to be a concerted effort to protect women and children from violence, and a long-term strategy put in place to change a culture which for too long has tolerated and rewarded the abuse of Aborigines who are physically weaker than their assailants.
Brutality can never been accepted as a consequence of cultural conditioning. It is intolerable that tens of thousands of our fellow Australian women and children are subjected to constant threats, intimidation and violence.
If this reign of terror can be ended, then perhaps the money intended to redress Aboriginal disadvantage may achieve results.— Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.