Monday, August 13, 2012

Big Birds, regional politics and the futility of "Freedom Wars"

A rather random meander today across things that attracted my interest over the last week or so, starting with a big bird. 

This photo comes from Bob Gosford's Bird of the week: the Indonesian Air Force Sukhoi SU-30 Flankers.

Exercise Pitch Black 12 (PB12) began on 27 July 2012 and will continue until 17 August. Held in the Northern Territory, this is the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) largest and most complex air exercise. International participants will include the United States Marine Corps, the Republic of Singapore Air Force, Royal Thai Air Force, and Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Indonesian Air Force.

Bob notes the significance of Indonesia's participation, the first time Indonesia has let it's big birds into foreign airspace. He also points to the military significance of the Russian made Sukhoi aircraft in the region, something that had escaped me.

Staying with the Northern Territory, the election campaign there is now underway. It hasn't had a lot of coverage here in the deep south, in part because it's a long way away, in part because of lack of knowledge. The NT is just very different from the dominant  mindsets and experience of those in the south. It is almost 4,000k by road from Darwin to Sydney, over 4,000 from Melbourne. Just to put this in perspective for my international viewers, if you were to drive from London to Moscow, you would be well on your way back before you reached the same road distance!

Over on The Poll Bludger, William Bowe's Northern Territory election: August 25 provides a useful summary. By far the best coverage, far better than you will find in the main stream media, is provided by Ken Parish on Club Troppo. Now all this provides a segue into two apparently completely unrelated directions.

This photo shows the Parramatta (Sydney) CBD. This is actually where I am working at the moment, spending up to three hours each day travelling from the depths of Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. To those in Sydney's east, this is strange, bogan, country. Never the twain shall meet!     parraI first wrote about the challenges facing Western Sydney in consultancy reports back in 1991. Then, WSROC, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, was campaigning hard for coordinated development approaches for Western Sydney. These included a new airport, new development approaches, action to address jobs and improve communications.

Track forward twenty-one years. Now my friend and former work colleague, Alison McLaren as WSROC president,  is campaigning on just the same issues. Here WSROC has just released a report calling, among other things, for a Western Sydney Regional Development Authority to oversee and co-ordinate the regeneration and promotion of the region into the nation’s leading economic powerhouse.

Now the interesting irony, and I think that is is an irony, is that many of the arguments that I use in regard to New England are just those that Alison uses in regard to Western Sydney. Both areas are neglected and need to respond in the same way. Putting this in another way that links more directly to my NT starting point, so long as public policy in this country deals just with universals that fail to recognise diversity, then policy will fail.

Alison and I do not share the same political persuasions. She has been a doughty fighter for the ALP. Yet I do wonder why the ALP has not drafted her for political service despite the factional divides that bedevil that party. Alison is withdrawing from her council and community roles after long service to pursue other interests. I think that's a huge loss. If the ALP were to persuade Alison to run in a half-way decent seat, then she would have my total and active support despite party differences. We just need people like her.

I said that that Ken Parish's post was a segue into two apparently disconnected segues. I now want to bring in the second. Again there is a link to Alison, for in our different ways we are both fighting for Aboriginal advancement.

In the Northern Territory, a number of the electorates are majority Aboriginal. Problems of Territory Aborigines in particular and "remote" or "very remote" Aboriginal communities in general drive the debate about Aboriginal policy in ways that I have tried to counter.  Now in Freedom Wars, Opposition leader Tony Abbott  has bought into the question of freedom of speech using the unlikely figure of Andrew Bolt as one example. 

I find myself in a funny position here. The common perception of what are called Australia's culture wars is that they derived from US ideas that were then picked up and promulgated by the Australian right. In fact, as best I can work out the term was first used by the left as a ways of typecasting, discrediting, the purely homegrown views of those who had the temerity to challenge certain nostrums that had become built into official policy and were expressed especially by those from what we might call the soft left, the so called "progressives".

Now you might think that this would make me sympathetic to a call to join the "freedom wars", and I am sympathetic to some of Mr Abbott's points, but the time for this type of warfare has passed. It is just so 1990s or even 1970s. In introducing Mr Bolt, Mr Abbott is actually distracting from real consideration of highly sensitive issues that need to be examined objectively. I won't give the links now to my own writing; that would distract.

But if you want to get some understanding of the complexities associated with the definition of Aboriginality, have a look at at the transcript of this recent SBS Insight Program, Aboriginal or Not. I do not doubt Mr Abbott's sincere interest in Aboriginal issues, although he suffers from the pervading "remote" and "very remote" blindness. But it just doesn't help to take Mr Bolt as an example to support the idea that we have entered the era of the "Freedom Wars".

Some of the responses to the Bolt matter did display that instinctive "progressive" blindness to any form of challenge. It is very easy to suggest that someone is being racist when you disagree with their views. But there were far more from left and right who were prepared to address the questions raised in an objective fashion. That is where the debate should rest.   


Anonymous said...

Jim, that Insight transcript is a fascinating read - thanks for the link. I kept wavering between the need for specific Aboriginal-based support, and a more general needs-based support structure, independent of any racial definition. But the second is very easy for me to say, not having been affected by the very real limitations imposed upon people by the first.

On the Bolt thing, this has been endlessly discussed. My own objection to his article/s was not that he should have been restricted, but that he chose to make his points by referencing specific people, and then got some of his facts wrong anyway.


Jim Belshaw said...

I agree with you on Mr Bolt. On the first point, I have written about this. I will do a short post on policy principles.