Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mr Howard, Mr Brough and Australia's Aborigines - 3

Photo: Alice Springs town camp. Alice Springs News

This post continues my discussion on the issues raised by the Commonwealth Government's intervention in the Northern Territory. Today, for the first time, the issue has ceased to be the lead story in the Australian media.

I am very annoyed with myself.

I gave demographic data in my previous posts. As mentioned, the 2006 census data is now out. Those who are interested and would like to find or play around with the data can find it all here.

Why am I annoyed? Well, in drawing from my previous work, I mixed together two things. The first is 2001 census data. The second were ABS projections of indigenous populations based on the 2001 data.

I picked the error up because the 2006 census number for Australia's indigenous population at 455,018 is lower than the number that I cited for the 2001 population. So the number I cited was not the 2001 census estimate, but the ABS projection based on the census.

Blow. I hate making gross errors in public. It does not affect my core argument, but it is a reminder of the need for care.

I am finding it harder to comment in a sensible fashion simply because the public debate is all over the place. I do not want to get involved in a running commentary on particular views. Instead, I want to continue to focus on elements in the debate that I think are important and especially those neglected in other coverage.

International Perspective

In my earlier writing on Tamworth and refugees I made the point that Australian media coverage on the issue had done us serious international damage. I also suggested that our collective obsession with domestic issues was blinding us to the way our internal debates were interpreted elsewhere.

The same thing is happening now. I accept that Tamworth was a very different case, but the process is similar. I will do a review of the international coverage later. All I am saying at the moment is that we need to be aware that we are now operating in a gold fish bowl.

"White vs "Black"

In my first post, I suggested that it was time to do away the terms "white" and "black" as gross descriptors because they failed to recognise, in fact concealed, the diversity in Australia in general as well as in the indigenous community itself. Added force is given to this point by the way that the terms are being interpreted internationally.

The census table on ancestry by country of birth by parents reinforces this point so far as Australia as a whole is concerned. I have not checked all the definitions involved, there are some definitional issues here that I do not yet understand, but the raw numbers on ancestry illustrate Australia's increasing ethnic diversity.

If you look at the following list, you can see that Australia remains very much a migrant country. You can also see the effects of continuing waves of immigration first from Great Britain, then from European countries after the Second World War, now from Asia.

Australians by Ancestry:

  • Classified simply as Australian, 7,371,824 of whom 138,313 had both parents born overseas
  • English, 6,283,650 of whom 1,470,190 had both parents born overseas
  • Irish, 1,803,741 of whom 283,619 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Scottish, 1,501,201 of whom 333,288 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Italian, 852,418 of whom 435,358 had both parents born overseas
  • German, 811,540 of whom 201,326 had both parents born overseas
  • Chinese, 669,980 of whom 594,962 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Greek, 365,147 of whom 235,611 had both parents born overseas
  • Dutch, 310,089 of whom 161,159 had both parents born overseas
  • Indian, 234,722 of whom 212,029 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Lebanese, 181,745 of whom 134,319 had both parents born outside Australia
  • New Zealander, 160,681 of whom 97,851 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Vietnamese, 173,658 of whom 162,632 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Polish, 163,802 of whom 109,336 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Filipino, 160,374 of whom 135,674 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Croatian, 118,046 of whom 85,844 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Welsh, 113,250 of whom 47,385 had both parents born outside Australia
  • French, 98,333 of whom 47,467 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Serbian, 96,365 of whom 75,662 had both parents born outside Australia
  • Maori, 92,192 of whom 68,814 had both parents born outside Australia


NORFORCE presentation of the colours, 2006

Today Mr Brough released details of next steps. This involves teams moving into an initial group of communities for an on-ground assessment. Mr Brough's release has a PDF attachment giving locations of the various communities involved. I note that the Alice Springs town camps themselves do not appear to be included at present.

"The teams will consist of NORFORCE vehicles, personnel and logistic support for a small group comprising officers from Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Health, DEWR and Centrelink. There may be some AFP personnel."

By the time you read this, there will have been extensive coverage of these moves. The use of army personnel has attracted great attention. Yet I find it interesting that no one appears to have commented yet on the use of NORFORCE itself (and here, here, here, here, here) to provide personnel, vehicles and logistics support.

NORFORCE, or North-West Mobile Force to give the regiment its full title, is a rather unusual military unit.

Its origins go back to 2/1st North Australia Observer Unit (also known as the "Nackaroos"), which was formed in 1942 as part of the defence of northern Australia from the Japanese during the Second World War. The 559 or so men in the Unit supported by 59 indigenous guides acted as observers across Northern Australia, patrolling the remote bush in order to give warning in the event of a Japanese invasion.

The unit was disbanded in 1945.

In the 1970s, the Australian Government made the decision to increase the military presence in Australia’s far north. As part of this, the Regional Force Surveillance concept was begun, with the first unit was raised from the 7th Independent Rifle Company, based in Darwin.

In 1981 this was renamed as the North-West Mobile Force, or NORFORCE. To give the regiment an identity, the Army decided that, because of the similarities to the NAOU, it would adopt its traditions.

Today NORFORCE is an elite reserve unit responsible for patrolling 1.8 million square kilometres covering the Northern Territory plus the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. I have seen various estimates of the numbers in the unit, but it appears to be of the order of 800, of whom 60 per cent are indigenous.

Bush Soldiers, NORFORCE

The role of NORFORCE in indigenous life as well as the influence of its indigenous soldiers on the unit’s character were well described in an ABC Message Stick documentary.

I make the point about NORFORCE because it is an interesting story in its own right, but also because it is a unit many of whose personnel come from the lands affected by the Commonwealth Government’s decision. In this sense, it is certainly not just another military unit.

No comments: