Sunday, March 04, 2007

New England and the Immiseration of Public Policy

Warning: This blog contains political comment that may turn you blind if you read it!

I have just put up a post on the New England Australia blog about Professor Vinson's study into Australia's disadvantaged communities.

I write a lot about public policy. As part of this, I put up a recent post on the immiseration of policy making.

I write this stuff because I am interested. But I also write it because I am trying to make things better.

Look at the current NSW election campaign.

I have absolutely no interest in the question as to whether Sydney's future water needs should be met by recycling, a desalination plant, or some combination of the two. This is not public policy. The real public policy issue, Sydney's need for more water, has been agreed. All that is now being debated is the detail.

On the other hand, I am passionately concerned that nearly all the most socially and economically deprived NSW communities identified by Professor Vincent are in New England, my country. The position of some of these communities has been getting worse for decades, yet nothing has been done.

I have begun to write a lot on Australia's Aborigines and on policy towards them.

Yes, I have a general interest. But I am also passionately concerned about New England's Aboriginal communities.

Those living in Sydney where the Aborigines are just one per cent of the city population can treat Aboriginal issues as an abstract issue, something to be dealt with through the ghetto created by "Aboriginal policies."

Those living in New England - and in other parts of regional NSW - do not have this luxury.

In New England, the Aboriginal proportion of the population in individual communities ranges from 5 to over 90 per cent and is growing. The advancement of the Aboriginal people is, or should be, a main stream political issue.

I am not joking when I say that the way we handle Aboriginal advancement is perhaps the single most important policy issue in determining the future viability and harmony of many New England communities.

Forget land rights, important though this may be. Forget cultural sites, important though this may be. Forget past injustices, important though this may be.

If we do not give Aboriginal young people education and jobs, a hope for the future, then we risk tearing apart the very social fabric of many New England communities. At that point, it becomes a problem for those living in Sydney.

Many non-Aborigines struggling to survive are already jealous of what they perceive as favouritism to the Aborigines. For their part, Aborigines see their own problems and are reminded on a daily basis of past injustices. Yet the problems of a young Aboriginal unable to get a job and a non Aboriginal in the same position are the same.

We have to stop dividing people sharing similar problems. We have to give both hope. We also have to promote the Aborigines in a way that will allow all New Englanders regardless of ethnic ancestry to share in Aboriginal pride.

If we fail in all this, then we are going to have a New England marked by racial tension in which crime and violence stalk the New England streets.

I repeat, I am not joking when I say this.

Forget Sydney's water supply or its transport problems. These are technical and political issues.

I want to know what we are going to do about the real issues.


Lexcen said...

Jim, I agree that education is the single most important factor in changing an individuals prospects, outlook, and opportunities in life.
Education for aborigines is important and necessary. Of course, our government treats education as a commodity and the institutions as corporations geared to profit. Education is essential for the infrastructure and prosperity of a country, not just the aboriginal community. I don't think our government has grasped this basic principle.

Jim Belshaw said...

Education plus jobs, Lexcen. I agree with your point re education.