Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Four reasons why policy towards Australia's indigenous peoples is condemned to continuing failure

This post is a brief follow up to one element in Big Birds, regional politics and the futility of "Freedom Wars".

Over the last few years, I have written a lot on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life, history and policy, 108 posts on this blog alone. Drawing together one thread in that writing, here without supporting argument are the four key failures that explain why policy towards Australia's indigenous peoples has failed and will largely continue to fail.
  1. Failure to distinguish between an Aboriginal specific problem and a general problem that affects Aboriginal people.
  2. Failure to recognise variation across space among our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  3. Failure to recognise variation in time - past, present and likely future - among our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  4. Failure to recognise that past policy failures are a key cause of future policy failures to the point that Australia's indigenous peoples would have been better off had Governments at all levels and at all times done nothing at all.


Winton Bates said...

Hi Jim
As I see it the 'general problem that affects Aboriginal people' has a lot to do with welfare assistance also available to the rest of the population. Perhaps such assistance should be re-designed to consider how it is likely to impact on the well-being of the most vulnerable members of society.

Neil said...

Concise and very useful leads, Jim, based on much knowledge and experience. Oh, and there's a typo in the heading -- should be "condemned".

Anonymous said...

Well I accept 1 & 2, but you'd have to explain what you mean by 3, and I'm really very doubtful about 4.

And never mind Neil; he's just being ascerbic ;)


Jim Belshaw said...

Winton, I need to disentangle what you said a little.

Consider this newspaper report first -http://www.smh.com.au/national/dental-health-report-for-rural-towns-paints-shocking-picture-20120813-244sw.html

That's an example of a general problem, poor dental services in certain country communities. Now each of those communities in fact has a very high Aboriginal population. That feeds into the Aboriginal health stats on indigenous disadvantage, and so may trigger an indigenous specific policy response. But unless it can be shown that there are specific Aboriginal features different from those facing the broader community that require tailoring, we are not dealing with an Aboriginal specific problem.

Now go to the welfare question. Obviously I recognise the links to our previous discussion. Put that aside. If the identified Aboriginal problems in certain communities are a subset of a broader problem, ie not Aboriginal specific, then they should be dealt with in that broader context.

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil, corrected, I hope!

Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, on Neil, smile! On 3, the Aboriginal community however defined is changing all the time. Take the definition of Aboriginality and the way this links to certain policy measures. With the progressive rise of the Aboriginal middle class, with the changing structures within the Aboriginal community, you have to ask whether or not certain measures will or should still be relevant in, say, ten years time. At what point do we say that this is not an Aboriginal issue per se, but an issue faced by a certain community that also happens to be Aboriginal.

Your last point requires a special post in its own right.