My thanks to Aboriginal Art & Culture: An American Eye for suggesting that my post offered the best outline as to what was proposed. I had not seen this blog before, and I have bookmarked it because it fills a gap.
Now turn to the coverage in the Australian. Please read it not from the viewpoint as to whether you agree or not, but look at it as an analyst or commentator. What does it tell you about the Australian view? Look at the reported views of Peter Shergold. As head of the Prime Minister's Department, Mr Shergold is the PM's official adviser.
As I write, SBS news is showing Australian troops joining planes to be on ground tomorrow to support the civil authorities. Models developed by Australia in intervention in Timor or the Solomon Islands are now being applied on Australian soil.
Opposition leader Rudd has backed the PM's plan. Three states are reported as having already committed 30 police, doubling existing police numbers in the communities in question. The Australian Federal Police have begun to deploy.
It's all very dramatic. In the words of the Prime Minister:
"We have gone along with the idea that these are state and territory responsibilities, which technically they are," he said.But will it work and what does it all mean?
"We'd persevered with that, we'd worked the old paradigm but we just came to the conclusion that wasn't going to work and we've decided, in effect, to put aside the old approach and to adopt in the short-term a highly interventionist approach."
Summary of my Previous Post
I began my previous post by outlining the Commonwealth Government's proposed actions. These centred on restoration of law and order, grog control, health and schooling.
I then briefly outlined the history, pointing to the way in which past policy failures and current policy and political frustrations and especially those of Minister Brough had combined to trigger the move.
In simple terms, and as indicated by the PM's words quoted above, the Commonwealth Government has put aside past policies and approaches and done so in a dramatic and emotionally charged way that sidelines past ideas.
As an example, Michael Mansell, the director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, condemned the plans for singling out Aborigines, saying:
"It would be different if his social behaviour strategy applied to everyone in Australia, but it doesn't, making his policies racist," he said.The difficulty for Mr Mansell and for others such as Green Leader Bob Brown is that their views are no longer relevant. The intervention is there and has to be dealt with.
"This is a racist attack on the weak and an immoral abuse of power, amounting to nothing more than political vote scoring."
Returning to my post, I continued by suggesting that the Federal Government's actions had changed Australia forever and that to understand this we needed to look at two dimensions, the indigenous context and then the broader Australian scene.
The Indigenous Context
I began my discussion of the indigenous context by looking at Aboriginal demography, making the point that changes that will affect all Australians were being driven by problems associated with a population equivalent to a reasonable size regional city.
I went on to make the point that the problems experienced by certain of the Northern Territory's Aboriginal communities, while replicated elsewhere, were not typical of the total Aboriginal experience. This links to a point I have made many times, that we cannot and should not talk of the "Aborigines" as though they are a single group, instead recognising the nature and extent of regional and local variation.
A similar point was made by tiwidownlands in a thoughtful comment on that first post. Talking in a Northern Territory context, tiwidownlands wrote:
The NT always has problems with the aboriginal problem because political viability depends on a cluster of Darwin and Alice Seats – which would not reward good work done for the indigenous.So in considering the Howard Government's response, we need to recognise that we are dealing with a slice (traditional NT aborigines) of a slice (Northern Territory Aborigines) of a slice (Australia's indigenous people) of a whole (Australian population).
And to talk about the population of indigenous in NT needs to be split up because the education, health and social profile of the traditional community is vastly different from the non-traditional.
If we focus just on those directly affected, will all this work? And what do we mean by work anyway?
In past comments on indigenous issues I have been very careful about commenting on things that I do not properly understand. I have never visited a remote NT Aboriginal community, so have not commented on the detail of discussions couched in local terms or dealing with specific local problems. Instead, I have tried to focus on the areas where I am strong and especially questions raised by my public policy experience.
Looking at the on-ground impacts through this prism, there are some things that we can point to.
I have no doubt that the short term logistic issues, the problems that many are pointing too, will be worked out. Australians are good at this. However, these are the least of the issues.
To begin with, we need to recognise the crushing weight on those involved as the full force of the Australian Government comes to bear upon the 50,000 or so people directly affected, as well as those surrounding them who will be affected as well. This is no small matter.
I think that we also need to recognise that the Australian Government has begun what is in fact a major process of social re-engineering. These communities will never be the same again.
Some may say, and this may indeed be correct, that this will be a good thing. But just as current problems are due in significant fashion to past policy failures, so future problems will be created by failures in the new approach. Anybody involved in public policy knows that apparently good policy measures can have unforeseen side effects.
This leads me to some real concerns.
If we look at the language and focus of the Government's intervention, we see first the overwhelming focus on law and order issues. We can also see the use of models associated with our international interventions. Thus the Government talks about first stabilising the situation, staying for five years, then getting out.
I am out of time. I will publish, but continue later.
Continuing - events update
I have not been able to catch all the news during the day, but it seems clear that the continuing debate is zeroing in on some of the issues that I consider to be important from an indigenous perspective.
It is also clear from the Premiers' reactions that some elements of party politics are alive and well in this election year. That was to be expected.
What I do find interesting, however, is that there appears to have been little discussion to this point on what I think are the broader national issues raised by the intervention.
NT Emergency Response Taskforce
During the day (25 June) Mr Brough announced details of the new Taskforce. It is anticipated that the Taskforce will operate for at least 12 months and will be supported by full time administrative and field staff.
The terms of reference for the Taskforce will include providing advice to the Government and oversight of a Taskforce Operational Group effort, including:
- Community engagement, design of intervention, coordinated delivery of resources
and activities and data gathering and monitoring;
- Set up and appointment of community government business managers;
- Nominate communities in critical situations; and
- Liaise with the Australian Government, the NT Government and
other State authorities to provide the best emergency support efforts on the
- Dr Sue Gordon OAM (Chair) - Western Australian Magistrate in the Perth Children's Court, Dr Gordon is also Chair of the National Indigenous Council. Dr Gordon chaired the Inquiry into Response by Government Agencies to Complaints of Family Violence and Child Abuse in Aboriginal Communities, in Western Australia in 2002. In 2003, Dr Gordon received the Centenary Medal for service to the community, particularly the Aboriginal community and in 1993 she was awarded the Order of Australia for commitment to Aboriginal people and community affairs. In 1986 she was appointed as Commissioner for Aboriginal Planning becoming the first Aboriginal person to head a government department in Western Australia.
- Shane Castles - Career police officer with 32 years experience, including as Assistance Commissioner with the Australian Federal Police. His experience includes international deployment and investigating illicit drugs. He was Police Commissioner of the Solomon Island's until early this year. Mr Castles will be the Operational Commander as well as being a member of the Taskforce.
- Dr Bill Glasson - A practicing ophthalmologist and former Australian Medical Association President, Dr Glasson has worked in a voluntary capacity in various Indigenous communities. He recently travelled to East Timor as part of a team which treated in excess of 3,000 East Timorese patients. He is a consulting ophthalmologist to the Australian Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
- John Reeves QC - Practicing barrister, and Chair of Red Cross NT and national board member. 30 years experience in Indigenous issues. Mr Reeves was also the federal ALP Member for the NT and is experienced in local government. In 1998 he completed a review of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act for the Australian Government.
- Roger Corbett AM - Chairman of CIES Food Business Forum, Member of the board of the Reserve Bank Australia and former Chief Executive Officer and Group Managing Director of Woolworths Ltd. Member in the Order of Australia (AM) in 2003 for service to the retail industry, particularly as a contributor to the development of industry policy and standards, and to the community.
- Miriam Rose Baumann AM - Principal of St Francis Xavier Catholic School, Daly River, NT and current member of the National Indigenous Council and Chair of the NT Aboriginal Benefit Account Advisory Committee. In 1998, Ms Baumann was awarded an Order of Australia - Australia Medal - for her services to the community of Nauiya Nambiyu as a member of the community council.
- Dr Peter Shergold - Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet since February 2003.
- Paul Tyrrell - Chief Executive of the Northern Territory Department of the Chief Minister and head of the Northern Territory Railway unit.
I mentioned Peter Shergold at the start of this post, with a link through to a newspaper story setting out his views. Mr Shergold will be the key link through to the PM.
International readers may not read between the lines in the appointment of Mr Castle as Operational Commander. I mentioned before that this intervention appeared to be modeled on our international experience.\
As head of the Solomon Island's police, Mr Castle was directly involved in RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands, the multinational force put together to restore order in that country.\
Bill Glasson is the only member of the Task Force that I know personally from the time that I was CEO of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand) college of Ophthalmologists. Bill has a long track record of working with remote communities in the eye care area.
Before talking about the Premiers, back to the demographic facts. Again using 2001 census data, indigenous populations by state follow Remember as I said in my last post that the latest census figures will show significant changes, although the broad pattern is likely to remain the same. The figures are:
- NSW 134,888
- Queensland 112,777
- WA 58,496
- NT 50,790
- Victoria 25,090
- SA 23,410
- Tasmania 15,780
As one measure, take home ownership, a key traditional measure of social progress in Australia.
- Tasmania 59 per cent
- Victoria 42 per cent
- NSW 36 per cent
- SA 29 per cent
- Queensland 28 per cent
- WA 27 per cent
- NT 14 per cent
These things link to another measure, the proportion of the indigenous population in each state or territory living in remote areas. Absolute numbers follow with the percentage of the total state or territory indigenous population in the brackets.
- NT 41,204 (81.1%)
- Queensland 26,397 (23.4%)
- WA 26,210 (44.8%)
- NSW 7,311 (5.4%)
- SA 5,172 (22.1%)
- Tasmania 537 (3.4%)
- Victoria 57 (o.23%).
I make this point because it is then perhaps not surprising that it is the Premiers of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia that have expressed the greatest reservations about the Commonwealth's new plans.
In saying this, I am not suggesting that they are simply defending their own patches, although this may be a factor. Five minutes listening to South Australian Premier Mike Rann talk about problems in South Australia is enough to show that he both knows a lot and is quite passionate about the problems faced by the State's remote Aboriginal communities. I am suggesting, however, that they face the greatest difficulties in adjusting to the new approach.
I am going to finish this post here and continue the story in a new post.