To-day the Howard Government is out to tick off another one of its stick-it-to-'em agenda items - by moving amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. They have long been critics of the Land Councils which operate under the Act. You may remember, dear Reader, that this nation's illustrious leader once appeared on the television carrying a huge map of Australia which had huge areas of black on it. He was intent on informing the nation that Australia's Aboriginal people were intent on this huge land grab. Of course, while he did not say it word for word, the implication was that the world as we know was about to come to a sticky end. Miss Eagle thinks that Howard may now regret making this television appearance as much as he came to regret his comments about Asian immigration. The latter has been the cause for statements of public regret but no public regret has ever been uttered for the former.
Sean Brennan gives well-informed and lucid comment on the proposed amendments here. As Brennan points out:
When the miners side with Land Councils against the government, it is a sure sign that government ideology about indigenous affairs is trumping workability and genuine stakeholder interest.
But the biggest rort of all is the government pretence over land and housing ownership in Aboriginal communities. It storms ahead ideologically without meaningful consultation in what appears as a land grab and government knows best attitude. This will change little. And if housing and land ownership is the issue there are other ways to do it which would be drawn out in an extensive two-way consultative process.
Australian governments, both Labor and Liberal National Party, have failed to bring active and meaningful economies into Aboriginal communities. Then there is their destruction in funding of public housing.
There are whitefella towns in this nation whose economic raison d'etre is to act as service centres for surrounding regions. This means that there are towns that exist purely on the basis of the delivery of health, education, and community services. Does it never occur to government to ensure that Aboriginal communities have some forms of economic exchange other than the community store and the - sometimes government enforced - canteen? Delivery of health, education, and community services can be developed into an economic base. This could not be done for each and every community but hubs could be developed which would fulfil this function. Regional Community Development! This - combined with private home and land ownership arrived at in an equitable way which did not impeach Aboriginal autonomy and Aboriginal ability to control their own affairs - could take things forward.
This government goes beyond white paternalism. It is dogmatic in ensuring its view of the world takes over. But does it back things up with money?
Take the Shared Responsibility Agreements, for instance. In that now well-known community, Wadeye (Port Keats), there is the now famous deal to eliminate truancy. Only if the kids turned up for school could they access the swimming pool. Reasonable idea, one would think. A bit of lateral thinking. And it worked. The kids turned up at school.
But....and it was a big but. There was no room for the kids who turned up. Did no-one know how many kids were to be serviced? Had governments been relying on kids not to turn up so they didn't have to expend according to the potential need? In other words, did government have a vested interested in kids not turning up and then not having to meet the need either with buildings, or staff, or employment of community skills.
The neglect of educational facilities for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory is the stuff of legend - denial of the use of silver bullets on The Barkly, refusal to buy a water cooler for the students at Rockhampton Downs, the kids who have been educated on dirt floors, and the list goes on!
So who wears the blame for all of this? Aboriginal people of course. Now Miss Eagle is not being chauvinistic. Aboriginal people, like everyone else, have to take responsibility for their own lives and their own choices. In every circumstance, Aboriginal people have to do their level best to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. And so many are - sometimes against tremendous odds. But whitefellas won't admit to the hurdles they put in the way. In fact, sometimes - not always, but sometimes - things would be helped if whitefellas would just get out of the road.