Friday, April 15, 2011

The Australian's Aboriginal broadside

I hadn't intended to return to the issues I discussed in Issues raised by Bolt, Aboriginal culture & the nature of Aboriginality. However, the entire thing has turned quite nasty.

Consider today's Australian. Here we find:

Subheaded A BITTER struggle for authority in indigenous Australia, the editorial begins:

The comments were crude in the extreme but the real import of the Twitter commentary about indigenous leader Bess Price is how offensive it is to thousands of Aboriginal men, women and children living in regional and remote Australia. When Larissa Behrendt wrote that Price's appearance on ABC TV was worse than watching "sex with a horse" the city-based legal academic exposed the deep divide in the indigenous community.

Behrendt, who belatedly apologised yesterday, may portray her words as a throw-away comment about Price's performance on Monday's Q&A but there is more going on here. The Twitter exchanges reveal the split between urban and remote Aboriginal leaders over Canberra's intervention in dysfunctional communities. Behrendt's comments are made against the background of a bitter struggle between these two groups for power and the authority to speak for Aborigines. Behrendt and those who joined her on Twitter oppose the intervention but that is really a proxy for a fight over turf, resources and the direction of indigenous politics. Those on Behrendt's side elevate rights and legalities over everything else. But The Australian is on the side of those who believe housing, education and jobs are the pre-eminent steps towards equality.

That Behrendt is herself involved in a racial vilification case against News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt adds irony to her comments. That action has people across the political spectrum concerned because of its implications for free speech. At its core is the identification by Behrendt and others as Aboriginal. This is not the place to argue the merits of the action, but Behrendt's professional career is central to the split exposed on Twitter. Like others who work in the urban indigenous industry, she has built a career on indigenous issues and policy. Like others, she argues against the 2007 intervention initiated in response to appalling levels of violence, addiction and child abuse. Difficult as it is to believe, this newspaper has been lobbied directly by Aboriginal leaders in Canberra to stop reporting on the despair of communities in the far-north, central Australia and the Kimberley, and to focus on success stories of urban Aborigines. In essence, these leaders have urged us to ignore the shameful state of affairs in so many areas and boost the good-news quota in our pages. Such a view is not just out of touch with the needs of remote Aborigines, it casts them as unworthy of attention. These urban dwellers are prepared to risk the health, education, physical safety and futures of other Aborigines in the cause of an out-dated, leftist agenda which privileges "rights" above well-being. There is a "let them eat cake" touch about it all.

The Australian can argue and with some justice that it has reported on Aboriginal issues more than any other paper. I have been reading all the papers on these topics for a number of years and have found that the Australian has provided the greatest coverage. However, to my mind today's paper has really gone over the top in a way that is simply not helpful, that mixes so many issues together that the result is likely to be more confusion.

It is quite difficult to know just where to begin in untangling all the issues involved.

I am not going to attempt a discussion this morning, but will come back to it later.  


Miss Eagle said...

The Australian's claim to report on Aboriginal issues more than any other paper has to be taken with a grain of salt. The reason is the omnipresence of the Murdoch press in regional and remote Australia because of their monopoly there. If you live in the NT, there is no option except for local papers giving local news and advertising. This omnipresence/monopoly means that Murdoch has more journalists across Australia than anyone except the ABC. As for the divide and portraying it as urban v regional/bush is untrue. It overlooks all the Aboriginal people in the NT who are against The Intervention and people, like me, who have done a lot of Territory time but not live in urban areas and yet stay in touch with NT communities. As for what The Australia asserts about The Intervention, there is little evidence/truth. Where are the jobs and the economies involving Aboriginal people in their communities? Where is the housing that is promised and has the Australian Govt ever tried to recoup the $35 million wasted by Parsons Brinkerhoff in relation to the housing program known as New Futures Alliance. $35 million without a nail being hammered. Then there is the design of the housing - few though the housing units might be. Where is the local Aboriginal presence is the design of measures to meet their needs - needs which are automatically met in mainstream society. The Australian is involving itself in wedge politics without contributing one positive iota to solutions. The fact is that remote Australia is in decline and doing it tough - whether you are black or white. As usual, if you are black you are at the toughest end. And no-one should mention the "resources boom" in remote Australia. What are the miners contributing socially? In terms of social needs and money remaining in the regions, it is likely that if a true and extensive accounting is done, it would find that in terms of social and regional benefit the miners are making a negative impact.

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting, Miss LE. One reason I don't comment on some specific NT things is my own lack of knowledge.

Murdoch actualy doesn't have a monopoly in the regional areas I am most interested in - there its all Rural Press (Fairfax) or APN.

NT Aboriginal housing has been a mess for some time. The National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing was badly designed from the beginning. I saw its operation in NSW.

Anonymous said...

Completely off topic, but Jim's blog is nominated in the People's Choice section of the Best Australian Blogs competition.

He probably won't mention it, so I thought I should. You can get to the voting page from the following link:

Takes about 2 minutes, which I think is a small price to pay for the effort Jim puts into his work.

So come on all you readers - GET VOTING!