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Some thoughts on the events of June 2007

13 February 2008 🙂

Read: Kevin Rudd’s Apology — full speech PDF; Dr Nelson’s speech in reply PDF. These events have brought not solutions in the short term, but a fundamental change of position that will affect much that I wrote about here six months earlier. 🙂

See also the new Indigenous Australia page on New Lines from a Floating Life.

Here is what I wrote in 2007:

The need to re-embrace TRUE RECONCILIATION has never been stronger than it is today.

PROLOGUE

There are more young people in the Northern Territory, as evidenced by the median age of 28 compared to the national median of 32 years. As young people drink more often and have a greater likelihood of engaging in irresponsible practices such as binge drinking, this skewness in the population suggests that drinkers are more prevalent in the Territory. This might be exacerbated by the fact that 56% of individuals in the NT are single, compared to 45% nationally.

A greater proportion of the Territory workforce is employed in industries known to have more high risk drinkers. For example, the percentage of people employed in the mining industry is three times higher in the Territory than it is nationally and the percentage in the Defence Forces is probably more than double the national level. Similarly, Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders comprise 22% of the Northern Territory population, compared to 1.4% nationally. Although nearly 60% of Aboriginal people (or more than twice the proportion of the urban population of the Territory) do not drink, excessive consumption is common among the small number of those who do drink. Further, the number of interstate and overseas visitors to the Territory each year is approximately four times the resident population and tourism is associated with higher levels of alcohol consumption. — Living with alcohol in the Northern Territory

Those facts need to be remembered.

This page is very much a work in progress. I have in fact begun to change my mind about what is happening, or at least about some of it, in the week since all this began. It is a follow-up to The most significant event in Aboriginal policy in over a decade, Bookmarks while you wait — expanded and The view from Redfern. See too Productivity Commission report on Indigenous Australians released (1 June 2007).

July 2007: Jack Waterford has written an excellent article on all this in Eureka Street.

NOTE: This post contains several YouTubes: if holes appear in the post, you will know they are where a video should be.

Open Letter to The Hon. Mal Brough MP

An early reaction from a whole range of concerned people. See Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR).

The undersigned organisations write this joint and open letter in order to convey our views on action required to stop the abuse of children in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, and our concerns about aspects of the Australian Government’s response to this problem as outlined in your statement of 21 June 2007.The safety and well-being of Indigenous children is paramount. We welcome your commitment to tackling violence and abuse in certain Indigenous communities. We are deeply concerned at the severity and widespread nature of the problems of child sexual abuse and community breakdown in Indigenous communities in the NT, catalogued in the Little Children are Sacred Report.We wish to work collaboratively with Governments and the communities affected to ensure that children are protected. We would like to see greater investment in the services that support Indigenous families and communities, the active involvement of these communities in finding solutions to these problems and greater Federal Government engagement in delivering basic health, housing and education services to remote communities.There is general agreement among the communities affected, Governments and service providers and in the wider Australian community that urgent action is required to address the abuse and neglect of children and to assist those affected by it.We note that the services which most Australians take for granted are often not delivered to remote Indigenous communities, including adequately resourced schools, health services, child protection and family support services, as well as police who are trained to deal with domestic violence in the communities affected. We endorse the call in the Little Children are Sacred Report for the Australian and Territory Governments to work together urgently to fill these gaps in services.There is also a need for a longer term plan to address the underlying causes of the problem, including community breakdown, joblessness, overcrowding and low levels of education.

Successfully tackling these problems requires sustainable solutions, which must be worked out with the communities, not prescribed from Canberra.

We are committed to working with the Government to ensure that in developing and introducing the proposed measures, support is provided to Indigenous communities’ efforts to resolve these problems. The proposals go well beyond an ‘emergency response’, and will have profound effects on people’s incomes, land ownership, and their ability to decide the kind of medical treatment they receive. Some of the measures will weaken communities and families by taking from them the ability to make basic decisions about their lives, thus removing responsibility instead of empowering them.

In their present form the proposals miss the mark and are unlikely to be effective. There is an over-reliance on top-down and punitive measures, and insufficient indication that additional resources will be mobilised where they are urgently needed; to improve housing, child protection and domestic violence supports, schools, health services, alcohol and drug rehab programs. These issues have been raised by many Indigenous leaders over many years.

We offer our support to Indigenous communities and the Government in:

* developing programs that will strengthen families and communities to empower them to confront the problems they face;
* consulting adequately with the communities and NT Government, and community service, health and education providers;
* developing a long term plan to address and resolve the causes of child abuse including joblessness, poor housing, education and commit the necessary resources to this.

Yours sincerely

Mick Dodson

Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser and Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue
Co-Chairs, Sorry Day Alliance

Stan Grant and Tracey Holmes

and others…

fourcorners

Four Corners 16 July 2007: a must! That banner is a link.

***

As I write a whole new drama is being played out in the Australian Northern Territory: Now comes the hard part – action.

ELDERS of Mutitjulu, the troubled community in the shadow of Uluru, told the Northern Territory’s child sex inquiry they were fed up with being used as a political football and no longer wanted to be the centre of controversy.But Mutitjulu, which has struggled to overcome chronic petrol sniffing, alcohol and drug abuse, juvenile prostitution and claims about a pedophile ring, has become the centre of a political storm over the Federal Government’s crackdown on 60 remote indigenous communities.That the government’s action is draconian and controversial goes without saying. For some, it appears, unpleasant memories have surfaced: “An elder of the Mutitjulu community in Central Australia says many Aboriginal mothers are taking their children into the sandhills because of fears the government will take them away.” (ABC News 25 June 2007. It now appears (27 June) that this may have been exaggerated.)

A very thorough account may be found by searching Jim Belshaw’s Personal Reflections. Jim has a background in rural life and public service. He has striven to be factual in his reports. I strongly suggest you read what Jim has to say, as I would like to lean on his analysis as a supplement, and even a counterweight, to the points I may make here. Jim’s posts have been strengthened further by a number of very perceptive comments from his readers, many I note commenting for the first time on his blog, drawn by the outstanding work he has done on this matter.

Club Troppo reacted thus early, as many of us did: see for example AUSTRALIA’S DAY OF SHAME posted by NT lawyer Ken Parish, who shares my views on Noel Pearson, saying, however:

If Noel Pearson is a man of integrity (and I think he is), he will be appalled by John Howard’s just announced “plan” for Northern Territory indigenous Australians. Certainly, Pearson’s plans also involve breaking the cycle of welfare dependency in Cape York by tying receipt of welfare benefits to children’s school attendance, maintaining their houses and the like. But it does so in the context of a carefully developed, comprehensive plan for basic health care, education, vocational skills training and enterprise development. Contrary to Mark Bahnisch’s view, I think Pearson’s proposals have a great deal of merit.But there is no sign of any of those careful, considered elements in the “plan” John Howard announced today. Like Howard’s $10 billion water “plan”, it appears to have been hastily cobbled together on the back of an envelope aiming solely at electoral advantage by playing to the “Howard battlers” and wedging the ALP. It appears to be little more than a cynical, desperate, Textor focus group-driven grab for redneck votes, by targetting the poorest , most vulnerable Australians. Sadly it may well work, judging by the supine response of Kevin Rudd and other Labor leaders to date…Ken has lived in the Territory for 24 years.

But then there is this Moir cartoon which is very confronting. (I also found it on Club Troppo, having for some reason not noticed it in the Herald.)

moir-on-pms-plan.jpg

See also: Invasion Day on Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye — also written before the intervention actually began: As someone who’s lived through a series of escalating terrorist alerts in the United States as elections draw nearer and nearer, who has come to recognize the manipulation of fear and disapproval of the “other” as a tool for the enhancing of political agendas of greed and hatred, I think I can recognize what Howard is doing here pretty clearly. I would like to say that I’ve seen it coming, that I’ve suggested in past posts that the assimilationist, anti-Aboriginal posture that fueled Pauline Hanson and One Nation and that Howard manipulated so skillfully by downplaying its extremes while covertly catering to its biases was on its way back again. But honestly, I never believed that such black-heartedness would see the light of day…; Something must be done! This is something by An Onymous Lefty; Aboriginal Children and Aboriginal Children II by Senator Andrew Bartlett. From that second post:

…A range of Australian blogs recently addressed the theoretical question of whether a politician’s motives are relevant in assessing their policies. The Prime Minister’s plan to tackle sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory provides a very current and crucial real world example. While assessment of motive may give an insight into how likely it is that a policy will be fully followed through, it really isn’t relevant in assessing whether the policy is any good.The motives may be as pure as can be and the policy still be bad. Conversely, the motives may as devious as possible, but the policy may still be spot on. Indigenous affairs provides lots of sad examples where the political intentions may have been totally honourable, but the policy was disastrous. Some people argue that the hugely destructive policies that led to the Stolen Generations were mostly carried out with good, albeit misguided intentions. This history of the Stolen Generations, which played no small part in creating some of the circumstances that has led to the crisis we are now trying to address, is worth keeping in the back of our minds in this debate. Not because I think these latest proposals are similar, but rather because urgings that “it’s for the good of the children” shouldn’t be used as a catch-all phrase to silence any criticisms or concerns about the details. In the same way that I think it’s a distraction to criticize the Prime Minister’s motives, I don’t think it helps to focus on the motives of people who express concerns about the details.In his appearance on TV’s Meet the Press today, the Prime Minster waved away questions about on the ground details by saying that was falling into “the old Canberra trap of talking about this as some kind of generalised philosophical debate.”This is a bit ironic, given that at this stage, the whole thing is being driven and developed by politicians and bureaucrats in Canberra. Given that almost everyone actually supports the stated goal here, I hope the government becomes a little bit more open to advice on how to make their policy work, rather than insist they are the only ones with all the answers. The lack of details, including the lack of work done on the likely costs, is one area which will need urgent attention to flesh out the initial hasty announcement…

Central to my own position is a deep sadness about both the current emergency and the policy line taken by the Australian government since embracing “practical reconciliation” eleven long years ago. Some may say that is beside the point. I say it is crucial. If the promise of the Bicentennial and the years of the “Stolen Children” Report had been acted on, we might be in a stronger moral and practical position to address the issues we confront today in a more harmonious and potentially more long-lasting manner. [That is a position I am unlikely to change.]

Not a new problem

The immediate trigger for these events has been a report for the Northern Territory government: The Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse.. Issues of a like nature were raised by playwright Louis Nowra earlier this year: I comment on that here and here.

Put your preconceptions on hold and really read Bad Dreaming (Pluto 2007). Do not be content with the extract in The Australian. I think it is a very important contribution.Right-wingers who have used the book to thump left-wingers have totally missed the point. Left-wingers who ignore the book because right-wingers have exploited it also miss the point. Nowra’s account of the effects of European settlement on Indigenous Australians sits quite comfortably with a so-called “Black Armband” view of history. He does rightly point to the deleterious effects of a too soft “noble savage” or New Age reading of the realities out there, however; he also concedes much that is good. It is a wise book. Become wise yourselves and bury your politics, or shove them you-know-where, as you read it.

In a recent Monthly Magazine Robert Manne has shown flaws in Nowra’s historical analysis.

The flaws in Louis Nowra’s account of culturally conditioned contemporary male violence are deeper than his misrepresentations … for his entire argument is mounted without sufficient clarity or care. In general Nowra suggests that contemporary Aboriginal male violence against women and children is rooted in what he calls at one moment a “pathological distortion” of traditional pre-contact custom. [But] any general argument about contemporary abuse as a pathologised distortion of tradition must begin by explaining the awkward fact that one of the two main forms of contemporary Aboriginal male violence – the sexual abuse of children – did not exist in the pre-contact world.In fact Nowra acknowledges that child abuse was not a feature of traditional Aboriginal life, even if some customs would be worrying even to Robert Manne.

Why now?

The present Australian government began with a firm resolution to revise the direction Australian policy had been going in the previous twenty years. You may see what that direction was by looking at the documents on the parent of this page. My own feeling is we sould have been better off if the new government had been less concerned to turn away from progress that had been made since the 1950s, especially since the 1970s. I seriously believe the path of reconciliation, symbolic and practical, should have been pursued with enthusiasm, that Prime Minister Keating’s Redfern Speech, which you may see on that parent page, set the agenda forcefully and eloquently and has not been improved on since. (I acknowledge that in recent times Keating has become an amazingly grumpy old man!)

That this matters even Noel Pearson, whose qualified support for the government’s present actions has attracted some fulsome praise and some controversy, was careful to say:

The Howard-Brough plan to tackle grog and to provide policing is correct. However, the plan needs to be amended so that there is a concerted strategy to build indigenous social and cultural ownership.Howard and Brough need to understand the challenge is this: we must restore Aboriginal law in these communities. We must restore Aboriginal values and Aboriginal morality in our communities.Aboriginal law, properly understood, is not the problem, it is the solution. When I say Aboriginal law, I just do not mean the laws that prevailed in our pre-colonial classical culture, I mean our contemporary values and expectations about behaviour. The old law did not deal with grog, drugs, gambling, money and private property.These new things have represented a fundamental challenge for Aboriginal culture. Many communities have struggled to apply the values that underpinned their traditional law to these new challenges.We have not met this challenge successfully. We desperately need to. We need to develop an Aboriginal law that deals effectively with these new challenges: grog, drugs, gambling, money and private property.Some communities have articulated an Aboriginal law that deals with the new challenges as well as the old. Many communities have strong social and cultural norms dealing with the old challenges, but they are hapless in the face of the new challenges. What does Aboriginal law have to say when relatives want money for binge drinking?

Howard and Brough will make a historic mistake if they are contemptuous of the role that a proper and modern articulation of Aboriginal law must play in the social reconstruction of indigenous societies. I support their determination to end the suffering.

Some right-wing commentators have not given enough weight to such considerations, and I really wonder if the Howard government has either. Pearson argued the case in more general terms in his brilliant essay in Griffith Review earlier in 2007. I am attracted to Pearson’s analysis in that essay where he writes:

There is a strong tradition of denial in Australia… There is a very large constituency which denies that the treatment of Indigenous people in Australia’s colonial history (and up to the present) was as bad as those historians who have contributed to the genre known as ‘Aboriginal history’ demonstrate. These people deny that racism in Australia against the country’s indigenous people is a serious problem. Keith Windschuttle’s refutation of massacres and violence on the frontiers, and Pauline Hanson’s galvanising resentments against alleged preferences to Aboriginal people (and other racial minorities) are just the most egregious examples of a wide constituency which adopts a position of denial… a spectrum of views amongst non-Indigenous Australians which range from David Irving-style ideological denialism to those who acknowledge the depredations suffered by Indigenous people through history and the racism in our society, but who minimise its nature and extent… Many join this constituency because of political and cultural affiliations with the political right.He does go on, of course, to characterise many on the left as morally vain, and I really think the cap fits there too.

Sequel on Pearson

I am not surprised by One-size-fits-all policy rejected in The Sydney Morning Herald 27 June 2007.

THE Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson has criticised the Federal Government’s takeover of indigenous communities in the Northern Territory as a “one size fits all approach”, which does not distinguish between responsible and irresponsible welfare recipients.Mr Pearson, whose plan for welfare changes in Cape York has received bipartisan political support, told the Herald yesterday he was “completely in agreement” with the Federal Government’s decision to ban alcohol and strengthen police numbers in communities in the Northern Territory. However, he criticised the plan to make welfare payments conditional for all parents, regardless of whether they used the money responsibly or not.”We have a very strong view that when it comes to income support payments, where people are taking responsibility they should be encouraged to continue to do so … You only intervene where there is a collapse in responsibility.” Mr Pearson suggested school attendance records, child neglect notifications and criminal offences could all alert authorities to indigenous families who were not using their welfare payments responsibly. “That should give very clear indication that something is happening in those homes which could endanger the welfare of children.”

The same day outspoken secretary of the Treasury, Ken Henry, is reported as advocating an end to welfare payments:

IMPROVING the wellbeing of indigenous Australians in a sustainable fashion may require the removal of all government assistance, says the secretary of the Treasury, Ken Henry. At the Cape York Institute Conference in Cairns yesterday, Dr Henry said there was an argument that “the best thing governments can do is step back and allow individuals, families and communities to take responsibility for their own outcomes in life”.”The removal of government assistance is likely to result in an initial deterioration of the wellbeing of people newly denied the assistance,” Dr Henry said. “But by taking this difficult, initial step, it may be possible to achieve a greater and more sustainable improvement in wellbeing than could ever be achieved through ongoing government intervention.”Dr Henry listed three measures needed to improve the lot of indigenous people: ending reliance on “passive welfare”, raising education and health standards, and directly engaging indigenous people in setting the policies that affect them. Indigenous policies over the years had failed to deal with the underlying causes of disadvantage, he said. He was particularly scathing of the layers of welfare that he said all but destroyed any incentive to work, or to seek an education.Well, he would say that, some might argue. On the other hand there is no doubt the welfare system has created problems for some, perhaps many, Aboriginal and Islander communities. My view, for what it is worth, is that rather than just turning off the tap, positive examples of communities and individuals escaping the welfare dependency trap — and such surely exist — should be given maximum publicity. If the outcomes there are manifestly good, others will follow.

I agree that directly engaging indigenous people in setting the policies that affect them is the right way to go. The current intervention seems an example of the opposite, doesn’t it?

But why now? Why did the government not act as far back as 2003? Could the fact that the government has many members (and voters, even more importantly) who generally occupy that denialist spectrum, even some at the extreme end, have anything to do with it? It is hard indeed to come to any other conclusion. Quadrant (post-Manne) has not been John Howard’s favourite brain food for nothing, after all. So much time was devoted to saying, essentially, that Aboriginal issues, including reconciliation, did not really matter, could and should be seen simply as variants on mainstream issues. Departmental structures and policies have mirrored this syndrome very closely.

  • PDF FILE: Professor Mick Dodson. ANU Institute for Indigenous Australia ….. Complaints of Family Violence and Child Abuse in Aboriginal Communities. June 2003

    See also Child abuse and neglect in Indigenous Australian communities by Janet Stanley, Adam M. Tomison and Julian Pocock, a Spring 2003 Child Abuse Prevention Issues Paper from the Australian Institute of Family Studies funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs under the auspices of the Australian Council for Children and Parenting as part of the government’s response to the problem of child abuse.

    Is this a land grab?

    The Democrats seem to think so. Howards Indigenous power and land grab must not go ahead without parliamentary and Aboriginal consultation.

    The Democrats say the Prime Minister should immediately establish a parliamentary Committee to examine his proposals regarding child sexual assault in the Northern Territory to allow the details to be properly examined and Aboriginal people to be properly consulted.“If the Prime Minister wants the parliament to pass laws to let him take control of the land and lives of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, he must allow Aboriginal people and the Parliament adequate time to examine the detail,” Democrats’ Indigenous Affairs spokesperson Senator Andrew Bartlett said.”“I am not convinced that the government’s analogy of emergencies like cyclones and tsunamis is suitable. People want a lot of support to rebuild their lives in times of emergency; but they don’t want all control of their lives taken away.”Democrats’ Leader Senator Lyn Allison said that “Indigenous people simply must be consulted before their rights are run roughshod over not just because it is the right thing to do, but because without it, these changes have little hope of succeeding in reducing child sexual abuse.”“No doubt anyone who criticises Mr Howard will be smeared with the allegation that we don’t care about sexual abuse of children, but we will not let such attacks stop us from raising proper concerns about the government’s authoritarian approach.”See the discussion going on out there. The idea that undoing Land Rights is very much part of the agenda does not seem outlandish to many people. Look at what has been up for debate in Parliament in the past year: for example. What do you think? Is it wrong to join the dots? Aboriginal ownership of land has been a thorn in the side of mining companies and developers for some time now. This is an aspect of government policy that continues to disturb me.

    Wisdom from a great Australian

    I finish with Jackie Huggins in September 2005, speaking as Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia at a HREOC Overcoming Disadvantage Workshop.

    I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay respect to those who have gone before us….The high incidence of violent crime and substance abuse in our communities is what many Australians associate with Aboriginality. It defines us. To the point where people will argue with alacrity that we are somehow genetically predisposed to violence and drunkenness or that this behaviour is part of our culture. It allows people to blame us for the problems we experience or to shrug us off as a lost cause.As you’ll hear from other speakers, in significant areas like community governance and employment, many encouraging things are happening out there and partnerships between all the crucial players are working to good effect. There are also now some useful trials taking place marrying traditional with contemporary justice systems. But if the reconciliation rhetoric had been backed up in the fundamental area of crime and substance abuse, we would have reached the stage where we would be coming together for an event like this to measure and celebrate the distance we have travelled.Alas, we cannot afford that luxury just yet.So here we are, yet again, talking about a level of violence and dysfunction that could see another generation of Indigenous children grow up too damaged to create functional families and communities themselves. But at least we are here. At least the issue of violence and substance abuse is well and truly out in the open, and not only are our women speaking out about it but so too now are our men, men like my brother Mick Dodson.But looking at this recent report, we need to ask ourselves why over two years and two decades, have we seen things go backwards rather than forwards? For the general community, the answer to this question is quite elusive. As I’ve said, It tempts people to fall back on dangerous stereotypes about Aboriginal people and the choices we make and don’t make for ourselves.

    The reality is that what has stayed the same over 20 years is the inability of government agencies and mainstream service providers to address our problems effectively.

    And when problems like these are chucked in the “too hard basket” over long periods of time, they get worse and worse until they reach the kind of crisis we now face in family violence and substance abuse….

    Participants today will spend a lot of time talking about a whole lot of shocking statistics and these are things we need to discuss. But the trouble is Australians have heard these numbers so many times before, they’re numb to the human significance. Too often, they’re so numb that their first impulse is to blame the victim. And some of these numb people would have been among the first to express donate to Tsunami relief appeals earlier this year. And while I have no problem with this at all (I donate too), I am concerned when people pride themselves on being compassionate but somehow cannot extend that compassion to fellow Australians living – and dying – in their own backyard.

    If we are considering crime and justice and substance abuse, and all the other grim findings of the report we need to talk about how to wake the nation up to the relevance of Indigenous disadvantage to Australia’s overall prospects…

    For a start, it’s taken these people far too long to recognise that different aspects of disadvantage are inexorably linked, that one problem predisposes us to the next and the next and the next until it becomes virtually impossible to break through and take some control.If we consider the problem of petrol sniffing in isolation, we get nowhere. Dipping into sections of the Productivity Commission report looking for a problem snapshot has limited value. We need to look at the picture of disadvantage as a whole and address it as a whole, and the barometer would help us do that.Australia has also been on a slow learning curve when it comes to acknowledging that government or business or anyone else trying to develop substance abuse, justice or other projects without the close, constant and respected involvement of Indigenous communities are on a road to nowhere.I so often find myself on panels as the sole Indigenous voice talking about family violence, trying to explain things that should really have been understood by now. Surely we’re past the point where we imagine that a bunch of white people talking about how to solve the problems of black people is going to get us very far. The rhetoric at least is improving and well-overdue insights about putting control into the hands of Indigenous people provide a foundation of common ground between the main stakeholders involved in Indigenous policy. But if these insights are to amount to anything in terms of improved outcomes and progress towards reconciliation, they must be backed with very different structures and practices from what we’re used to….I’d also make the point that the failure to see any improvement in areas of Indigenous disadvantage is a clear sign of the limitations of so called practical reconciliation. This approach has argued for some time that practical measures can somehow operate in isolation of those other more spiritual aspects of reconciliation that recognise and respect difference in culture, priority and approach, and the overarching significance of family and community.In reality, the practical and the symbolic sides of reconciliation are impossible to separate because that sense of who you are and how you feel about yourself is intrinsic to how you behave and how you shape solutions to problems that affect your community. The sense of how connected you feel to fellow Australians. If you believe you’re an outsider, you are an outsider. If you believe you’re beaten, then you’re beaten. If you believe that the rest of Australia has no respect for you or your culture, then for all intents and purposes it doesn’t.These things are self-fulfilling and we have to find the symbolic basis, as well as the practical basis, for living together and bringing out the best in one another.If the Australian Government speaks of shared responsibility without shared power, then agreements being drawn up with communities are in themselves only symbolic.Recognition of the special place of Indigenous people on the other hand, the kind of recognition that has been extended to Indigenous peoples in the US and Canada and New Zealand, has enormous practical implications. It is the basis on which people can take control of their own lives. It provides the only real basis for lasting reconciliation.Most people here would recognise that crime and substance abuse are about many things and perhaps we are just starting to understand that well enough to end the cycle of failure.We are all involved in reconciliation and that’s why we can’t afford to receive what we hear today in a passive mode. It affects all of us, no matter whether we in government, in education, in the community. It matters what we think and what we say. And it matters most what we believe about this stuff.

    Governments will only go so far without backing from all areas of the community. They don’t like taking risks or providing the space for Aboriginal communities to make mistakes as we start to make decisions for ourselves. We’re human beings – you have to expect that mistakes are going to happen from time to time. But you also have to expect that great things will happen. We will succeed. We will prosper, as Indigenous peoples around the world have shown they can prosper when they’ve been given the chance. Around Australia, exciting examples are already out there to see in our communities as Mick will outline this afternoon, and we’re ready to join the points of light. Instead of funerals, I look forward to the graduations, the birthday parties – for 60th, 70th and 80th birthdays – and seeing my great great grandchildren for that matter!

    I look forward to a true and lasting reconciliation where the life chances and expectations of kids all over Australia are equal.

    We have a real opportunity now to shift direction and make all of this possible. Let’s really use these reports for the purpose they are intended.

    Not simply to show what’s wrong but to make it so clear and impossible to ignore, that we become determined as fellow Australians to join hands and work to make things better.

    Was the government listening then? Are they really listening now? They showed how much they were listening in 2005 by abolishing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, which had problems for sure, but the government equally clearly threw the baby out with the bath water. “On 28 May 2004 – the start of National Reconciliation Week, one day after National Sorry Day, and one day after the sudden unfortunate death of former ATSIC chairperson Gatjil Djerrkura – the Howard government introduced into the Federal Parliament legislation to abolish ATSIC. After a long delay the Bill finally passed both houses of Parliament in 2005.” It was after all a representative body, as distinct from an appointed body, involved in the processes of government affecting Indigenous lives. Such a body may have been useful today, don’t you think? Perhaps not quite as it was, because much in ATSIC had become rancid, but in ditching it much too was lost, especially a real sense of participation, which I think needs to be recovered.

    We await developments.

    It may even be that this radical new action leads to good outcomes, better at least than doing nothing. I am still processing what is going on…

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