As National Reconciliation Week nears its end, the Productivity Commission has Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2007. The actual document should appear on the Commission’s site later today. Much of it is bad news, but as the Sydney Morning Herald says, there is some good news too.
THE number of indigenous women in jails has increased by a third since 2002, and the number of indigenous men by one-fifth, a biennial report commissioned by the federal and state governments shows.
But it also shows a growing indigenous middle class, with a 10-per-cent rise in median income and higher rates of home ownership and adult qualifications…
Adult educational qualifications tripled and unemployment halved in 10 years, largely due to the federal Government’s Aboriginal work for the dole programs, the report said.
Native title determinations increased from 5 per cent of the Australian land mass to 8 per cent, and Australian land subject to indigenous land use agreements rose from 2 to 10 per cent.
The report detailed government and community programs making a difference and listed common “success factors”: co-operative approaches between indigenous people and government; a “bottom-up” model of community involvement in designing programs; good governance; and continuing government support…
Reacting to the bad news elements, Minister Mal Brough reiterated the government line on “personal responsibility” on Radio National’s AM this morning. While that is galling, it is not utterly wrong. I only have to look at my own neighbourhood to see he has a point, and that is why I do have sympathy for what Noel Pearson is doing. I also experienced first-hand last July the Inaugural First Nations Economic Opportunities Conference, or part thereof, thanks to my Aboriginal nephew.
At the same time I still support the need for symbolic acts of reconciliation. The transcript of the Message Stick profile of Jackie Huggins is now available; she said, and I concur:
…One of the biggest highlights of my career was seeing a million people walk for reconciliation around the bridges, a million people walk for reconciliation over bridges in the year 2000. People who we wouldn’t believe would have any interest in our people came along. Reconciliation could be working better in this country when you weigh up the practical and the symbolic. If they’re brought up together where you have the practical and the symbolic aspects of reconciliation which consists of the rights agenda, which is about an apology, which I still think is so important to stolen generations and our people. We may not get it. It may be hollow now. But still, it’s something that matters in people’s minds. My top priorities, as I see them, are about leadership, about governance and about healing and would hope that the reconciliation agenda of whichever government came into power would release [sic — “realise”?] that reconciliation should be one of the top priorities in relation to even existing in our own country. All of us have just got to work harder to try to bring about a resolution or try to form some understanding around these issues. I know that a lot of that has to do with community education. I know that there are people dying of broken hearts, our own mob, that can’t see a way through this.
KERRIE TIM, GROUP MORNING, INDIGENOUS LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT GROUP FACSIA: She faces the tough issues and she doesn’t back away from that even in the face of being attacked or the possibility of being attacked. She has the courage to stand up and do what is the right thing. And that also means she allows herself to make mistakes, which is just brilliant, you know? Because often when our leaders make mistakes, we pull them back.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS, DIRECTOR, ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER GROUP: Jackie will be, if not always already now, recognised as one of our strong leaders. She’s still a young woman in terms of being able to offer leadership not only to our community but to the broader Australian community. Indeed, I think she’s got a contribution to make on the international stage.
I find my attitude is a touch Confucian. In the Analects Chapter 8 we read, in Simon Leys’ translation:
The Master said: “Without ritual, courtesy is tiresome; without ritual, prudence is timid; without ritual, bravery is quarrelsome; without ritual, frankness is hurtful. When gentlemen treat their kin courteously, common people are attracted to goodness; when old ties are not forgotten, common people are not fickle.”
If the symbolic had been faced when it should have been, the conversation Mal Brough may be trying quite sincerely to have may well have met with less resistance.