Shift­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity from par­ents, cul­ture not the an­swer

Townsville Bulletin - - OPINION -

HOW much longer will we let vic­tim pol­i­tics make beg­gars of Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren? Too many Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren are grow­ing up poor, badly ed­u­cated and in dan­ger.

Here are some statis­tics. Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren are four times more likely to be bashed to death be­fore they turn five.

They are 10 times more likely to be in such dan­ger that they’re taken from their fam­i­lies. And this prob­lem tends to be worse the more Abo­rig­i­nal lives that peo­ple live.

In Western Aus­tralia, for in­stance, the coro­ner is in­ves­ti­gat­ing 13 sui­cides of chil­dren up in the Kim­ber­ley. In one com­mu­nity, Kalum­buru, 13 per cent of the men are re­port­edly con­victed child abusers.

That is what we must some­how stop. If we don’t, the pat­tern will be re­peated.

The money is cer­tainly there. The Pro­duc­tiv­ity Com­mis­sion says we spend more than $ 30 bil­lion a year on Abo­rig­i­nal Aus­tralians – more than twice as much per head than on the rest of us. A lot of money, but lit­tle re­sult.

That’s be­cause we are do­ing it wrong and be­cause chang­ing a cul­ture of vic­tim­hood is so very hard.

But it is even harder to change when so many peo­ple shift re­spon­si­bil­ity away from Abo­rig­i­nal par­ents and Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture.

That was made trag­i­cally clear on the ABC on Mon­day, when it ran a spe­cial Q& A pro­gram from Arn­hem Land.

Take this ques­tion from the au­di­ence, about the re­cent death of singer G Yu­nipingu: “How is it that in this coun­try to­day, some­one like Dr G. could die an early death be­cause of dis­crim­i­na­tion?”

In truth, Yunupingu did not die young be­cause of dis­crim­i­na­tion. The singer – ac­tu­ally much ad­mired – died af­ter re­fus­ing more re­nal dial­y­sis for his kid­ney dis­ease, liv­ing in­stead at a drinkers’ camp at a Dar­win beach.

Then there was this de­mand by aca­demic Mar­cia Lang­ton that we change our Con­sti­tu­tion to recog­nise Abo­rig­ines: “( If) a ref­er­en­dum is not held ... Aus­tralians of the fu­ture … will look back and say, ‘ What a lost op­por­tu­nity. We now have an Aus­tralia with no indige­nous Aus­tralians’.” Again, ap­peal­ing to vic­tim­hood. But the lat­est cen­sus shows the Abo­rig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion grow­ing so fast that it now com­prises 2.8 per cent of our pop­u­la­tion, up from just 2.3 per cent 10 years ago.

Then there was this ques­tion to Indige­nous Af­fairs Min­is­ter Nigel Scul­lion: “Do you know of any non- indige­nous bu­reau­crats … flu­ent in an indige­nous lan­guage? Do you think more should be done to en­cour­age such peo­ple to learn?”

Here’s the hard truth: the fu­ture does not lie in teach­ing bu­reau­crats some of the 250 Abo­rig­i­nal lan­guages. It lies in teach­ing Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren bet­ter English. With­out English, they have lit­tle hope of a good job and in­de­pen­dence. How sad Scul­lion didn’t say so.

But where do these ap­peals to Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture and vic­tim­hood take us? They take us to the de­mand by Abo­rig­i­nal ac­tivists such as Noel Pear­son for a change to the Con­sti­tu­tion to give Abo­rig­ines – ac­tu­ally lead­ers like him – more say. As Pear­son said on Q& A: “Giv­ing a voice to our peo­ple will em­power our peo­ple, and in re­la­tion to our destiny.”

But Pear­son is proof that this, too, is not the real so­lu­tion.

He is the lead­ing force be­hind the Cape York Ini­tia­tive and Cape York Part­ner­ship, which has run pro­grams for about 3000 Abo­rig­ines in four towns near the tip of Queens­land.

Pear­son’s pro­grams and wel­fare re­forms have been given an in­cred­i­ble amount of gov­ern­ment money – more than $ 150 mil­lion over eight years, or about $ 50,000 for each per­son, on top of the nor­mal fund­ing for wel­fare and ser­vices. You could hardly get more money or more Abo­rig­i­nal in­volve­ment. But what has all this achieved? Yes, there are some im­prove­ments. But here’s what the Je­suit So­cial Ser­vices Aus­tralia and Catholic So­cial Ser­vices Aus­tralia con­cluded two years ago about Au­rukun, the big­gest of the four com­mu­ni­ties: “Au­rukun’s de­te­ri­o­ra­tion is ev­i­dent in a range of in­di­ca­tors, in­clud­ing: Crim­i­nal con­vic­tions ( ranked 11th in 2007 and first in 2014); young adults not en­gaged in work or study ( ranked 107th in 2007 and fifth in 2014) and un­em­ploy­ment ( ranked 262nd in 2007 and 10th in 2014).”

Here is what we must face: for Abo­rig­i­nal chil­dren to have First World out­comes, they can­not live in Third World com­mu­ni­ties.

Blam­ing wicked whites only blinds us to that truth.

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