The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement: A Speculation (2002+)
|UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage? Apology Magic? Incorporating the Alienated: A Challenge to Australia's Civil Society Taking the 'Racism Card' Out of the Deck Racial Discrimination is Not the Only Cause of Ethnic Distress The Church of Political Correctness Threatens National Progress Don't Just Blame the 'Haters'|
An hypothesis is suggested that some aspects of their cultures are now (and historically always have been) a major factor in the material disadvantages suffered by Australians with indigenous ancestors - referred to here as 'aborigines', a term which is not intended here to apply to Torres Strait Islanders. Moreover their communities still face great difficulties in creating a viable future.
This paper does not seek to insist on any particular 'answer' - but merely suggests that little is likely to be achieved until aboriginal leaders / people consider the implications for economic success of the behavioural and institutional implications of their cultures.
Addenda (added since 2010) started by considering the relevance of this hypothesis in the light of proposals for a referendum to recognise Australia's 'first peoples' in the Constitution, and other public policy questions.
It is understood that Australia's first settlers were from SE Asia who arrived in successive waves about 40-60,000 years ago - and subsequently maintained hunter-gatherer lifestyles typical of human societies of that era.
With the introduction of European settlers in the 18th century Australia's aboriginal peoples were: often dispossessed; long denied education; exploited by some (and helped by others); discriminated against by legislation (eg denied the vote until about 35 years ago); paternalistically protected without reducing their need for protection; given extensive public resources through ineffectual organizations or as charity; and otherwise ignored.
There is little doubt however that aboriginal peoples have experienced only slow progress - though isolated individuals overcame the natural obstacles they faced, as well as some artificial obstacles.
Artificial obstacles arose presumably because (a) aboriginal peoples did not 'fit in' to the environment created by the economically-capable European community that was introduced in the 18th century and (b) it was believed (wrongly) that education would do no good. Unfortunately the people who slowed aboriginal advancement by denying education (and also others who tried to accelerate it with primarily 'social' re-engineering irrespective of aboriginal people's real needs and ambitions) were not blessed with perfect wisdom or fore-knowledge.
The aboriginal leader Noel Pearson argued in 2001 that dependency on passive welfare (which was supposed to help) and alcohol are now damaging aboriginal communities. The latter conclusion was also supported by Court of Appeal president Tony Fitzgerald in a report to the Queensland Government and (in a different way) by an Indigenous Women's Council (see Fitzgerald Report on Cape York Justice).
However this is only part of the story as the likely causal chain is:
That culture is a major factor in a community's potential for economic success is considered in a different context in Competing Civilizations and also in Comparative Development Theory: Indonesia / Australia.
The cultures of Australia's aboriginal peoples were highly developed (ie complex and sophisticated), and adapted to the environment which existed prior to the arrival of European settlers.
However it seems those traditional aboriginal cultures were not well adapted to their new environment. In particular they seem to contain features which impede economic gains as outlined below.
However any serious discussion of, or attempts to reduce, the disadvantages that may be implicit in aboriginal cultures seem to be discouraged by implying that doing so is racist (see also Complexities in the Refugee Problem and Racial Discrimination is Not the Only Cause of Ethnic Distress).
It has been noted that there has been a great deal of 'talk about cultural sensitivity and autonomy' - with the implication that this needed to be taken further. Unfortunately this 'talk' can obscure the critical question of whether culture is a major determinant of people's ability to be be materially successful. This can lead to the perception that, if aboriginal people's have not succeeded, the only possible explanation must be discrimination and racism .
One observer has suggested that the violence against women and children which pervades aboriginal communities may be an indirect result of a refusal to recognize that aboriginal cultures contain no concept of 'community' (and thus do not breed 'community leaders' to suppress such behaviour) - because doing so would have exposed the weakness of 1970's indigenous-liberation politics .
Realistic attempts to address the core of aboriginal disadvantage has probably been made even more difficult over the past 20-30 years by post-modern ideologies which (in a dramatic over-reaction to flaws in earlier epistemologies) have adopted the concept that 'truth' is largely or entirely a social construct (ie 'knowledge' primarily reflects the assumptions that particular groups make for their own political advantages). This leads to the view that cultures are mere matters of personal preference which have no practical consequences.
These assumptions led to attempts to develop remote aboriginal communities living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle on traditional lands - an 'experiment' which some observers suggest has isolated aboriginal communities from mainstream society and led to most of their current deprivation 
For much of the past 30 years hope for aboriginal advancement revolved around native title - on the assumption that people require land to gain respect. However, despite its advocates' enthusiasm it is not clear how native title can lead to very much in the way of economic opportunities. The consensual view after 10 years of experience seemed to be that native title on its own has changed the position of aborigines in Australia's community but has not improved it.
Noel Pearson has argued that to overcome disadvantage aboriginal peoples need to be able to cope with / prosper in the modern world  - a goal which he later described as compatible with simultaneously maintaining traditional cultures .
A quite different view is that the problem is due to aborigines' inability to live within traditional cultures due to dispossession (eg consider the views of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Taskforce on Violence in Indigenous Communities)
Unfortunately neither the cultural modernisation nor the cultural separatism views offer easy solutions.
Even what could be called the 'Native Title Plus' agenda (as illustrated by the work of the Reconciliation Australia) faces serious difficulties. Dependence on socially and culturally corrosive welfare payments would not be removed, and many aboriginal communities would continue to live in quasi-apartheid pockets of third-world disadvantage within Australia.
Other proposals for creation of champions for aboriginal communities at senior levels in the bureaucracy are likely to lead to further frustration because (at best) the support which such 'champions' would be able to mobilize is not what aboriginal communities are likely to really need (eg see 'Freshly baked idea goes stale' which refers to the effect of due administrative procedures on a project proposed under the Cape York Partnership scheme).
The major challenge is that prospering (in the present environment) requires amongst other things (a) the ability to be near the leading edge in understanding and applying the mechanisms of the natural world (science and technology) and (b) an orientation to, and social institutions, which enable economically productive changes (eg financial institutions and business enterprises).
Not every culture lends itself to the latter achievements.
Under the author's undoubtedly too limited understanding, it appears that though aboriginal cultures have significant traditional strengths (eg sense of community, relationship with the land), they also have features which are likely to impede independent success within Western economic models. These include:
Diverse sources have drawn attention to the differences and incompatibilities between indigenous cultures and Western world-views (eg see Joseph B. Indigenous Peoples Worldviews vs Western Worldviews, 26/1/16 ; Graham M. Some Thoughts about the Philosophical Underpinnings of Aboriginal Worldviews , Australian Humanities Review, Nov 2008; Hart M., Indigenous Worldviews, Knowledge, and Research: The Development of an Indigenous Research Paradigm, Journal of Indigenous Voices in Social Work, Feb 2010); Indigenous Wordviews: A Comparative Study, 21/2/02; etc)
In 2009 claims were made about practical dysfunctions that result from traditional cultures, including: (a) pursuit of family loyalties over common good; (b) traditional medical practices block preventative / curative medical processes (c) a philosophical assent to tragic terms of human life (d) a belief that things are as they were meant to be - thus rendering notions of social progress or any sort of change quite alien; and (e) an orientation towards self help / self redress including frequent recourse to violence 
The basic problem of economic underdevelopment is the same world-wide - namely that peoples do not have the cultural or institutional tools to make the constant changes required to be economically productive.
This is not to say that everyone has to be the same - but that societies have to create successful means for achieving economic change (either by adapting to the Western models or by finding other models).
Rapid development in East Asia show that alternatives to the Western models do exist - but the alternative East Asian economic models are no less demanding in their own way, and also suffer weaknesses which, though different, may be even greater than those in Western models (eg see China's Development: Assessing the Implications).
Thus education, investment, advice etc are not sufficient to overcome disadvantage unless there is rapid progress in addressing the cultural and institutional dimensions. The innovative Cape York Partnership that Noel Pearson inspired using the theory of 'social entrepreneurs' and Reconciliation Australia's 'Native Title Plus' agenda may not achieve much.
And the complexity of the challenge can be illustrated by Noel Pearson's proposals for giving aboriginal elders legal power over others in their communities to control social dysfunctions (eg alcohol abuse, conflict). The restriction on individual freedoms he proposed would re-create to some degree the social and political environment of tribal society - an environment that would be fatal to independent initiative and to the constant change needed for economic success under Western economic models.
The major obstacle to advancement usually seems to lie in people's own attitudes.
Australia has a new challenge similar to that aboriginal communities face, as indicated by the 'One Nation' phenomenon. This political phenomenon reflected the fact that marginal (regional, coastal and metropolitan) communities failed to cope with the effect of massive economic change and were thus socially disadvantaged (see Assessing the Implications of Pauline Hanson's One Nation ).
However Australia's elites, rather than being sympathetic to their plight and moving to ensure that they could cope, often confined themselves to criticising and marginalizing the disadvantaged for the ignorance that was the source of their weakness - which was exactly the same as their predecessors did with aboriginal peoples.
However it was difficult to do anything different, because many of the (One Nation) disadvantaged (like their aboriginal predecessors) also haven't wanted to hear that they might have to 'get their act together' to escape from their plight. Rather they simply wanted to re-create their past.
There are growing global difficulties with modern mainstream economic models - eg in terms of unstable financial systems, and excessive environmental pressure due to economic and population growth. Thus alternatives will need to be developed - which in part will involve recognition that humanity's creative influence in the world brings ecological responsibilities - an area in which aboriginal communities probably have contributions to make. A key issue here may be to invent practical alternatives that would moderate the way in which money drives change and growth.
None-the-less alternative economic models that must be found can't be all that different to the current mainstream without bringing disaster - because creatively processing large quantities of materials and energy is now essential to sustaining current human populations. Thus finding a way to participate in this successfully will remain a key challenge facing aboriginal (and 'One Nation') communities. Ongoing change will further complicate the position, because (to be anything but permanently marginalised) it is not only necessary to catch up with what the leading edge of the mainstream world has been economically, but also necessary to catch up with what it is becoming.
Educating individuals one at a time will achieve progress .... eventually. For faster progress, learning by whole communities through identifying attractive opportunities from change is likely to be needed.
Methods whereby 'catch-up' might be achieved (through accelerating grass roots learning) are available (eg see Developing a Regional Industry Cluster - though this is presented solely in terms of 'economic' development, and has not been adapted to the needs of aboriginal communities).
However the fact that this article identifies a focus on 'real estate' as the first of Seven Secrets to Failure is probably not irrelevant to the now-diminished expectations about what can be achieved via native title.
|Grasping the Nettle||
Grasping the Nettle
One critical problem aboriginal communities face is that others try to 'do it' for them .
The other side of this problem is that aboriginal communities have been prepared to play the dependency game - concentrating on disadvantages and telling government what government or others should do for them, rather than concentrating on opportunities and doing it for themselves.
However this should not be seen as a one-way street. As noted above, aboriginal cultures contain many attractive and highly functional features, and Australia generally faces significant changes requiring adjustments. Thus, in addition to pro-actively learning to advance themselves, aboriginal communities might consider identifying how features of their traditional cultures would be of more general relevance and then doing some 'educating' of their own.
June 2002 (based on paper first drafted 20/12/01 and modified subsequently)
|Addendum A: 'Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism? +||
'Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism? (Email sent 9/11/10)
Patrica Karvelas and Joe Kelly
Re Indigenous recognition ‘must be real’: Marcia Langton, The Australian, 9/11/10
Your article recorded comments on an announcement by Australia’s prime minister about what you described as a ‘referendum on the recognition of Aborigines in the Constitution’, which the ALP had promised during the recent federal election campaign.
Ms Gillard did not, however, suggest what form this recognition might take, but rather established a panel to report back by December 2011. However this merely deferred dealing with a difficult issue, and is unlikely to produce an outcome of any real benefit to Australians with indigenous ancestry.
There are basically two alternatives for such a Constitutional provision:
This is in some ways the difference between giving recognition to ‘aborigines’ (which your article referred to) and giving recognition to ‘aboriginal peoples’ (which was referred to in the joint media release by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Attorney General).
The former position is consistent with the spirit of inclusiveness that led to overwhelming support for the 1967 referendum (which recognised ‘aborigines’ by allowing special laws to be made for them, and including them in census counts). It would undoubtedly gain popular support in a future referendum. However, for reasons outlined below, it would not deal with the real obstacles facing ‘aborigines’.
The alternative proposition would seem unlikely to get popular support. Moreover (for reasons suggested below) this would actually increase the difficulties facing Australians with indigenous ancestry.
What is ‘Real’?
Your article quoted Professor Marcia Langdon as suggesting that indigenous recognition ‘must be real’, and (a) involve more than a paternalistic / token mention in the preamble; and (b) put an end to making different laws for aborigines (ie to the major outcome of the 1967 referendum).
However, unless and until Australians with indigenous ancestry pay serious attention to the cultural factors that limit their achievements, it seems likely that official recognition in the Constitution can be no more than another exercise in symbolism (see The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement , 2002). Australians with indigenous ancestry must get themselves into a position where they can succeed on their own merits, rather than aspiring to be merely a protected species.
Constitutional changes might achieve no more of any practical relevance than the (so-called) ‘Apology to the Stolen Generations’ (see Apology Magic?, 2008). Furthermore the risk of simply doing ‘more of the same’ policies that have failed in the past is indicated by:
The prospects of again going around in circles is further increased by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is likely be considered in drafting any proposed changes to Australia’s Constitution. The UN Declaration seemed unfortunately to be something of a ‘dog’s breakfast’ (see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?, 2007). For example the Declaration sought to simultaneously achieve the apparently incompatible goals of improving the position of indigenous people as individuals, and the status of their traditional cultures.
Thus it is hard to see that ‘recognition of Aborigines (or alternately recognition of ‘Aboriginal peoples’) in the Constitution’ is more than a symbolic diversion from enabling them to stand on their own feet.
RE: 'Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism? (Email received 12/11/10)
Dear Mr Craig
Thank you for providing a copy of your email of 9 November 2010 sent to Patricia Karvelas and Joe Kelly of The Australian, expressing concern that constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians may be little more than a symbolic gesture.
It is important that Indigenous disadvantage is tackled on a number of fronts, including recognising the special place of our first people, driving long term change on the ground through investment and reform and supporting people to take responsibility for themselves so they meet their potential and pursue their aspirations.
Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is an important step in strengthening the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and building trust. There are complex legal, policy and cultural issues involved in changing our Constitution which is why the Government is establishing an Expert Panel to develop options for change. Proposals will need to be developed in close consultation with Indigenous people, and experts with a strong understanding of the Constitution and it will also need to be meaningful to and supported by the broader community
The Expert Panel will lead broad consultation during 2011 to build consensus on the recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution. It will be asked to develop options for constitutional change which will attract broad support from the Australian community and will work closely with organisations with expertise and a history of engagement on this issue. The Panel’s terms of reference are purposely broad in scope. The Government does not wish to constrain the work of the Expert Panel or pre-empt a form of wording that could be put to a referendum. This is a matter for all of Australia, not only Indigenous people and a key role for the Panel is to consult widely with the public, including Indigenous people, to determine the best way forward.
Thank you again for writing.
Indigenous Constitutional Recognition Secretariat | Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Reply sent 13/11/10
Indigenous Constitutional Recognition Secretariat
Thank you for your email of 12/11/10 concerning the purpose and process of the consultation on the recognition of Indigenous people in Australia’s constitution.
There is no doubt about the importance of: building trust; on-the-ground change through investment and reform; and support for Australians with indigenous ancestry in taking responsibility, achieving their potential and pursuing their aspirations.
If mention in the Constitution assists in building trust, it will be of value. However unless and until the process of support for Australians with indigenous ancestry enables them to address the practical consequences of traditional cultures, their ability to take responsibility, achieve their potential and pursue their aspirations will be severely limited. And, as noted in my earlier email, there are ways in which Constitutional recognition could seriously impede their advancement.
It is submitted that these concerns need to be considered in the consultation process.
|Addendum B: A 'Cultural Blending' Scenario for Indigenous Australia||
A 'Cultural Blending' Scenario for Indigenous Australia (email sent 10/11/10)
Dr Sarah Maddison and Professor Patrick Dodson,
Re: ‘Seize this one chance for a reconciled future’, The Australian, 10/11/10
In the context of the Prime Minister’s proposal related to recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Constitution, I noted your Unit’s interesting proposal (in Scenarios for Indigenous Australia) for the development of scenarios as a means for informed dialogue about the future of Indigenous Australia.
I should like to suggest that one of the scenarios that should be developed as the basis for dialogue involves cultural blending, eg by Australians with indigenous ancestry collaborating in examining their cultural heritage in terms of both: (a) features that might be advantageous if shared more widely within the Australian community; and (b) the adverse implications for their economic welfare of some behavioural and institutional consequences of traditional cultures. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in 'Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism?
However, having noted Professor Dodson’s 2009 So What? lecture, I have a suspicion that a ‘cultural blending’ scenario such as suggested above could be outside the range of those that your Unit would be willing to contemplate.
|Addendum C: Improving the Position of Australians with Indigenous Ancestry +||
Improving the Position of Australians with Indigenous Ancestry - email sent 21/1/11
Re: Aboriginal referendum a test of national maturity, The Australian, 26/1/11
Your article both expressed reservations about the prospects for success of the proposed referendum, and suggested the need to recognise the status of indigenous peoples without fracturing the notion that all Australians are equal citizens.
I should like to endorse your radical proposal for reasons outlined in 'Recognising Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism?. Any constitutional amendment that did not make clear that Australians with indigenous ancestry have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else would: (a) be unlikely to get general acceptance; and (b) be likely to disadvantage those subjected to positive or negative discrimination. The referenced document also suggested that the most effective way to improve the position of Australians with indigenous ancestry could be to provide them with leadership (eg through the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership) in examining the effect that cultural assumptions have on people’s ability to be materially successful.
In relation to other points made in your article it is submitted for your consideration that:
[Further note on the above-mentioned apparent inconsistency in Mr Pearson's argument: In a subsequent article (Seek indigenous views ahead of full referendum, The Australian, 29-30/1/11), Mr Pearson suggested:
The third point above (ie that two different groups of Australians would recognise each other - presumably those having or not having some measure of indigenous ancestry) is clearly incompatible with Mr Pearson's suggestion in the earlier article that all Australians be recognised as equal citizens.
Recognition of the simple fact that some Australians have indigenous ancestry does not require now trying to classify individuals into one of two separate groups. Such a classification process would be:
|Addendum D: Base 'career and financial benefits' on needs and means, not on ancestry||
Base 'career and financial benefits' on needs and means, not on ancestry (email sent 2/4/11)
Re: Bolt put in place in race case?, The Age, 2/4/11
The case that has ‘amused, if not transfixed, Melbourne this week’ raises important questions that seem to be being ignored by those commenting on it. Though I know nothing about what actually happened, your article suggested that a journalist, Andrew Bolt, had written:
Australia has a serious problem of racial discrimination – namely that individuals with any indigenous ancestors can obtain benefits not available to Australians generally, merely because of their ancestry.
Many Australia’s with indigenous ancestors suffer from serious social and economic disadvantage, and require support to overcome those disadvantages. However such support should be based on individuals’ needs and means, rather than based on their ancestry – and universally available to anyone with similar needs and means.
Noel Pearson has argued that reference to indigenous peoples in the constitution should not prevent all Australians being recognized as equal citizens (see Improving the Position of Australians with Indigenous Ancestry. Likewise Professor Marcia Langdon suggested the need to end the practice of making special laws for individuals with indigenous ancestors that was authorized by the 1967 referendum (presumably because such special laws can be a two edged sword) – see 'Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism?
I am sure that many people would be interested in coverage of the current judicial action that mentioned the broader policy issues involved.
|Addendum E: Inadequate proposals for advancing the position of Australians with indigenous ancestry||
Inadequate proposals for advancing the position of Australians with indigenous ancestry (email sent 9/12/11)
Re: Step to honour our first people, The Age, 9/12/11
If your article accurately represents the outcome of the panel’s efforts to develop proposals for recognition of indigenous Australians in the Constitution, it is clear that that the panel been a failure. Your article suggested that:
Making special Commonwealth laws for the advancement of ‘indigenous peoples’ would clearly be a case of racial discrimination. Moreover advancement of indigenous peoples arguably requires that they consider the practical consequences of their cultural traditions, not simply that the Commonwealth (or anyone else) recognize those traditions (see The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement, 2002).
What the panel is proposing seems to be based on the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the latter: (a) gives no consideration to practical issues; (b) is full of internal contradictions; and (c) is something of a ‘dog’s breakfast’ (see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?, 2007).
An alternative approach to this issue that was likely to have been more successful in genuinely advancing the position of Australians with indigenous ancestry was outlined in 'Recognising Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism? (2010).
|Addendum F: Indigenous Recognition (Related Note)||
Re: Simplicity the missing link in a complex proposal, The Australian, 20/1/12
Your article validly noted the inconsistency of proposals to both prohibit and explicitly endorse racial discrimination in relation to the constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians that has been suggested by the expert panel established by the federal government. Clearly one cannot simultaneously reject racial discrimination and provide for (say) native title for Australians with indigenous ancestry.
A similar point was made in Inadequate proposals for advancing the position of Australians with indigenous ancestry, and this may be of interest. It includes reference to suggestions about ways to eliminate this inconsistency, and hopefully genuinely advance the position of Australians with indigenous ancestry.
Related Note: Added Later
It was reported in Indigenous rights: constitutional amendments likely (Jamieson A., Crikey, 20/1/12) that a justification had been put forward for prohibiting racial discrimination whilst providing for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
Whilst interesting, this suggestion does not seem to be particularly solid because:
|Addendum G: Why Unite to save Indigenous Referendum?||
Why Unite to save Indigenous Referendum? - email sent 6/7/12
Re: Parties told: unite to save indigenous referendum, The Australian, 6/7/12
Might I respectfully suggest that there seems to be a need for a deeper analysis on the proposal for a referendum to recognise indigenous Australians in the constitution? There is no current proposal for such a referendum that makes any real sense.
Your article correctly drew attention to the fact that:
However, even this brief outline shows how ridiculous the expert panel’s proposal was. How can one both end racial discrimination and provide for legislation for the advancement of particular racial groups?
This and other reasons to doubt the seriousness of the panel’s proposals are outlined in Inadequate proposals for advancing the position of Australians with indigenous ancestry. The latter also referred to:
I submit that there is a need to do more than report on political infighting in relation to the apparent need for someone to be seen to be ‘doing something’.
|Addendum H: Aboriginal Recognition: Moving Forward or Going Round in Circles||
Aboriginal Recognition: Moving Forward or Going Round in Circles - email sent 23/4/14
Re: Tony’s secret communist race plot, Herald Sun, 19/4/14
The indigenous recognition changes to Australia’s constitution that were mentioned in your article seem to perpetuate racism and to be unlikely to benefit Australians with indigenous ancestry.
One can’t eliminate racism from the constitution (eg by deleting Section 51 (xxvi)) if one simultaneously inserts a section 51A which: (a) ‘recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strut Islander peoples” as special racial groups; and (b) ‘preserves the Australian government’ ability to pass laws for the benefit of’ those racial groups.
Moreover making laws for such peoples is by no means a certain way to ‘benefit’ them. There has been a determined effort to ‘help’ Australians with indigenous ancestry since the Commonwealth’s ability to make special laws for such people was introduced by referendum in the 1960s. Much of the ‘help’ that followed took the form of welfare payments. This increased such peoples’ dependence and disadvantage.
While the weakness of past initiatives to ‘benefit’ Australians with indigenous ancestry are now generally recognised, the initiatives that seem to be currently favoured to provide such ‘benefits’ (ie recognition of the collective ‘rights’ of such peoples) would be equally damaging.
Advancing the position of Australians with indigenous ancestry probably primarily requires boosting their capabilities and ability to think as individuals (for reasons suggested in The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement, 2002 and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?, 2007). Any laws to boost the position of tribes at the expense of individuals would be likely to severely limit the prospects of those who were constrained by their membership of such tribes.
An option to get around this was suggested in 'Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism? (2010). The latter involved providing for: (a) the equality of all Australians; (b) acknowledging that some Australians’ ancestors had been indigenous at the time of European settlement; and (c) laws treating all Australians equally (eg providing benefits on the basis of individual needs and means).
|Proportional Representation for Australians with Indigenous Ancestry?||
Proportional Representation for Australians with Indigenous Ancestry? - email sent 15/9/14
Re: Push for indigenous Senate seats on Abbott’s mind as bush visit begins, The Australian, 15/9/14
I noted with interest your report of the Prime Minister’s interest (in the context of possible moves to recognise Aboriginal people in the constitution) in the possibility that up to three Senate seats might be reserved for Australians with indigenous ancestry in something like a New Zealand style (ie proportional representation) system.
It seems strange that a proposal to introduce explicit racism into Australia’s electoral system is being considered as part of a process of constitutional change which many had seen as seeking to eliminate racism from Australia’s constitution.
The proposal also raises questions about: (a) whether other special (not necessarily racially-based) interest groups might need to be given some sort of proportional representation; and (b) whether proportional representation makes for effective government. As I understand it, the European / NZ style proportional representation systems tend to suffer from an inability to make executive decisions because so many narrow interest groups have a seat at the table. I would have thought that Australia already had its fair share of political sclerosis.
|Indigenous Recognition without Creating a Legal Quagmire||
Indigenous Recognition without Creating a Legal Quagmire - email sent 3/11/14
Re: Indigenous recognition will hand power to judges , The Australian, 3/11/14
Your article drew attention to Professor James Allen’s book, Democracy in Decline, which argued that: (a) judges and lawyers have taken it upon themselves to overturn decisions by democratic majorities to give effect to their own political agendas; and (b) amending the constitution to recognize indigenous Australians would create additional scope for politically-motivated judges to subvert parliament.
I should like to suggest for your consideration that:
|Recognising 'First Australians' in the Constitution: What a Bad Idea||
Recognising 'First Australians' in the Constitution: What a Bad Idea - email sent 14/3/15
Michael Westaway (Griffith University) and
Re: Who we should recognize as First Australians in the constitution, The Conversation, 13/3/15
Your article concerned a debate that seems to have arisen about whether it would be desirable / possible to identify some particular racial group as the ‘First Australians’.
While I am anything but an expert in this area, it seems likely that decades of research would be needed before anyone could offer reliable conclusions about who was ‘first’. We are talking about a process of migration by groups of people presumably from Asia that started (say) 60,000 years ago (and continued over tens of thousands of years). And, as occurred with such migrations elsewhere in the world, established populations / tribes would sometimes have been displaced by new arrivals (eg consider what happened in the 18th century). It may well be that a particular racial group had come to dominate the Australian mainland at the time of European settlement (perhaps by killing off earlier racial groups) – but this does not prove that they were ‘first’.
Surely all that can be said with any reliability in any constitutional amendment is that there were people who were indigenous to Australia at the time of European settlement in the 18th century. And, to improve the prospects of their descendants and to avoid introducing racism into the constitution, the latter should avoid making any distinction in terms of rights and responsibilities between the descendants of indigenous Australians and everyone else (Aboriginal Recognition: Moving Forward or Going Round in Circles, 2014). Academic debate about who was ‘first’ could then continue without having any legal or political implications.
Recognising What? - email sent 18/4/15
Re: Negotiating a way towards indigenous recognition, The Australian, 18/4/15
Your article, which highlighted Noel Pearson’s new proposal, highlighted the fact that agreement about constitutional change is proving elusive.
As I understand it, Mr Pearson’s initial aspiration was to remove racism from the constitution altogether. My amateurish suggestions that headed in much the same direction were in 'Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism? (2010). This basically involved recognition that some Australians had ancestors who were indigenous at the time of European settlement – and that they now have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.
As the expert committee working on a proposal for constitutional change seems to be seeking changes that would permit ongoing racial discrimination providing it ‘benefits’ Australians with indigenous ancestry, Mr Peason now favours: (a) a declaration of recognition outside the constitution; and (b) constitutional changes to remove discriminatory clauses as well as constitutional recognition of an indigenous body to advise parliament on legislation.
There are problems with both these alternatives.
It is incredibly hard to be sure that legislation intended to ‘benefit’ Australians with indigenous ancestry would actually do so. Welfare support was a major outcome of the post 1967 referendum empowerment of federal legislation in relation to Australians with indigenous ancestry. This was meant to help, but it didn’t. More recently artificial support for traditional cultures has been viewed as an important factor in the ‘rights’ of such groups – and this also is likely to prove counter-productive (see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?, 2007).
And Noel Pearson’s alternative (ie the creation of a constitutionally-endorsed lobby-group seeking benefits at the expense of Australians generally) would seem equally counter-productive. Malaysia tried an arrangement under which native Malays were given special benefits, and the result was a dependency on those benefits and a constraint on native Malays’ ability to really get ahead.
Eliminating racism from Australia’s constitution (perhaps as I suggested in 2010) still seems to me to be the best option.
Promoting Racism Through Sport +
Promoting Racism Through Sport - email sent 29/7/15
Chip Le Grand
Re: “Why are they booing uncle?’ Why indeed?”, The Australian, 29/7/15
Your article suggests that no one can understand why Adam Goodes is being booed by crowds while at the same time pointing out that he has spoken about his rights and his peoples’ rights.
I would like to suggest that the problem is obvious. The crowds see Goodes as promoting racism (ie the notion that race matters and that people should have special rights because of their race) through sport. There is a strong resistance now in Australia towards racial inequality and anyone who promotes racial inequality can expect to attract opposition even if they are a sporting star.
The proposal for constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians will presumably run into exactly the same sort of public opposition if it tries to make distinctions on the basis of race (see Recognising What).
Comments on a 'Good Racism is a Bad Idea' by Syd Hickman
Syd Hickman's observations seem very relevant. He notes that:
It is worth considering the parallel with the One Nation phenomenon in the 1990s. Large numbers of Australians who lived mainly in economically marginal regions had been unable to cope with policy changes designed to boost Australia's economic competitiveness. They were put under increased pressure to compete but little was done to ensure their ability to compete successfully. When they expressed their discontent as well as they knew how (eg by by arguing that special privileges should not be provided to some disadvantaged people) they were widely criticized for their ignorance (and frequently labeled racists) rather than being helped to cope by the elites who were responsible for the inadequate economic adjustment policies that had led to their problems (see The Implication of 'Pauline Hanson's One Nation, 1998).
As in the 1990s there is very little now to be achieved by criticizing relatively disadvantaged Australians for the fact that they object to special benefits being sought for just one disadvantaged group (ie a group based on race). Australia is experiencing significant economic challenges (see How Durable is Australia's Luck?). This is generating severe problems for many on the margins of society (see The Challenge and Potential Cost of Inequality and Insufficient Income and What is Happening in Australia). Large transfer payments through the tax / welfare system funded by last-decades' resource investment boom had maintained a reasonable level of income equality despite the incipient emergence of an underclass. However this is no longer possible given large federal government structural deficits. And business and political leaders are doing essentially nothing that is likely to be effective in dealing with the cause of disadvantage for those on the margins of Australian society . Most emphasis is placed on changes to government budgets to deal with structural deficits. The more critical need is to change / develop the economy and community in order to increase community incomes and the tax base and to reduce demands on government. Likewise emphasis is placed on the 'things' that governments can do, whereas accelerated development of the economy / community primarily requires empowering apolitical leadership (see Lifting Productivity: Considering the Bigger Picture, 2010+).
The provision of special benefits to a particular racial group would not only promote significant disunity and political instability (like that but potentially more radical than that associated with One Nation in the 1990s), it would also perpetuate the disadvantages suffered by the racial group that received the special 'benefits'. And official (eg AFL) encouragement of racism by individuals such as Adam Goodes will merely exacerbate those likely risks.
|Racism Is Unlikely to Help David Jones or Indigenous Reconciliation||
Racism Is Unlikely to Help David Jones or Indigenous Reconciliation - email sent 21/10/15
Re: Will Adam Goodes deliver the goods for David Jones?, Business Day, 21/10/15
Your article sought to analyse whether David Jones will benefit from involving Adam Goodes as a brand ambassador and indigenous reconciliation adviser. I should like to suggest that David Jones will not do so because Adam Goodes’ racism not only attracts boos, but is incompatible with what is needed for indigenous reconciliation.
It was recently noted that Goodes’ sins / virtues include ‘pride in his heritage’ (Caro J., Adam Goodes: Backing Australia's David Beckham is a stroke of genius for David Jones, Brisbane Times, 20/10/15). However what Goodes is presenting is also overt racism (see Comments on ‘Good Racism is a Bad Idea’) – and will presumably be viewed as such by many of those who mainly react with anonymous anti-racist boos. It is a pity that David Jones has chosen to censor the comments that have emerged in response to its dealings with Adam Goodes. This enables those comments to be claimed to be ‘racist’ – though it seems very likely to me that many would be classified as anti-racist if viewed without bias.
Moreover, for reasons suggested in Comments on ‘Good Racism is a Bad Idea’, Goodes’ emphasis on one of his races is incompatible with real reconciliation between Australians with indigenous ancestry (which Goodes has) and everyone else.
Media commentators who endorse Goodes’ racism are probably not helping to eliminate racism in Australia. And alignment with Adam Goodes’ racism is unlikely to benefit David Jones.
The Failure of Academics and Politicians to Acknowledge the Practical Consequences of Culture
The Failure of Academics and Politicians to Acknowledge the Practical Consequences of Culture - email sent 13/2/16
Re: Indigenous Australians Must Stop the Excuses and Accept Responsibility, Herald Sun, 10/2/16
Your article suggested that the culture of Australians with indigenous ancestry is primarily to blame for their ongoing disadvantage. The constraints implicit in traditional cultures have been obvious for years (see The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement, 2002+). However those who suffer disadvantages because of their cultures should not be blamed as much as the academics and politicians who don’t want to accept that culture is not just part of a group’s ‘identity’ but has major practical consequences.
Your article suggested that the irresponsibility of Australians with indigenous ancestry is primarily to blame for the lack of progress achieved by the Reconciliation Australia and Closing the Gap initiatives. However such people have typically had no way to understand the cultural requirements for advancement (which is a VERY complex issue) – and thus that traditional indigenous cultures impeded their prospects and needed to be reconsidered.
As suggested in Competing Civilizations (2001+) culture makes a major difference to people’s prospects because of the effect that it has on their ability to learn and change. For example rapid progress in Western societies depended on contributions from their: (a) classical Greek heritage – ie an ability to learn in the abstract; and (b) Judeo-Christian heritage – ie liberal institutions that allowed rationality to be reasonably effective and the belief that nature would be lawful that allowed the development of science. Other societies that did not copy Western practices have: (a) succeeded if their cultures allowed different methods of learning and changing (as East Asia’s ancient Chinese cultural heritage did); or (b) failed if they did not (eg in the Islamic world).
There seem to be major obstacle to learning and change in the traditional cultures of Australians with indigenous ancestry (eg a tradition of learning to ‘do things’ rather than to ‘understand’ in the abstract). Recent research has apparently suggested that: (a) children brought up in those traditional cultures have serious difficulties with Western-style education (eg in learning to deal with ‘text’ rather than ‘talk’); and (b) that ‘success’ in educating those who are struggling to bridge such gaps can involve very low levels of achievement by the standard of what is needed for success in the modern world (eg just starting to understand what Western education is).
It does no good to blame those whose traditional cultures do not provide a foundation for success in the modern world. Likewise it does no good to pretend that culture is merely part of a person’s identity and has no practical implications. Doing so seems to follow from the post-modern ideologies that dominate the humanities faculties of Western universities – ie the assumption that what is traditionally seen as ‘truth’ in human affairs: (a) is merely a claim that is convenient to those who are politically dominant; and (b) does not provide any guide as to what is likely to work best in practice (see A Case for Restoring Universities, 2010).
Australians with indigenous ancestry (and others with different cultures) need to be given reliable guidance about the practical consequences of culture (see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism, 2010). Academic and political irresponsibility in misleading indigenous peoples about the practical significance of a community’s culture is by no means confined to Australia (see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?, 2007).
Interchange with Norm Sheehan (Southern Cross University) - reproduced with permission
Reply to Norm Sheehan - 14/2/16
Thanks for that feedback. I would appreciate permission to add your observation to my web-site (ie with The Failure of Academics and Politicians to Acknowledge the Practical Consequences of Culture).
There is no doubt about the disruptive effects of forced changes. However severe disruption of established systems is a very common occurrence in human history (as well as in the history of other species and ecological systems). Consider the effect that Homo Sapiens had on Homo Erectus and Neanderthal Man and the umpteen invasions that that the British Isles experienced (and that the people in those Isles either: (a) had great resilience to rise above those disruptions; and / or (b) gained strength from them). What matter most in the long term is the ability of the disrupted society / system to adapt and to prosper in its new environment.
I see no reason to believe that Australians with indigenous ancestry can’t adapt and prosper – but only if they are encouraged to appreciate the need to do so.
There is now increasing recognition that trying to force peoples to adapt to conform with the modern world does not work (see Muslims Must Lead the ISIS Fight - But Muslim Armies Can't – and also note Fatal Flaws re invasion of Iraq). However pretending that there is no need for adaptation is just as irresponsible – for reasons suggested in Muslims' Problems are Not Limited to Islamist Extremism, and Can't Be Solved Simply by Reclaiming Islam's Past Intellectual Traditions.
Reply to Norm Sheehan - 14/2/16
I will include your later observation. However such intrusions (violations?) are part of the way in which nature works. In an area where I lived there used to be many attractive bird species that have been largely displaced by Noisy Minors – and the whole ecosystem had to adapt to some extent. The latest science news involved the detection of gravity waves that resulted from the collision of two black holes – and this was almost certainly somewhat disruptive of anything it the near vicinity 1.2bn years ago. There are large numbers of highly disruptive technologies on the economic horizon that business and communities need to get to grips with. Adaptation to disruption is what matters. Simply hoping that disruptions won’t happen is foolish.
China now seems to be seeking to create a new authoritarian international order to displace / disrupt the liberal Western-style international order that has prevailed since WW2 as a geo-political extension of the successes of neo-Confucian methods for rapidly building economic power (see Creating a New International 'Confucian' Financial and Political Order?). Most people in Western societies have been hoping that there is no need to adapt – but doing this indefinitely would be stupid. It would also be unlikely because of the existence of fairly effective methods for learning and changing in Western cultures.
Reply to Norm Sheehan - 14/2/16
There is no doubt that nature doesn’t always work through intrusive
disruptions. But they are certainly not unusual. And in human affairs intrusive
disruptions are not the only source of change. But here also they are not all
Reply to Norm Sheehan - 14/2/16
Good question. What do you think nature says?
|Put Indigenous People Before Political Gamesmanship||
Put Indigenous People Before Political Gamesmanship - email sent 25/5/16
Adrian Little and Mark McMillan,
Re: On the wrong track: why Australia’s attempt at Indigenous reconciliation will fail, The Conversation, 20/5/16
Your article was useful in highlighting the likely difference in goals that risks undermining indigenous reconciliation through constitutional recognition. In brief you suggest that: (a) non-indigenous aspirations seem to focus on promoting equality / sameness; and (b) indigenous activists are seeking to ensure ongoing recognition of difference, and righting historical injustices. Somewhat similar points seemed to be being made in ‘Recognise the Limits of Indigenous Constitutional Recognition (The Australian, 30/4/16) in which Stephen Fitzgerald overviewed a recent book by Megan Davis and Marcia Langton, It’s Our Country: Indigenous Arguments for Meaningful Constitutional Recognition and Reform.
However a bigger problem lies in the failure of the whole process to take account of the practical consequences of cultural differences (eg the way in which some cultural differences have disadvantaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people in the past, and would presumably continue to do so in the future as long as those consequences are not systematically studied and understood by ATSI people). The reasons for suggesting that the practical consequences of culture are important are outlined in Culture Matters (2001); The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement (2002+); and Racial Discrimination is Not the Only Cause of Ethnic Distress (2016).
The alternative interpretations that could be put on the purpose / outcome of the constitutional recognition process that have now emerged were obvious in 2010 when the process was first established (see 'Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism?). The first possible purpose / outcome was to recognise that some Australians have ancestors who were indigenous at the time of European settlement – and that (though some such people may need a lot of help initially) they should have the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as everyone else. The alternative was that Australians with at least some indigenous ancestry should have different rights, responsibilities and opportunities to everyone else.
The difference is whether the goal is to improve the position of: (a) ATSI ‘people’ (ie as human beings); or (b) ATSI ‘tribes’ as a whole (ie as groups of people with particular racial heritage) – irrespective of the effect that this may have on ATSI people as individuals. Those goals are incompatible for reasons suggested in UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage? (2007).
The expert group on indigenous recognition clearly made no progress in dealing with the question of what would be in the best interests of Australians with indigenous ancestry. In fact doing so was not even in their terms of reference and the proposal they put forward was nonsense. As your article noted, the panel suggested that there should simultaneously be: (a) racial discrimination in law amongst Australians; and (b) no such racial discrimination (see also Inadequate Proposals for Advancing the Position of Australians with Indigenous Ancestry, 2011).
The current standoff that your article mentions involves the question of whether or not the position of ATSI people would be promoted through: (a) equality; or (b) establishing a legal framework for a new racially-based political process. Political gamesmanship on the basis of race is not going to advance the position of ATSI people to the extent that this requires their recognition that culture (which Indigenous activists want constitutional recognition to prevent changes to) is not just a matter of ‘identity’ but has practical (and sometimes dysfunctional) consequences. To prevent the constitutional recognition process degenerating into political gamesmanship, serious research (which does not ignore the practical consequences of culture) is needed into what is most likely to improve the position of Australians with indigenous ancestry. To date the process has been far too narrow.
A similar change in emphasis (ie to take account of the practical consequences of cultural traditions / assumptions rather than merely treating them as a feature of a group’s ‘identity’) is arguably needed if Australia’s approach to multiculturalism generally is to be more in the interests of ordinary people than of those who primarily want to play political games (see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism, 2010).
Broadening, Rather Than Distorting, the Indigenous Recognition Debate
Broadening, Rather Than Distorting, the Indigenous Recognition Debate - email sent 24/6/16
RE: Treaty debate will only strengthen Indigenous recognition process, The Conversation, 23/6/16
Your article pointed to the fact that considering treaty issues will ‘broaden’ the debate related to Constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples. However the consultation process that the Referendum Council now proposes to undertake would unfortunately only ‘broaden’ the debate in one direction. There is a need to decide whether the Recognition process should aim to promote the welfare of Australians with indigenous ancestry or the influence of those who want to play political games.
As your article indicated there is no uniformity of opinion about what the Recognition process should involve. It has been obvious from the start that the key question was whether it would involve recognition that some Australians had ancestors who were indigenous at the time of European settlement and now have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else, or whether Australians with at least some indigenous ancestry would have different rights, responsibilities and opportunities to everyone else (see 'Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism?, 2010).
It also seemed likely that, in the spirit of the 1967 referendum, Australians generally would favour inclusion of those with indigenous ancestry rather than the creation of a racist constitution.
Reasons for favouring what is likely to be Australians’ majority view are considered further in Put Indigenous People Before Political Gamesmanship (2016).
There is a need (as your article suggested) to broaden and strengthen the debate about indigenous recognition. However what the Referendum Council apparently now proposes to do would be counter-productive. It would only ‘broaden’ the debate in one direction (ie towards increasing emphasis on political gamesmanship – eg through a treaty process). The Council also needs to commission someone to broaden the debate in the direction of improving the welfare of Australians with indigenous ancestry. This requires ensuring that they are made aware of the adverse practical consequences of some aspects of their traditional cultures. They would thus be positioned to overcome some of the internal causes of their frequent disadvantage, rather than being led to believe that their problems are mainly due external factors. Broadening the debate in the latter direction can’t be achieved just by consultation with indigenous communities if they lack that understanding.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Interchange with Les Malezer - reproduced with permission
CPDS reply to Les Malezer - 25/6/16
Thanks for your comments which I will add to my website (here) if you have no objection. You are absolutely right that I am suggesting that our primary concern should be with the welfare of 'people' as compared with the rights of 'peoples'. A problem with an emphasis on ‘rights’ is outlined in Revisiting Ancient Grievances.
CPDS Reply to Les Malezer (25/6/16)
The UN may have believed that the problems that Indigenous people in 80 countries suffered could be eased by its 2007 Declaration. However the reality is that this was probably not so in most cases (see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?, 2007). Once again the issue is whether the goal should be to improve the welfare of Indigenous ‘people’, or the rights of Indigenous ‘peoples’ (ie the rights of Indigenous ‘people’ to be relatively disadvantaged).
And the question about ‘ancient’ grievances is not irrelevant. At every stage in history invaders and the people they invaded have usually tended to gradually integrate – with both sides adjusting to some extent. It takes time but it happens. And as I understand it Britain was one of the most invaded regions of the world – and, after the effects of conflicts wore off, it benefited enormously from this (ie by learning from its invaders, who tended to be more advanced in some respects, while converting them to many advantageous local traditions and practices). There are umpteen current examples of partially complete integration processes. The UN’s 2007 proposal to identify 80 countries where the integration process is still in an early stage and to advocate the creation of an ongoing political division on the basis of race (which, as is the case in Australia, would tend to leave the Indigenous people relatively disadvantaged) was anything but constructive.
Email Reply to Les Malezer (1/7/16)
Many points you made were relevant. Sometimes genocides occurred (and sometimes constructive integration resulted). Sometimes invaders withdrew - sometimes they didn't. Sometimes disputes about rights continued for thousands of years - and the outcome of eternal disputes rather than just getting on with life can be disastrous for all concerned (eg in the case of Israel and Palestine).
'Rights' to self-determination have been widely accepted. European colonization tended to come to an end from the early 20th century with the establishment of independent states - sometimes with close links to the former colonising power. In quite a lot of cases those independent states became failed states - because their cultural traditions were incompatible with success / progress in the modern world (eg in Africa and the Muslim world). The rights of indigenous people to self-determination were accepted by UN - and for reasons I suggested this has tended to perpetuate, rather than ameliorate, the disadvantages suffered by those populations. The success / progress achieved on the basis of Western cultural traditions are not automatic in all contexts. Success has also been achieved in East Asia on the basis of quite different and very specific cultural traditions – but these are: (a) incompatible with a Western-style emphasis on anyone’s ‘rights’; and (b) likely to lead to ultimate failure (eg see Understanding East Asia Requires More Than a Study of Confucian Values).
There is no doubt from what you are writing that the case for political gamesmanship so as to advance the ‘rights’ of Australians with indigenous ancestry will be made in the Referendum Committee’s consultation process. My suggestion is merely that a case for improving their ‘welfare’ also needs to be made. Some reasons to suspect that those goals are incompatible are in Problems with Perpetuating Traditions.
Your style / sophistication of argument does not reflect the traditional cultures of Australians with indigenous ancestry. It is a produce of escaping those cultural limitations through education. It would be highly desirable for large numbers of Australians with indigenous ancestry to achieve a similar breakthrough. But this won’t be achieved if the emphasis is on such people’s ‘right’ to operate within cultural traditions that disadvantage them. There has been a vocal expression of concern by mothers and other adults at Aurukun about the potential loss of the advantages that children can gain from education through Noel Pearson’s school. The gains from education will come from breaking the bounds of cultural traditions – not from preventing change.
|Australians with Indigenous Ancestry Deserve More than Survival||
Australians with Indigenous Ancestry Deserve More than Survival - email sent 4/7/16
Dr Meg Perkins,
Re: First Nations people have a lesson in survival to benefit us all, Sunday Mail, 3/7/16
Your article’s emphasis on the welfare of Australians with indigenous ancestry was very constructive. Unfortunately it seemed to provide them with some overly-simplified information.
Your article pointed to emerging examples of successful leadership by some Australians with indigenous ancestry. However it is my understanding that their ability to do this does not derive primarily from traditional indigenous cultures – but rather from the influence on them of non-indigenous cultures as a result of their partial non-indigenous ancestry and / or other circumstances in their history. My reasons for suggesting this are indicated in Cultural Obstacles (2002) and Practical Difficulties (2007). It is not helpful to lead Australians with indigenous ancestry to believe that their traditional cultures are the key to overcoming their chronic disadvantage and dependency on Australians who don’t have indigenous ancestry.
Your account of the difficulties that Australians with indigenous ancestry experienced following European colonisation is reasonable. However (for reasons suggested in The Past, 2002 and Racial Discrimination is Not the Only Cause of Ethnic Distress 2016) it is not correct to argue that their difficulties were simply a consequence of what others did (eg because other’s actions damaged their economic prospects).
Economic success depends critically on flexible market-oriented change and an ability to deal with complex technologies. As I understand it, traditional indigenous cultures were geared to resisting change and did not involve the use of abstract concepts as a basis for learning which is critical for dealing with science, technology and many aspects of modern economies. Rather they tended to involve learning in the ‘concrete’ (ie learning while dealing with ‘things’). Certainly many Australians with indigenous ancestry are now overcoming those constraints (eg as is also illustrated by your writing). But those who cannot yet to do so should not be misled into believing that their traditional cultures are a sufficient basis for overcoming their chronic problems. Cultural traditions (eg involving families, elders, tribal identities, spirituality and ceremonies) may provide the social resilience needed for survival, but they don’t provide the basis for the economic success required to overcome disadvantage and ongoing dependence on non-indigenous Australians.
An emphasis on improving the welfare of Australians with indigenous ancestry should arguably be the major focus of the referendum process in relation to the recognition of indigenous Australia (see Put Indigenous People Before Political Gamesmanship and Broadening, Rather Than Distorting, the Indigenous Recognition Debate, 2016). However as the latter suggests this primarily requires: (a) a refusal to make that process into a political ‘game’ to gain special racially-based benefits at the expense of other Australians; and (b) enabling Australians with indigenous ancestry to understand the real cultural issues involved.
That they have been prevented from doing so to date seems largely to be a consequence of the post-modern ideologies that have come to dominate in academic study of the humanities. In essence this involves the assumption that culture is simply a matter of preference and has no practical consequences for affected communities. That assumption is simply false (see Culture Matters, 2001). Post-modern ideologies seem to be a significant (though not the only) component in the ‘political correctness’ phenomenon which has been a major obstacle to progress by Australians with indigenous ancestry – and in relation to many other challenges that Australians now face (see The Church of Political Correctness Threatens National Progress ).
A serious approach to analysis of the effect that cultural beliefs and practices have on people’s economic prospects is necessary to genuinely boost the welfare and independence of Australians with indigenous ancestry. However this probably won’t be feasible until the obstacles to their progress that are posed by: post-modern ideologies; ‘political correctness’; and political gamesmanship in relation to indigenous recognition are challenged and overcome.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Northern Territory Child Protection and Youth Detention Royal Commission: The Risk of a Cover-up
Northern Territory Child Protection and Youth Detention Royal Commission: The Risk of a Cover-up - email sent 7/8/16
Janet Albrechtsen, The Australian,
You have all argued publicly for diverse reasons (see Interpretation of Your Key Points) that to make any significant difference the Royal Commission needs to take a ‘big picture’ view. It would be inadequate to focus on the heavy-handed and presumably counter-productive methods sometimes used not just as-officially-intended for staff / detainee safety but also to control otherwise-apparently-uncontrollable children in the Youth Detention system. Rather you have implied that priority needs to be given to how to prevent large numbers of indigenous youths being in detention in the first place.
This will clearly be addressed by the Royal Commission as its Terms of Reference include the Northern Territory’s Child Protection System - a system that (amongst other things) tries to ensure that any abuse or neglect at-risk children have suffered from inside or outside their families / communities doesn’t cause them to become entangled in the judicial system. On the basis of a long interest in The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement (2002+), I should like to suggest that the diversity of your reasons for arguing that the Royal Commission take a ‘big picture’ view implies that the Royal Commission needs to take an even ‘bigger picture’ view to achieve useful progress.
Observer’s Views (on my web-site) outlines many contributions (including yours) to the public debate about issues related to problems in the Northern Territory’s Child Protection and Youth Detention systems. It starts with a summary of the range of views expressed. This suggests that many observers believe (as I do) that the Royal Commission’s current terms of reference are still too narrow – even though the Northern Territory Government insisted that they include the Child Protection System.
There is nothing unique about the problems in the Northern Territory that gave rise to the Royal Commission (ie the fact that young people with indigenous ancestry seem to be in over-represented in detention facilities and that it has proven difficult to remedy that social problem). Indigenous ancestry characterises a high percentage (about 47%) of youths in the Northern Territory - and almost all youth detainees (about 95%). And Australia-wide young people with indigenous ancestry are 25 times more likely to be in detention. And, in the US, it has been suggested that ‘people of colour’ (often “convicted of non-violent crimes, uneducated and unemployed, drug dependent”) suffer high rates of incarceration (see Unlocking Indigenous Incarceration).
Reducing the disadvantage, distress and recalcitrance that often affects children with indigenous ancestry and then leads some to socially-disruptive criminal activity that then places them at risk of detention requires understanding and eliminating the main sources of disadvantages that affect indigenous communities as a whole. The problems that such communities currently experience clearly create a poor foundation for affected children’s prospects in life.
As Interpretation of Your Key Points indicates, your articles seem to strongly emphasise the need for a ‘big picture’ view – but for two quite different types of reasons. Children’s problems are seen to remain unresolved because reliance has either excessively or insufficiently been placed on indigenous communities to do so. Thus to make progress in understanding and reducing the underlying social problems that place children in need of protection services or at risk of detention would clearly require that the Royal Commission devote a lot of effort to considering both the strengths and weaknesses of indigenous communities in seeking to resolve children's problems.
My suspicion is that traditional cultures can provide a basis for supporting children in communities with indigenous ancestry (an assumption with which various observers, notably several women with indigenous ancestry [1, 2, 3], apparently vigorously disagree), but that those worldviews severely limit collective and individual prospects of material success / prosperity in the modern world and thus need to be adapted to prevent individuals and communities suffering ongoing disadvantage and alienation. Current multicultural and indigenous rights policies need to be changed to deal with this, as they make it impossible to debate, much less deal with, any adverse practical consequences of traditional indigenous worldviews. My reasons for suggesting this are developed further on my web-site (see The Need to Review Indigenous Worldviews).
There is no point in a Royal Commission that ‘covers-up’ serious social problems by merely investigating the difficulties that institutions (eg the Child Protection System) have in dealing with them. Australia already has one prominent Royal Commission that effectively just ‘covers-up’ a serious social problem, child sexual abuse, because it is limited to investigating the difficulties that institutions have had in dealing with the tiny fraction of child sexual abuse that is perpetrated by their employees or associates (see Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: Another Official Cover-up?, 2012).
Unfortunately yet another ‘cover-up’ (ie an emphasis on defects in the Child Protection system's efforts to deal with a social problem rather than on eliminating the social problem itself) seems all that the Northern Territory Royal Commission’s current Terms of Reference allow. Their only reference to culture involves the culture of detention centre staff (presumably because staff racism might contribute to problems in youth detention centres).
While it may still be ‘politically correct’ to ignore the likely cultural causes of the problems in achieving material success experienced by Australian communities and children with indigenous ancestry, it seems to be increasingly recognised that ‘political correctness’ (ie blankly refusing to even consider politically challenging possibilities) has become a major obstacle to progress (see The Church of Political Correctness Threatens National Progress).
Addendum: Interpretation of Your Key Points:
The key issue that the Royal Commission needs to address is: what would be the best way to reduce the numbers of youths (almost all of whom in the Northern Territory have indigenous ancestry) who are in need of child protection services or at risk of detention.
While there are other complicating factors (eg the legacy of history, the failure of past policies and community / official actions based on negative community perceptions) overcoming some constraints that traditional worldviews impose on economic success by communities and individuals with indigenous ancestry would both: (a) contribute to positive community attitudes; and (b) address the source of the problems that manifest as (for example) individuals' difficulties in education and employment as well as a perceived need for enhanced Child Protection Services and detention of many young people. This also requires changes to Australia's traditional multicultural and indigenous rights policies - as the latter are an obstacle to understanding the constraints on material success implicit in traditional cultures and thus mainly provide Australians with indigenous ancestry with a 'right' to ongoing disadvantage and other problems.
Culture is the principal determinant of a community's ability to be materially successful and to live in relative peace and harmony (see Culture Matters in Competing Civilizations, 2001+). Culture affects: people's goals and aspirations; the way they understand reality (and thus how they go about solving problems, and whether they can develop technologies); their ability to learn, to cope with risk and to change; the way people relate; the scope for initiative; and the institutions a society maintains.
Australia has been relatively successful / prosperous because it inherited economic and political institutions from the UK that are built on a liberal social foundation. And these enabled reasonably effective rational / analytical problem solving by individuals in all walks of life. This was a formula for progress / prosperity for reasons suggested in Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual (2001). While other cultural foundations for progress / prosperity were found more recently in East Asia, these may be transitory for reasons suggested in 2009 and 2010 which were clearly coming to a head in 2016. And serious cultural obstacles to progress / prosperity have existed in the Muslim world and proven highly disruptive of Muslims' relationships with others (see Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization, 2015).
Traditional indigenous cultures in Australia also appear to constrain progress / prosperity by affected communities and individuals (see The Past and Cultural Obstacles in The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement, 2002).
For example, those worldviews do not have the classical Greek heritage that was the source of Western societies' ability to achieve practical progress through abstract understanding, rationality, and analysis. Indigenous cultures traditionally involve learning in the concrete (ie by doing things - such as fixing cars) rather than in the abstract (ie by gaining understanding how things like cars work). This is a significant obstacle to the education that is often needed to have good job prospects in a modern economy. Many children with indigenous ancestry reportedly gain little more from schooling than a 'start' in understanding what education is (ie they did not gain much actual education / abstract understanding). And, while constant change is critical to progress and economic prosperity, tribal elders in indigenous cultures apparently traditionally resist change.
Such cultural constraints on material success have not been overcome by policies and programs implemented in recent decades. Native Title encouraged many Australians with indigenous ancestry to live well away from areas of economic opportunity and well developed infrastructure and government services. Passive welfare has led to alcoholism and social breakdown. 'Closing the Gap' initiatives paid no attention to cultural obstacles to progress / prosperity. Huge resources have been devoted in Australia and elsewhere to study of differences between indigenous and Western worldviews without apparently making the slightest attempt to identify the practical consequences of those differences.
Though some Australians with indigenous ancestry are now getting beyond the educational and employment obstacles implicit in their traditional worldviews, many other have not been able to do so - and are thus left with poor economic prospects and negative community perceptions of their capabilities. Resentment of, and perhaps-criminal reactions against, the wider community result - which puts offenders on a path to detention in order to provide security for the general community.
It has reasonably been argued that parents and others in communities with indigenous ancestry need to be encouraged / enabled to provide better support to their children. This could not be done by boosting community-controlled social programs (eg under the 'justice reinvestment' policies that Co-Commissioner Mick Gooda has apparently advocated - see Unlocking Indigenous Incarceration below). 'Justice reinvestment' seems to require very significant government funding (ie a non-trivial fraction of the cost of prisons). Thus it must make entire communities 'welfare-dependent' and lock them into bureaucratically-managed processes. Moreover so long as the adults who are expected to provide better support are kept in ignorance of the obstacles to material success that are implicit in their traditional cultures, they have no real prospect of either eliminating the social dysfunctions that plague their communities or guiding their children to achieve material success and break free of the corrosive effects of individual or collective welfare-dependence (for reasons outlined in Australians with Indigenous Ancestry Deserve More than Survival).
Australia's prevailing multicultural and indigenous rights policies have been a major obstacle to overcoming these problems. The former does not allow any consideration of the practical consequences of different worldviews (see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism, 2010) while the latter effectively involves a 'right' to ongoing disadvantage (see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?, 2007). The latter highlighted the serious inconsistencies in the UN Declaration that has unfortunately come to be regarded as providing useful policy guidance. The fact that post-modern ideologies (which basically maintain that claims of 'truth' in human affairs are simply a reflection of elite assumptions) have come to dominate university humanities' faculties is also a major obstacle to progress - because it has apparently prevented serious analysis of the practical consequences of cultural assumptions (see A Case for Restoring Universities).
Overview of the Issues Observers Raised:
Northern Territory Government
The Royal Commission
If Royal Commission is to be effective it will need to go beyond criminal justice reforms to consider why so many NT youth (especially indigenous youth) are in detention - especially given the resources poured into 'closing the gap' initiatives. NT's mandatory sentencing laws are part of the problem - but the crisis can be traced to three factors: alcohol abuse, chronic youth unemployment; and disengagement from education. Young people disengaged from work and education are more likely to commit crimes. Unemployment is also an issue and it is common to find 3 generations where no one holds a permanent / full-time job. People from Left and Right want to make a difference - but none have done so. Tighter control of school truancy and real jobs (not work-for dole roles) might help. Royal commission won't make a difference unless it looks behind why many indigenous youths spend formative years in detention. Homicide rate in NT is 13 times the national average - and most violence is inflicted by aborigines on other aborigines. The damaging effect of alcohol also can't be over-stated. The hospitalization rate for assaulted aboriginal women can be up to 80 times that of others (Neill R., 'Youth detention: Too many kids in custody to start with', Australian, 27/7/16)
On 26/7/16 NT chief minister referred to changing culture in youth detention system. Australia's PM announced Royal Commission hours after video was released at Don Dale facility were aired. Mere description of what was happening had had no effect on public. In NT restraining devices had been legally approved. The Don Dale facility is only one manifestation of the use of excessive force (a form of torture) against youths who defied the social order. 96% of youths in detention were indigenous - as are 30% of NT citizens. NT chief minister has been indifferent to this, unaware of what has happened, and now believing that abuses have been covered up. The same applied to NT police minister and federal ministers. This is implausible given operating assumptions of detention system. Giles paints a picture of necessary incarceration of violent children who are street menaces to the security of everyone else. The community was seen to be sick of youth crime (involving smashing cars, house break-ins and assaults on citizens). It was acknowledged that youth detention was imperfect - but was seen to be being improved. The primary need was seen to be to have a safe community. Inmates were blamed for abuse they suffered - because others were behaving. NT indigenous politician, Bess Price, endorsed Giles approach by suggesting that families supported youth imprisonment as bad boys needed to be taught a lesson. The Royal Commission may achieve little as political mentalities can be immovable. (Kampmark B., The Northern Territory, torture and Australia's detention disease, Online Opinion, 28/7/16)
Turnbull government will resist calls to exclude NT government from joint stewardship of Royal Commission into human rights abuses in NT's youth justice system. Calls had been made for NT government to be sacked - or stripped of juvenile detention responsibilities (Kenny M. Malcolm Turnbull to keep Northern Territory involved in Royal Commission, Brisbane Times, 28/7/16)
There has been an over-reaction (by liberal left, Human Rights and indigenous bureaucracy and much of the media) to Four Corner program on NT juvenile detention. Program made a bad situation seem worse - with detention conditions compared with Abu Ghraib prison - and the youth who featured most in the images (Voller) was given a positive description even though he had an appalling criminal record. Four Corners program was not based on recent events nor for a particular time period. It entirely lacked balance. The footage used to damn the entire NT juvenile detention system was of what happened to the six of the most belligerent inmates. The CLP was blamed for what happened. It has been in power since 2012 - and the procedures shown in video were probably in place years earlier. 'Spit hoods' (to protect officers from HIV and hepatitis) have been widely used elsewhere - while mechanical restraining chair is legitimate tool for use in preventing inmate from self-harming (as Voller repeated threatened). What was videoed would have been within officers' understanding of correct procedures - as they knew what was happening was being recorded. Ken Middlebrook (former NT Correctional Services Commissioner) said that restraint chair and spit hood had been use twice and once with Voller. John Elferink (former NT Corrections minister) said that affected kids has been pushing the envelop since coming into custody. They saw themselves as hard-core group of thugs and behaved accordingly. Voller before being pepper sprayed and restrained had been violent enough to cause lacerations to an officer's arm. Voller is one of NT's most notorious young offenders - who has been found guilty of over 50 offences (including violence) over yjr past 5 years. The Royal Commission will now examine NT's treatment of juvenile detainees. It will be slow and profitable for lawyers. The corrections system is wrongly seen to be responsible for high rates of indigenous imprisonment and for destroying childhood of those imprisoned. However the main causality relates to early lives of offenders. Rather than wallowing in victim-hood indigenous community needs to take responsibility for underlying problem (poor parenting - partly due to substance abuse and family breakdown). Historic factors are partly responsible for this, but communities themselves need to make massive changes. Indigenous communities have been unwilling to face up to sky high levels of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. There won't be any quick fix to juvenile justice system - as putting chronic young offenders back on the street is not a solution (O'Reilly B., What will the NT Royal Commission achieve?, Online Opinion, 28/7/16
The images of children being mistreated in NT is sickening / despicable. However there is a better way to deal with this than a Royal Commission. There is already a lot of evidence about what happened. There is also a public appetite for dramatic change. A Royal Commission is expensive, combative and slow. What Four Corners showed had been documented in NT Children's Commissioner's report in August 2015 - and amplified by Amnesty and Law Council of Australia. It will be years before Royal Commission's recommendations will be produced and considered. Royal Commissions are designed to get at 'hidden truths' - but these don't exist in this case. All that will be achieved is to line lawyers pockets (Fynes-Clinton J. 'Pointless inquiry will not solve problem of abuse in detention, Courier Mail, 28/7/16)
All jurisdictions have complaints-based systems for children in detention - and since 2010 there have been many complaints Australia-wide similar to those at the NT's Don Dale Centre (Cunneen C., 'Abuse in youth detention is not limited to the Northern Territory, The Conversation, 28/7/16)
'Justice reinvestment' has been seen by some observers as a solution
In Queensland five Queensland Youth Justice staff have been sacked recently for the use of excessive force (Killoran M., 'Detention staff sacked for force', Courier Mail, 28/7/16)
NT Labor leader (who could head the next NT government) threatened to hold separate judicial inquiry into juvenile detention abuses if royal commission is too narrow. He would immediately implement recommendations of 2011 Review of NT Youth Justice System - which included separating youth justice from adult prison system. The author of that report argued that NT government had shown callous disregard for children's welfare (Aikman A,. 'Snub of Labor Party puts abuse inquiry at risk', Australian 28/7/16)
It costs $1000 / day on average for incarceration of youths in Australia - and the cost has been rising as the number of youths in detention has fallen. In Australia's 17 youth detention centres the numbers of inmates fell 25% (to 720) over the past 5 years. The total detainees in the NT is 44 (Burrell A., Detention costs rise as fewer youths are incarcerated, Australian, 28/7/16)
Former (1980s) NT Chief Minister and former CLP minister for prisons and juvenile justice (Ian Tuxworth) says Giles Government betrayed the NT. There seemed to be a view that it could operate above the law. He supports the view of WA Premier that NT Government is not competent to run prisons and that they should be taken over by the federal government (or other states) until they were in better order. Tuxworth was concerned about stress faced by Voller. He had grown up with aboriginal children - and coached some. Most of those children could have wound up in somewhere like Don Dale - except that programs to occupy them kept them out of jail. Fewer children went off the rails in the past. He believes that 30-40 people (including ministers) would have known what was happening at Don Dale and done nothing about it. (‘They thought they could carry on above the law’, Australian, 28/7/16)
New federal Labor MP, Linda Burney' has attacked NT chief minister over his attitude and approach to juvenile crime.In 2010 he has said in parliament (as a reflection of frustrations about street crime by youths in NT) that he would put bad criminals in a concrete hole if he were corrections minister. (Lewis R., Linda Burney launches attack on Adam Giles over to juvenile crime, Australian, 28/7/16)
Abuses in NT's youth detention were reminiscent of Howard government's emergency response - where issues of child maltreatment were also involved. A decade after that intervention the problems it exposed still exist. What can Turnbull's narrow Royal Commission into issues that have already been the subject of many reviews achieve? The real problem is that NT is immature administration burdened by some of the worst social problems in the country. NT government receives 80% of its funding from Canberra much of it earmarked to tackle indigenous disadvantage. Turnbull's response indicates a failure to understand structural obstacles in NT governance that create conditions in which abuse can occur. (Aikman A., 'Tacking the NT's structural problems is the key to any reform', Australian, 28/7/16)
Mistreatment of juvenile detainees in NT could be classified a torture - and perhaps as crimes under international law - according to Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment ('Mistreatment of juveniles in Northern Territory detention could be classed as torture: UN expert', ABC, 28/7/16)
Images of shackled children has provoked public outrage and a prime minister's resolve to establish a Royal Commission to 'get to the bottom of it'. However the terms of reference show that Commission will only be able to deal with part of the problem. The NT Government's involvement raises questions about Commission's independence. Inquiry will consider failings of NT child protection and youth detention systems - and whether they have breached laws. Effective reform requires understanding / addressing conditions that make it likely that children in out-of-home care will come in contact with criminal justice system. It is also essential (but not in terms of reference) to consider children's welfare comprehensively. The inquiry will deal with abuse in closed institutions - but there is a need to consider other setting in which abuse can occur. Fixing this requires close consultation with indigenous people - and reform proposals should be developed by indigenous people. It would be wrong to believe that problems are confined to NT. Thus a second stage inquiry is needed to confront deeper, more troubling questions about why children are incarcerated and how it might be possible to better ensure children's welfare. There is international work that could guide reform (eg from UN). There is a need to shift from 'tough on crime' approach to promoting children's integration into society. Trauma counseling, education, rehabilitation programs and ensuring that children have access to their culture are needed. As well as establishing this inquiry the Australian government needs to demonstrate human rights leadership. The latter is a national responsibility - even though juvenile justice is a state / territory matter (O'Brien W., The NT Royal Commission: it's a good start but more leadership is needed, the Conversation, 29/7/16)
Child welfare advocates acknowledge that the use of physical force by guards against children providing it is 'reasonable' and a last resort. Mechanical restraints can be used in all jurisdiction to protect children from self-harm or to maintain security. There are however various actions which are prohibited (Burrell A., ' Reasonable physical force ‘acceptable as a last resort’, Australian, 29/7/16)
NT Government is counter-suing two boys who appeared in the video about abuse at the Don Dale Centre - in relation to damage associated with their escape from that centre in 2015 [NT government counter-suing Don Dale Youths, Australian, 29/7/16)]
Royal Commission will examine both youth detention facilities and child protection. The question of whether racism was part of the problem could be addressed because culture within the system was in terms of reference. Commission will examine whether: NT government should have done more; effectiveness of oversight mechanisms; why 2015 reports on problems were insufficiently implemented; whether treatment breached laws or inmates human rights; the availability of appropriate care for children in custody; and past reports back to 2007 (Baxendale R., Ex-NT chief judge Brian Ross Martin to lead youth detention inquiry, Australian, 29/7/16)
Dylan Voller had over 50 offences to his name 2 years ago when his counsel told a judge that he would spit at people who was upset with. Images of Voller in a 'spit hood' and tied to a prison chair gained world-wide attention - but was the end point of an anger management issue that emerged when Voller was a child (Edwards V., 'Childhood marred by abuse, violence and family neglect', Australian, 29/7/16)
No psychologist would have been surprised by abuse of young prisoners at NT Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. An experiment at Stanford in 1971 showed that putting good people in an evil situation generated abuse. It simulated the role of guards and prisoners in a student experiment - and found that those involved took their roles seriously to the point of abuse. The treatment of prisoners at Don Dale, the cruelty of guards and the consequent damage to and dehumanisation of young prisoners could have been taken from that experiment (Sweetman T., 'Lessons in evil learnt in just six days were ignored at Don Dale, Courier Mail, 29/7/16).
Concern has reasonably been expressed about the treatment of inmates at youth detention centre. However the victims of those young criminals and the bullying / disruption / chaos they caused at schools should not be ignored. The violence, theft and damage they have been responsible for needs to be revealed. There is also a need to identify alternative programs / treatments which prevent these louts flouting laws and terrorizing others (Royal commission into abuse isn't the answer, Letters to the editor, Courier Mail, 29/7/16)
There is a need to address the root cause of what leads children to end up in detention centers. Fortunately the NT's chief minister, Adam Giles, demanded that the Royal Commission examine problems in the youth protection system as well as those in youth detention. Giles is right in pointing out that many of the wild / uncontrollable children that end up in detention come from troubled family backgrounds characterised by parental abuse and neglect. The role that child protection plays requires attention - as incarceration of children who have committed crimes is just part of a much bigger problem. The most vulnerable children often suffer irreparable harm because child protection policies focus on keeping families together rather than on properly protecting children. Child protection services practice 'family preservation' at any cost - so that too little is done too late to rescue children. Children are left with highly dysfunctional parents (affected by substance abuse, domestic violence and other social problems) after being reported many times because of welfare concerns. When ultimately removed, children have suffered massive damage. Child protection systems have become mental illness factories. Children suffer harm first in family home, then in unstable care as attempts are made to restore them to family homes. Those who go through this become 'hard to help' - given their crime, risk of suicide, substance abuse and potential death by misadventure. It is no longer safe for such people to live in family homes or normal kinship / foster care settings. They require placement in residential care facilities where they receive round-the-clock professional support. The number of children in residential care have doubled nationally over past 10 years (to 2300). 30 years after most orphanages were closed, governments have been forced to re-institutionalize care for children damaged / disturbed by family preservation. This could be avoided by earlier and permanent removal of children from dysfunctional families. The scandalous state of child protection systems must be the main focus of royal commission (Sammut J., 'Don Dale the Tip of Child Protection Scandal, 30/7/16)
84% of youngsters locked up in Queensland have not been sentenced by a court - well above the national average of about 50%. Queensland's official child advocate is to probe this - following concern about a 'flogging squad' at Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville - where excessive force and verbal abuse have been applied to children. Though that group was disbanded, it is understood that excessive force is still used though Youth Justice is unaware of this and seeks evidence. The Queensland Family and Child Commission will investigate why the length of time children are held in demand is higher than national average. Siyavash Dhoostkhah (Youth Affairs Network of Queensland) said this would be a counter-productive waste of money. "It is basically a training ground. There are a handful of hardcore kids who run a training scheme in how to become future criminals for the others who have to show they are tough to survive." The $400,00 pa cost of detainee was 3 times state governments budget for children's services. Attorney General's Department said that targeting remand was a key goal of state's youth justice reforms. New legislation will make remand a last resort [Passmore D. and Tin J., 'Remand on demand soars', Sunday Mail, 31/7/16]
Teachers are concerned about worrying rise in numbers of highly disruptive children in classrooms. Judith Howard (QUT) said that teachers are questioning their career choices or suffering health problems. Many of those who exhibit extreme ('red zone') behaviour have suffered trauma at home (violence / neglect / substance abuse). Such children are commonly disruptive and display verbal / physical aggression - and can't regulate their emotions effectively. Normal behavioural management strategies do not work with 'red zone' students - any more than exclusion / suspension does. They need an informed / individual approach. Teachers need help to work with 'red zone' children. [Martyn-Jones L., 'Students a pain the the class', Sunday Mail, 31/7/16]
The founder of Boys Town believed that there were no bad boys - just bad environments, bad training, bad examples and bad thinking. Other factors include bad priests / teachers / scoutmasters / police / prison guards / politicians. However some Australians think that badness exists that justifies brutality at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. This is more so in NT. Many people were disgusted by brutality - though this was more muted in NT reflecting a society under pressure. Sometimes naked racism was tarted up as rationalism. Without dealing with complex root causes in a barely functional territory, it is no doubt some boys were guilty of adult crimes. However this does not justify organised violence against people ho are children legally and developmentally. Assaulting children is a cowardly abuse of power - equivalent to sexual abuse. The 'bad' children can vary from troubled, to damaged, to misled, to deranged. It is hard not to see those who those who steal, damage property or assault us as 'bad'. However 'badness' can't be eliminated by beatings. Restrained corporal punishment used to be used in families to promote desired behaviours - but brutality did not do so. A boy was observed to be transformed to a pent-up keg of fearless violence by regular thrashings. Children can't be reformed by lock and keys. Fear can't develop character. It is unfortunately necessary to sometimes put children behind bars. But the children seen at Don Dale were being given lessons in hate. On the other hand, free range parenting (ie allowing anything) is as bad as past strapping by parents. There may be little difference between children raised with violence and those without discipline [Sweetman T., 'Suffer the Children', Sunday Mail, 31/7/16 )
The Royal Commission will seek accountability for abuses at Don Dale Centre. However there is a need for a broader inquiry into incarceration - as this entrenches harm / crime and does not lead to rehabilitation. This is why international law requires detention as last resort for children. When many offenders come into custody profoundly damaged / traumatised, imprisonment compounds those problems. Some hardened offenders do have to be locked up. But few of these are women and children. Large amounts are being spent incarcerating women and children who need more protection from the community, than the community does from them. (Hulls R., and Campbell E., Should we be locking people up in prisons at all, The Conversation, 1/8/16)
Hopefully Royal Commission will be the starting point for broader inquiry into why young aboriginal children are 25 times as likely to end up in detention than others - while those in regions such as the Kimberley are 6 times as likely to commit suicide. There is a need to change policies that have hindered the 'Close the Gap' targets. Aboriginal organisations need to be resourced and empowered in their communities. Self determination and the use of culturally-appropriate programs are essential. 80% of funds under National Indigenous Reform Agreement have gone to non-indigenous organisations. National Community Controlled Health Organisations (Aboriginal Medical Services) are recognised to be the most effective. Royal Commission also needs to look at why so many young aboriginal people wind up in detention / despair. The use of non-indigenous health and social services is a failed policy. (Cooke M., Aboriginal self-determination key to life saving health efforts, The Australian, 1/8/16)
Bill Shorten is playing politics with the Royal Commission into juvenile justice in NT - by publicly (rather than privately) calling for indigenous co-commissioners to be involved (Van Onselen P., Bill Shorten's political game cruels acceptance of valuable idea, Australian, 1/8/16).
Indigenous advocate Mick Gooda and Queensland judge Margaret White have been appointed joint heads of Royal Commission into the Northern Territory juvenile justice system - after resignation of former NT chief justice (Brian Martin) following perceptions of bias (Owens J., and Fox Koob S., 'Mick Gooda and Margaret White to be NT Royal Commissioners', The Australian, 1/8/16)
Brian Martin stepped down as head of Royal Commission and was replaced by Margaret White and Mick Gooda. Liora Salter suggested that Royal Commissions suffer basic contradiction. They offer rare opportunity to broker social change - as those on margins of society can be heard equally with those in authority while at the same time financial, institutional and legal interests must be defended. Most commissions seek incremental politically-acceptable changes. Those that attempt more are rare. There has been concern about a joint NT and federal Royal Commission and about the speed of defining its terms of reference. There is a need to address not only events at the Don Dale Centre - but also deep seated social and political structures that contribute to over-incarceration of indigenous youth. The fact that NT chief minister played a major role in defining terms of reference - while also presumably being subject to investigation by Commission - is of concern. The Commission is not directed to consider fundamental questions about the youth detention system itself. The initial appointment of Brian Martin reduced confidence in the integrity of the Commission. White and Gooda need to rebuild this - but allowing those excluded from government's consultation to provide input on inquiry's future direction. They should appoint staff that represent and command the respect of communities most affected by NT's youth criminal justice system. Their offices should be located in an area whose youth have frequent contact with the system - and facilitate youth testimony on terms that are both compassionate and dignified. (Hoole G., Juvenile detention Royal Commissioners must reach out to rebuild public trust, The Conversation, 1/8/16)
There have been concerns that Mick Gooda could be seen to be biased “given his public call last week for federal intervention to “sack the NT government” and his criticism of John Elferink, who was dumped as the NT corrections minister last week but remains the Attorney-General” (Crowe D., Malcolm Turnbull rushes into fresh NT juvenile detention inquiry row, The Australian, 2/8/16)
Mick Gooda had suggested
that: “This inquiry could really help to turn the tide by looking
into the life-saving and cost-saving potential approaches such as
justice reinvestment, which diverts a portion of funds earmarked
for imprisonment expenditure to local communities with a high
concentration of offenders.” (Fitzpatrick S,.
(Fitzpatrick S,.Commissioner Mick Gooda’s best chance to ‘turn the tide’, The Australian, 2/8/16)
Just after Malcolm Turnbull announced a Royal Commission into juvenile justice and detention in the NT, two new commissioners were announced to replace former who NT chief justice Brian Martin who resigned because of perceived bias. Governments should not rush such matters. The focus has to be on the failure of NT Government to take action to deal with the problem and what the federal government can do to correct their indolence. There have been calls for broadening that inquiry - eg to include indigenous commissioners. The appointment of Mick Gooda should satisfy that - though protecting indigenous people from discrimination and systematic mistreatment has been part of his responsibility for years. Politics should be kept out of inquiry. The goal must not only be to improve the juvenile justice and detention systems but to provide education, support and opportunity to give indigenous youth the prospect of a productive future along with the personal responsibility to seize it (NT detention abuse inquiry hits new territory already, editorial, The Australian, 2/8/16)
Thankfully the scope of Royal Commission was widened to include failings in the child protection system which is one root cause of the disadvantage long suffered by indigenous Australians. But some indigenous leaders don't want to look at the cause of the problem - and are only interested in who does the looking. They called for two indigenous commissioners to conduct the inquiry. - because of their supposed greater insight into the problems facing other indigenous peoples. However any appointed to head a Royal Commission would be unlikely to have much in common with indigenous people who live in appalling circumstances in remote communities. Race does not necessarily imply expertise. Identity politics is behind a political solution to the problems facing indigenous people (eg through reconciliation, recognition and a treaty). The irony is that current problems are derived mainly from notions of Aboriginal Self-Determination introduced in the 1970s - ie that only aboriginal controlled solutions could fix aboriginal problems. This race-based approach has worsened the situation of indigenous communities. The debate needs to be focused on decades of failed policies - rather than doubling-down on more of those same policies (Sammut J., Failure to protect children a root cause of disadvantage', CIS, 2/8/16)
The abuse that children suffered at NT Don Dale Centre may be closest they have come to 'parenting' - because they have grown up in environments where parenting barely happened at all. The juvenile justice system (with psychologists, psychiatrists, magistrates, lawyers and social workers) can't substitute for parenting. And in dealing with juvenile justice system current biological parents are likely to be even more helpless and childlike than the actual child. Some see affected children as needing more love - but for many love is likely to be an alien concept. Foster carers know how hard it is to establish the delicate balance between nurturing and discipline that parenting involves. Social work students are taught that aboriginal parenting involves children a high level of autonomy at a young age. This would be regarded as extreme and dangerous neglect in a non-indigenous family - but has to be respected to avoid the risk of another Stolen Generation. Workers in juvenile detention centers see the results of this extreme cultural sensitivity (ie children who know little of safety, security, routine, hygiene and consistent discipline). Correctional officers should not be expected to provide the sort of care / nurturing needed to compensate for a child's lifetime of dysfunctional parenting - though they should introduce children to this. The spit hood can be seen as either an artifact of torture or as a piece of safety equipment. In itself it is not the problem - as the question is whether it is used as a disciplinary or a safety measure. Simply banning its use is not the answer - even though this would have public image benefits. Prison officers are constantly exposed to bizarre human behaviour which neither journalists nor the public ever see. Some of what occurred at the Don Dale Centre appeared unprofessional - but this is what can happen in the absence of anybody in charge who cares. This is a problem that could be easily fixed. However dealing with the reasons that children end up in these settings (and why so many aboriginal children are in detention) is a much harder challenge - and one that could easily be put in the 'too hard' basket (Pholi K., NT juvenile detention footage points to parenting deficiency, The Australian, 2/8/16)
Exposing mistreatment of boys in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is only the surface of a serious, deep and complex national issue. The proposed Royal Commission is likely to be a band-aid at best. It is superficial to blame particular people or institutions. Decades of poor policy have entrenched welfare dependency and promoted symbolism over substance (eg apologies, talk of treaties / indigenous recognition rather than toxic effects of welfare dependency). There is a need to get indigenous kids to stay in school and to get real jobs - not make-believe jobs. Marcia Langton points out that indigenous leaders don't mention personal responsibility. Self-determination means nothing if not linked to personal responsibility. NGOs live off large populations of victims who need to be told to stop sitting around waiting for handouts. However 'diversity' leaders criticize the educational programs that provide real benefits and strength to indigenous children. The Royal Commission needs to explore the cultural and systemic failures by elites that explains why children are in detention rather than at school. Many people point to problems at the Don Dale Centre - but don't address the failures by children's parents. When 97% of children in detention in the NT are aboriginal, the problem can't just be the use of restraint chairs and spit hoods. There is a need to ask families who young boys wind up in detention / are violent / take drugs / don't go to school / end up unemployed. Real leadership requires calling on parents to lift their game. Without this the wrong sort of behaviour becomes normal in indigenous communities. Parenting is hard - but also rewarding. Four Corners did not explore this issue - and neither will the Royal Commission (Albrechtsen J., Deadbeat parents failed the Don Dale Detention Centre boys, 3/8/16)
Mick Gooda has provided sound leadership to his community - but his appointment as co-royal commission was a mistake. His initial reaction to what happened in Don Dale Centre was to call for NT government to be sacked. He has already made up his mind and thus can't preside over an impartial inquiry. His conflict of interest is much clearer than that which forced Brian Martin to stand down. His appointment (a reaction to Bill Shorten's call for indigenous commissioners) represents a shift towards 'identity politics' under which it is assumed that people can only get justice from others of the same race. This idea has become accepted in the US - but is a step towards apartheid [Merritt C. Mick Gooda’s passion points a finger at why he is unsuited, The Australian, 3/8/16]
Prison officers fear they have already been convicted by public outrage over treatment of juveniles in NT justice system. Noel Pearson questioned whether Commission would make a real difference to the problems Aborigines face - as this requires adults to take responsibility for their children Brian Newman (Australian Prison Officers Association) raised questions about Mick Gooda's capacity to lead the Commission impartially - given his passion about indigenous youth issues. Tass Liveris (NT Law Society) said appointing an indigenous person would bring therapeutic benefits for aboriginal people. Pearson said that more should have been done to empower indigenous communities - rather than supporting a Royal Commission. While not all agree he believes that indigenous responsibility is critical part of solution. (Akerman Pia, Mick Gooda’s passion questioned for royal commission role, The Australian, 3/8/16)
Repeating history is farce - but this is a risk with NT child protection and youth detention inquiry. After inquiry was established and Brian Martin resigned, Pat Dodson reminded all parties of the failure to implement recommendations of Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (eg related to duty of care, pathways to court and incarceration, health / education / housing issues). Regimes talk tough about incarcerating people - and permit all sorts of things to be done legally). Stolen Generation's inquiry recommendations were only partly implemented. Stan Grant spoke of rage about what had been happening - of lives at the coalface of bigotry and poverty. A Royal Commission won't fix this - though it might help if both sides of politics commit in advance to implement its recommendations. Past experience shows that indigenous royal commissions without implementation are simply an excuse for wallowing in white guilt. There had been calls for appointment of indigenous co-commissioners before Martin quit - which led to perceptions of a 'whitewash'. Though this was changed this does not guarantee positive outcomes. (Sullivan P., A quarter of a century later, how much have we learned, Inside Story, 1/8/18)
Programs that provide youths who might have been locked up with practical training that can lead to jobs and apprenticeships have benefited hundreds. Children who had spent time in detention have been completely changed. A 'law and order' response to at risk youth simply makes their situation worse (Schleibs M., BackTrack project saving kids from lock-up, Australian, 3/8/16)
The terms of reference of the Royal Commission are silent on the over-representation of indigenous children in the detention system. Australia wide they are 54% of children in detention and 26 times as likely to be in detention. A Royal Commission set up to investigate failures in an interventionist law-and-order approach needs to identify ways to get indigenous children out of jail and back with their families. NT's youth detention rate is six times the national average. It has the highest number of children in juvenile detention per 100,000 10-19 year olds. About 60% are in the care of NT's Department of Children and Families. NT's juvenile detention systems are mainly filled with children on remand - ie the have not been convicted of a crime. The federal government's 2006 intervention involved a law-and-order approach to NT indigenous communities. Police powers were extended to indigenous communities and the racial discrimination act was suspended. Since then there has been a steep rise in the criminalization of indigenous young people. There are complaints that police have been heavy-handed with young people when investigating crime. Increased spending on policing was not matched by increased spending on Corrective Services. There are also problems with NT's sentencing arrangements - as this required mandatory detention for those convicted of violent offences. The problem could be reduced by increasing the age of criminal responsibility; allowing all young people a right to bail; strengthening the ability of indigenous communities to provide support and programs for young people. Indigenous communities need more control over child safety issues. The Royal Commission's terms of reference risk implying that NT is particularly bad - though there are problems everywhere. The underlying issue is removing indigenous children from their families and communities and placing them in coercive environment and with non-indigenous families. Governments have regarded locking up vulnerable indigenous children - and their treatment has deteriorated. Systematic incarceration / removal of young children needs to be redressed as the NT experience shows that this increases rather than reducing their problems. (Anthony T., 'Why are so many Indigenous kids in detention in the NT in the first place?, The Conversation, 4/8/16)
Don Dale is the end of the line - where juvenile indigenous Territorians go (to be owned by justice system) after being failed by education, training, welfare, community and diversionary programs. Locking up people for misdemenours does not help - it merely shifts problems in many welfare programs to corrective services. This is common everywhere - eg in law and order elections. Over-representation of indigenous youth in detention has long been known. This is a long term failure by both Australian and NT governments. NT economy is overly dependent on Commonwealth funding. Much of its population is employed looking after others on welfare. It is not correct to claim that there were not problems at Do Dale before 2012 election. Royal Commission needs to look at NT justice system and detention centre management - but there is also a need to consider government support programs that help or fail young people. There were calls for indigenous co-commissioners to be selected (ie from 3% of the population). Those in Don Dale desrve the best commissioners available - but this is not what happens in dealing with indigenous affairs where party and race politics prevail. Troubled youth need the best available help - but many get 'special' race-based programs. Indigenous youth in Don Dale may have suffered a lifetime of institutional interactions based on the view that cultural strength would fix everything - but what emerged at Don Dale had nothing to do with cultureand everything to do with politics (Aird W., 'Don Dale Scandal: When Race becomes issue we have lost the day', The Australian, 4/8/16)
Amanda Meade (Guardian) asked for an explanation of a cartoon that implied that indigenous children came in contact with the law because their parents did not teach them a sense of individual responsibility. The root problem is the Chronic Truth Aversion Disorder (CTAD) which makes impossible any intelligent debate on serious social issues (eg rampant violence, abuse and neglect of children in remote indigenous communities). The reactions by those affected by that disorder makes others afraid to speak the truth. The cartoon was inspired by indigenous people who feel compelled to tell the truth no matter what - and was endorsed by Anthony Dillon (whose father Colin was Australia's first indigenous policeman) (Leak Bill, 'Bill Leak cartoon: what are you tweeting about?, The Australian, 5/8/16)
Bill Leak's cartoon referred to the damage that alcohol abuse and irresponsible parenting are doing to many aboriginal children. I did not view this positively just because I am part aboriginal but because aboriginal children deserve what other Australian children have. The cartoon and the tragedy it reflects is not a racial issue - though anyone who is not aboriginal who raises those concerns will be labeled racist. Most people want to see an end to the consequences of alcohol abuse and parental neglect as shown by images of children in detention centres. Leak's cartoon showed the need to look further - at the factors that lend children in detention centres in the first place. Unless the causes are addressed, many children will continue to be raised in detention; few will go to university or get a secure job; and many will go on to parent children who will experience the same sort of childhoods that they did. Others (Jeremy Sammut, Kerryn Pholi and Janet Albrechtsen) have written recently about the seriousness of the situation Leak's cartoon depicts. The victim brigades and race hounds have attacked them - and this is much easier than dealing with problems of employment in remote areas as well as violence and child abuse. While there have been accusations of racism, race is not the issue. The children who are ending up in detention and fast becoming another 'stolen generation' are Australian children. Australians should not be prevented from talking about problems in aboriginal communities because they are not aboriginal (Dillon A., 'Bill Leak cartoon is right when it comes to the big picture', The Australian, 5/8/16)
Bill Leak's cartoon which portrayed aboriginal men as neglectful of their children is not representative of aboriginal life and has been widely criticized as racist (eg by Muriel Bamblett, Richard de Natale and Nigel Scullion). It merely continues Leak's practice of demonizing aboriginal men. Liz Conor's book (Skin Deep: Settler impressions of Aboriginal women') reveal white imagining about aboriginal women and men. Focusing on aboriginal men's brutality enabled sexual abuse of aboriginal women by white men on the frontier to be ignored. The moral authority of white men and their claims of truth about aboriginal people need to be tested (Bond C., The white man's burden: Bill Leake and telling the truth about aboriginal lives', The Conversation, 5/8/16)
The scandals at Don Dale Centre have shed light on causes and consequences for abused and neglected children damaged by dysfunctional parents. Such children are failed by a flawed youth protection system and wind up in detention facilities due to their wild / uncontrollable behaviour. There may be a silver lining in Turnbull Government's decision to include Mick Gooda in commission. Given the sensitivities surrounding the Stolen Generation, current practices (which most indigenous stakeholders support) would not be able to be changed without indigenous leadership (Sammut J., Don Dale inquiry: silver lining and sliver of hope, CIS, 5/8/16)
Public outrage about violence in the Don Dale Center is warranted but unlikely to change anything. The issue is not race but how difficult it is to deal with children who have been failed by their families to such an extent that they become child criminals. Removing children from families can't be discussed no matter how much harm is being done to children because of fear of another stolen generation. Dylan Voller's upbringing was marred by intergenerational abuse, family intransience, neglect, family violence, physical abuse, parental mental health issues and substance abuse. However nothing about this was presented by Four Corners coverage of what happened in Don Dale Centre. It did not provide publicly available information that would have given balance to its program. The 2014 events its program covered were subject to Vita's review (which showed a system in crisis), staff sackings and moving detainees to another centre where problems associated with detainees behavior continued. The NT's detainee problem has risen steadily over the past two years - resulting in severe resource constraints. Four Corners said nothing about this. Can a royal commission make any difference - when the recommendations of Vita's earlier review are still to be implemented. From the age of 10 Voller was at risk in a dysfunctional family and became a serious risk to the community. His case required better management. There is no excuse for waiting for another report while children like him continue to be created by a failing system (Langton M., Families, Funding and Four Corners Failed the Kids of Don Dale, Australian, 5/8/16)
Identity politics (which attacks rational, honest debate and the quality of public policy) is now tangible in both indigenous and gender issues. It was demonstrated in relation to NT detention crisis. Identity politics is about laws and norms to protect /advance identity causes. Since the failure of communism class consciousness has been supplemented by a focus on racial, sexual, gender and ethnic identity. Historic grievances suffered by such identities leads to contemporary demand for redress. Identity politics speaks of deep human need - yet in application it involves narcissism, censors public debate and leads to vicious campaigns of intimidation. This was shown by politicians reluctance to mention underlying cause of problems at Don Dale Centre - the breakdown of indigenous social and family order through family dislocation, neglect, violence, parental abuse and drunkenness. The debate focused narrowly on proposed royal commission and need for an indigenous commissioner. Noel Pearson criticized the selective outrage involved and argued that 'blackfellas' need to take care of their own children. Australia used to be famous for straight talking - but is now afraid to do so, The essence of identity politics is that those who don't share one's identify haven't shared the same oppression / pain and thus can't say how others should behave. This is hostile to ideas / debate. There has been a deep reluctance to confront the causes of problems in NT youth detention. The same problem arises in relation to the gay marriage issue. A plebiscite which would allow the people decide the issue is opposed it could release hate and homophobia that would cause offence. While identity politics is well established in US it is still limited in Australia - being dominated by political correctness (Kelly P., Race, gender: The risk of identity politics, Australian, 6/8/16)
What should be done about atrocious conditions in remote indigenous communities? Another centrally planned / bureaucratic solution is not going to help. The Whitlam Government had tried to make remote indigenous communities self-sufficient - with what they produced directed to home consumption. Exports would largely be confined to arts and crafts. Not only was a racially segregated economy endorsed, but it was envisaged that schooling would be limited to basic literacy and numeracy to minimize assimilationist influences. Living in decentralised homelands would allow Aboriginal people to revive ancient rituals and make it easier to contact sacred sites and Dreaming tracks. Now 80,000 Australians live in the wretched conditions this policy created. (Cater N., What a wicked game we play with indigenous social engineering , Australian, 9/8/16)
It is easy to report on the Don Dale Centre -as there has already been a report on events at that centre, various officers were dismissed and the centre was closed down. Proposing a royal commission to investigate this relies on the view that any problem can be solved by more public spending. The case of Madeline Downman illustrates the problem. She committed suicide in a NT Government residential facility. Here parents were separated. She had been reported to child protection services at 18 months of age - because of excessive alcohol, drug consumption and domestic violence in her family. Her criminal behaviour started early (at 13) and in 2010 she was remanded to Don Dale Centre facing 27 criminal charges. She smoke marijuana, drank alcohol and sniffed deodorant. She had started hurting herself and considered suicide. She was placed in care - had 26 placements and absconded 63 times . She had been exposed to domestic violence in her father's care and to sexual abuse by a male cousin from 8 years of age. A safe family placement was considered impossible. She was seen to need one-on-one care and a full time social worker. Her family argued that department did not address 'reunification' or her 'cultural needs'. She had been worried about what would happen when she turned 18 and the protection order on he came to an end. She had been afraid to leave the system despite its inadequacies. She had been mainly failed by her family. The PM should consider whether assigning social worker to every troubled youth would solve the problem. Ex-nuptial births to aboriginal mothers are 87% - and in 18% of cases paternity is never acknowledged. The aboriginal teenage fertility rate is 4 times greater than for others. Teenage females in remote centres are 5 times more likely to give birth than those in cities. Neither constitutional recognition nor a treaty will help those youths. The protection and detention system is not at fault. poorly socialized families and welfare dependence create each generation of troubled youth. Contraception for youths and adoption for at-risk children would be the best solution (Johns G., The other Don Dale report: lessons from the tragedy of Maddy, The Australian, 10/8/16)
A great deal of violence in aboriginal communities (especially those near towns) is the result of alcohol. Aboriginal cultures accept violence. Those who suggest that this should not be changed are either so far away that they don't see the results or are very old and could not cope with change. Customary law has been used in court to defend men who violently and sexually assaulted teenage girls who were their traditionally promised wives. Kidnap and rape of girls can be accepted without comment. All women I know have experienced physical or sexual abuse. There is no word for 'rape' in traditional languages. One can be killed as punishment for accidentally coming upon a ceremonial party. In my culture men are never seen to be capable of doing anything wrong. Older people have instilled the idea that aboriginal people have been the victims of colonisation, white government and oppression. The current city-based victim brigade reinforce this view. This argument is drowning out the voices of those who are victims of their own cultural oppression. Activists look outward for sources of problems - but can't look within. Universities have become places of censorship - and educational content is controlled on the basis of activists rather than the knowledge of educators and the lived experience of the less educated. Truth is not what university aboriginal units are interested in - but rather ideology / popular opinion expressed through social media. Sexual abuse and domestic violence is excused in aboriginal communities - because it happens elsewhere. But aboriginal women are 35 times as likely to be hospitalized due to domestic violence. the thought police and politically correct deny facts and truth to elevate their own moral standing - while further suffocating the victims. Why to aboriginal people have to live under 40,000 year old laws when the rest of the world has evolved their cultures to enable them to survive in the modern world? (Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Women’s abuse shows Aboriginal culture must change, Australian, 12/8/16)
Cathy McLennan (Innisfail Magistrate) has written about horrific experiences of mainly-aboriginal young offenders / victims she has encountered. Detention is often a haven for neglected or abused youth offenders. It was saddening to see what happened at Don Dale Centre because children who end up in detention have been hurt, abused, and broken long before they end up in detention. There was a story about children in detention being denied Christmas dinner to teach them a lesson about poor behaviour. However being in detention was probably the best Christmas they ever had - because they had a safe bed to sleep in; food and no one around who would bash them up. Girls who come into detention have usually been sexually abused. Solving these problems requires that children have stable home lives (Neill R., 'The kids deserve to have their stories told’ , The Australian, 13/8/16)
Mistreatment has been alleged in youth detention centers in Queensland - resulting in suggestions that the NT royal commission should deal with problems in Queensland also (Mitchell-Whittington A., Footage shows alleged mistreatment at Queensland youth detention centre, Brisbane Times, 18/8/16)
A top ABC producer (Sally Neighbour) has suggested that those who accuse the Four Corners program on the NT's juvenile justice system of omitting key facts of 'political motivations'. NT Chief Minister suggested that program was disgraceful and resulted in himself and public servants being spat on. ABC reporter Carlo Meldrum had praised NT government improvements to corrections in seeking access to detention facilities to provide a balanced report. This was seen as a 'Trojan horse'. Neighbour said the letter had been misinterpreted - and was written before CCTV footage of abuse of young detainees was seen. The NT Department of Corrections had issued a statement before program went to air noting that the incidents were historical and had been dealt with by earlier independent investigations. The material in Four Corner's program had been shown before - eg by the ABC. The program alleged that the abuse had continued - and did not point out that the guards involved had been investigated. ABC also failed to mention that some of its key sources had been involved in legal action against NT government over youth justice. The ABC and NT Government accuse each other of political motivations in relation to presenting and criticizing the program. NT Chief Minister had initially taken a different approach to Four Corner's program - and played a role in establishing the royal commission. Four Corners was seen to have published reports on problems in live cattle exports that were seen to have unfairly damaged NT industry. A former Victorian premier suggested that royal commission should be into ABC (Aikman A.,' Four Corners producer defends NT juvenile justice system report', The Australian, 22/8/16)
ABC's 7.30 program confirmed that the harsh and possible illegal treatment of young detainees in Australia is not confined to NT. The debate started when scenes of abuse at NT Don Dale Centre were shown. This was so shocking that a royal commission was established. However what was really shocking was that this occurred in a wealthy country like Australia. Prior work for the Association for the Prevention of Torture showed both the extent of the problem and what could be done to counter it. The UN has established minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners - and what happened at Don Dale may have violated Australia's obligations under UN Convention on Torture. The US adopted an Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture in 2002 - which Australia should sign on to. (Fletcher A., NT royal commission is the cost of failing to meet international standards on torture', The Conversation 6/9/16
NT royal commission could be a watershed moment for Australian justice according to lawyer for one of the abused boys (Peter O'Brien) - who had appeared in ABC program which sparked the royal commission. Mr Gooda and Ms White plan to proceed with a high degree of cultural competence to ensure a safe environment for those giving evidence which will consider the treatment of juvenile offenders over 10 years. Ms White's opening statement referred to the need to find ways to significantly reduce child offending 
Don Dale royal commissioner (Mick Gooda) has pledged to be impartial and look only at evidence in a bid to head of a challenge to his position following allegations of bias. Commission co-chairwoman (Margaret White) said that terms of reference were wide and required historical investigation over 10 years. Counsel assisting (Peter Callaghan) said that definition of detention centres would be board and commission would not only look at how such centres were run but at the culture in which they were run. The child protection elements of commissions terms were potentially very wide in scope - involving complex issues in intersection between family, community and state roles. NT's Children's Commissioner (Colleen Gwynne) said commission was very ambitious. NT Chief Minister (Michael Gunner) is seeking clarification about how the commission will be paid for. Warren Mundine (PM's top indigenous adviser) said that commission would be a 'lawyers picnic' and that there were better ways to deal with known child-welfare problems 
Publicity was given to problems at the Don Dale Centre - yet simultaneous killings of two aboriginal women received no publicity. Both had suffered years of domestic violence in a community where the perpetrators would have received most support. Indigenous people need to confront the existence of such problems in their communities 
Indigenous women are subjected to pressure to prioritize racial solidarity rather than speak up about domestic violence in their own communities. Doing so was believed to betray the indigenous cause 
The architect of the 1990s Bringing Them Home Report has warned that Australia is on track to create a new stolen generation - because the rate of removal of children from their families returns to assimilation era levels 
Former attorney general Michael Lavarch warned about a 'new stolen generation' because of the high rate of indigenous child removals. Similar assertions have been made by others in relation to the escalating crisis in indigenous child welfare. However this risks perpetuating the gaps in social outcomes between the most disadvantaged indigenous Australians and other Australians - and relies on an outdated view of the relationship between aboriginal identity and culture. Over past 10 years the percentage of indigenous children removed from their families has risen from 3.2% to 6.5% - but this was not driven by a racist motivation (and a desire to breed out colour) but rather to protect children from abuse and ongoing neglect. Over 15,000 indigenous children live in care reflecting worsening dysfunctions in Aboriginal communities - especially in rural / remote areas 
Many suggest that aboriginal women need to speak out against family and community violence. However they have been doing so - the problem is that no one has been listening 
Bill Leake's controversial cartoon was described by WA's police commissioner as an accurate reflection of the every day refusal of aboriginal fathers to take responsibility for their children. It portrayed an indigenous policeman presenting an indigenous youth to his father and suggesting that the father needed to teach the son about personal responsibility - in response to which the father asked what his name was .
Warren Mundine (head of PM's Indigenous Advisory Council) has attacked Attorney General (George Brandis) for asking the Australian Law Reform Commission to examine factors that lead to over-representation of indigenous Australians in detention. Mundine suggested that this was a waste of time as he could tell them what to do. The Opposition and Australian Bar Association President (Patrick O'Sullivan) welcomed the inquiry. Rod Little (National Congress of Australia's First People) said government should look at findings of 1991 Royal Commission into Indigenous deaths in Custody - and at the effect of implementing or not implementing recommendations 
High rates of domestic violence amongst indigenous Australians are being excused as a 'matter of culture' and left unpunished to reduce the numbers being sent to jail according to three seniour aboriginal women. Indigenous communities and their supporters were seen to be guilty of reverse racism though indepensible adherence to traditional law that was denying women and children their human rights. Outrage about Bill Leak's cartoon about an irresponsible aboriginal father ignored the fact that around 10,000 indigenous fathers were in prison for injury, sexual assault and other crimes. And over 30,000 neglected children have been removed from their homes 
Progress is being made in indigenous affairs that is not being recognised because of gaps / failures in official policies 
|A Smarter Approach to Reinvesting?||
A Smarter Approach to Reinvesting? - email sent 17/9/16
Dr Tom Calma
Re: Reinvesting in a smarter approach to youth justice, The Australian, 16/9/16
Your article suggested reducing imprisonment by reinvestment of money currently spent on prisons into community services and support – especially in Aboriginal communities.
I should like to suggest for your consideration that there are limited benefits from programs whose effect is to make Aboriginal communities dependent on yet another type of social welfare. A more fundamental approach, which should be even more effective in achieving the benefits sought through reinvestment in community services while also freeing Aboriginal communities from the distorting effects of welfare dependence, is outlined in Northern Territory Child Protection and Youth Detention Royal Commission: The Risk of a Cover-up.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Cultural Factors and the Overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in Prison||
Cultural Factors and the Overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in Prison - email sent 30/10/16
Australian Law Reform Commission
It was recently reported (see outline here) that the Federal Attorney-General (George Brandis) has asked the Commission to ‘examine the factors leading to the overrepresentation of indigenous Australians in prison’.
On the basis of a long term involvement in the study of relationships between societies’ cultures and their prospects of achieving economic and political process (see Competing Civilizations, 2001+) I have put forward suggestions about the need to consider the implications of the traditional cultures in Australia’s indigenous communities in relation to: (a) their prospects for advancement generally; and (b) the high rates of incarceration that Australians with indigenous ancestry suffer. The latter was written in the context of the issues being addressed by the Northern Territory Child Protection and Youth Detention Royal Commission.
I should like to submit that (for reasons like those submitted to the Northern Territory Royal Commission) the key issue that the Australian Law Reform Commission needs to investigate in relation to reducing the high rates of indigenous incarceration generally is the constraints that aspects of traditional cultures impose on individuals and communities in achieving success in the modern world and the consequent high incidence of disadvantage and social dysfunction.
|What is Racism - and is Bill Leak a 'Controversialist' or a 'Realist'?||
What is Racism - and is Bill Leak a 'Controversialist' or a 'Realist'? - email sent 3/11/16
Professor Janna Thompson,
Re: What is racism - and is Bill Leak a 'controversialist' or a racist?, The Conversation, 2/11/16
There is a need for a complete rethink of the nature of racism in modern Australia.
Your article sought to examine the nature of racism and to determine whether Bill Leak’s cartoon in which “A policeman tells a drunken Aboriginal father to take responsibility for his child. But the man can’t even remember his son’s name” should be seen to be racist. It concluded that, though Bill Leak is not racist, he was wrong to presume that all the troubles of aboriginal youth could be blamed on irresponsible parents.
On the basis of a long term involvement in the study of relationships between societies’ cultures and their prospects of achieving economic and political progress (see Competing Civilizations, 2001+) I have put forward suggestions about the need to consider the implications of indigenous communities’ traditional cultures in relation to: (a) their prospects for advancement generally; and (b) the high rates of incarceration that Australians with indigenous ancestry suffer.
The latter was written in the context of the issues being addressed by the Northern Territory Child Protection and Youth Detention Royal Commission – which was also the context to Bill Leake’s cartoon. My NT Commission comments were accompanied by an outline of suggestions from diverse points of view about the causes of the problems experienced by children in indigenous communities. The latter included many suggestions (including some from Australians with indigenous ancestry) that dysfunctions in their communities (one of which Bill Leak’s cartoon had portrayed) were a significant factor. One article had noted that:
Bill Leake's controversial cartoon was described by WA's police commissioner as an accurate reflection of the everyday refusal of aboriginal fathers to take responsibility for their children (Laurie V., Bill Leak 18C cartoon accurate, says WA Police Commissioner, The Australian, 21/10/16)
Thus the question that needs to be considered is whether Bill Leake is a ‘controversialist’ or a ‘realist’? It also highlights the importance of the core question considered in your article: ‘What is racism?’.
Your article drew attention to, and endorsed, a dictionary definition of racism:
“A racist is someone who both believes that people of a particular racial or cultural group are inferior or inherently bad and who deliberately and persistently attacks them verbally or physically, or seeks to denigrate, expel or eliminate them.”
I should like to submit that in Australia today the most significant racism is directed against non-indigenous Australians (eg by alleging that their racism is: (a) mainly responsible for the problems that Australians with indigenous ancestry experience; or (b) the only issue that needs to be considered in relation to expressions of concern about Islamic influences in Australia – eg see Racism Is Unlikely to Help David Jones or Indigenous Reconciliation and Dismissing Political Opponents as 'Racists' is Part of the Problem, Not a Solution).
The problems that indigenous youth suffer has arguably much less to do with outsiders’ racism than with the constraints that their communities’ traditional worldviews impose on achieving success in the modern world and the consequent high incidence of disadvantage and social dysfunction in those communities.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Is Noel Pearson’s Attack on ‘Racist ABC’ Unjustified?||
Is Noel Pearson’s Attack on ‘Racist ABC’ Unjustified? - email sent 23/11/16
Re: Noel Pearson’s attack on ‘racist ABC’ unjustified, New Daily, 22/11/16
Your article suggested that Noel Pearson was incorrect in claiming that the ABC, and diverse other groups, are ‘addicted to the pain of Indigenous Australians’.
While I have no special insights into Mr Pearson’s reasons for making those allegations, I have to suggest that your article demonstrated the validity of his claim.
Your article asked whether there might be some ‘white patronising righteousness’ about the ABC’s editorial judgment. It then documented a large number of occasions on which the ABC has exposed ‘institutional or genocidal racism or exploitation’. This, your article implied, clearly demonstrated the ABC’s lack of ‘white patronising righteousness’.
This fully justifies Mr Pearson’s accusation. The implication is that Australians with indigenous ancestry suffer significant disadvantage simply because of ‘racism or exploitation’ by nasty non-indigenous Australians. And those who expose the nasties’ ‘racism or exploitation’ then preen themselves as the ‘good guys’. The problem is that they are not.
They are in fact blocking attempts to deal with the main causes of ongoing indigenous disadvantage – namely the world-views embodied in traditional cultures that make it impossible for many / most Australians with indigenous ancestry to get the good education that is needed for success in the modern world and thus to escape from chronic disadvantage (see The Need to Review Indigenous Worldviews).
If there was not a complete absence of ‘white patronising righteousness’ in politically-correct organisations such as the ABC, there would be some recognition of the fact that people’s worldviews / cultures are a major determinant of their ability to be materially successful and that the cultural traditions that Europeans brought to Australia were the basis of their success. A complete refusal to consider the practical consequences of culture has characterised Australia’s highly dysfunctional approach to multiculturalism. In practice this means that that Australian’s with indigenous ancestry have been left to cope within the framework of their traditions rather than being systematically informed about alternatives that might help.
As indicated I don’t have any insider insight into the logic of Mr Pearson’s claims – but I do submit that what he said can be justified. As your article concluded: ‘the facts of continuing Aboriginal dispossession and disadvantage require a more intellectually honest and tougher editorial judgment’. If only there had been some sign of this in organisations like the ABC.
|Creating Chaos in Indigenous Affairs?||
Creating Chaos in Indigenous Affairs? - email sent 23/2/17
Re: New day dawning as Turnbull pushes grassroots agenda, The Australian, 18/2/17 (outlined here)
Broader inputs were clearly needed in relation to proposals for improving the process of facilitating indigenous advancement in Australia that your article mentioned. Those proposals involved:
However as Senators McCarthy and Dodson indicated, the new panel would have no clear brief.
The panel would apparently be expected to both: (a) mobilize grass-roots advice to government; and (b) be a clearing house to coordinate initiative by community leaders. In my early career I was involved with Queensland’s 1970s’ Regional Coordination Councils which also had dual advise government / coordinate action roles. Those on the ground saw the Councils mainly as a new way to lobby government for more resources, while government had apparently hoped that they were creating an arrangement to help people on the ground to organise themselves to ‘do things’ more effectively. Government soon lost interest in the Councils because the main outcome was demands for more government action and resources, rather than more effective on-the-ground initiative.
Another complexity is that it is unclear what relationship would exist between the new advisory panel (and its community-level connections) and government Indigenous Advancement Strategy programs in a financial, operational and policy sense. This needs to be clear because:
The other proposals your article mentioned (ie constitutional recognition and the creation of a special parliamentary group) would give special rights and roles to Australians with a particular racial heritage (see Recognizing What? , 2015). Arrangements that do not involve ongoing racism would seem be more likely to gain public support (see 'Recognising Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution': More Symbolism?, 2010).
The changed arrangements for dealing with indigenous affairs that are being considered need much broader inputs than they have had to date as the basis for a fundamental rethink.
Outline of New day dawning as Turnbull pushes grassroots agenda, The Australian, 18/2/17
Malcolm Turnbull’s hand-picked indigenous advisors will first have to wind back the damage caused by Tony Abbott's relationship with his former chief councilor (Warren Mundine). The six person council met after a disappointing ‘Closing the Gap’ report. But amending community dissatisfaction with the previous 12 member body established in 2013 and the $4.8bn Indigenous Advancement Strategy which followed. New council member Roy Ah-See says that there is a need for credibility with people on the ground. He has experience of necessary engagement with people on the ground. No one believes previous efforts were anything but well intentioned – as they sought to promote indigenous economic advancement rather than presume that ATSI Australians were inextricably mired in disadvantage. But problems have been exposed with the government’s approach. Educationalist (Chris Sara) argues that the need is to ‘do things with us, not to us’. He believes that Turnbull is serious in wanting policy to come from the grass-roots not from Canberra and wants the council to be a clearinghouse rather than a central committee. There is a need to draw more on National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. Ken Wyatt (Australia’s first indigenous minister) sees Abbott’s council as being too autocratic. There was excellent advice at that table – but Aboriginal community saw it as being from just one or two people. Addressing a Congress-led coalition (Redfern Alliance) Malcolm Turnbull endorsed ‘more community-driven local decision-making models’. Advisory Council members (Andrea Mason) noted the vast amount of corporate memory in the groups making up the alliance. The Prime Minister also praised Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly (a policy making body in northern NSW) and the Empowered Communities model of local governance. Ian Anderson (Melbourne Uni) was appointed to run indigenous affairs (becoming Australia’s most senior indigenous bureaucrat). An indigenous productivity commissioner (with $50m) budget will be established. Mr Turnbull was seen to see that blackfellas need to not just survive but to thrive. All six of the new panel are leaders – but leadership needs to be devolved with regular input from community leaders. The assumption that national (indigenous) leaders are the only authoritative leaders is wrong – as there are natural leaders doing things in all communities who are making a difference on the ground. Anthropologist / geographer Marcia Langton warned 10 years ago of the danger of seeing the First Peoples as virtual beings without power or efficacy – and having ‘Aboriginal leaders’ pull levers to draw settler Australians to them in a codependent relationship. That suited those who saw Aborigines as freaks. Turnbull is gathering around him those who will tell him who he should be listening to rather than those who will tell him what he wants to hear. The former PM relied on advice from just 1 or 2 people, but the Aboriginal community does not just have one leader who speaks on every issue. There are different nations in this country with different dialogues / languages / culture / laws. The elephant in the room is that Mr Turnbull’s panel remains, hand picked as was Mr Abbott’s. But it must not be like the last one ie moribund – lacking transparency / accountability back to the community. ALP senators (McCarthy and Dodson) are skeptical of the group as it was appointed from on high and has no clear brief. Top-down centralized processes leave indigenous nations as policy fringe-dwellers – and this makes ATSI people frustrated / angry. They need to be free from others having to constantly understand them. Another solution is being discussed in the context of efforts by the Referendum Council to devise a proposal for indigenous constitutional recognition. Noel Pearson’s proposal of a parliamentary body representing indigenous interests is being debated. An indigenous voice in parliament has been suggested to give First Nations peoples' a say in decision making related to their them and their rights. This would be a body that not be hand-picked by government. This would be a clear declaration of self-determination.