Quiet revolution a silent disaster
John Howard's government is in a world of
trouble over its quiet revolution in Aboriginal affairs. And they know
From trials that are supposed to reduce red tape but see 76
percent of funding spent on the bureaucracy, to agreements that cost the
bureaucracy $5 to get $1 into Aboriginal communities, the state of
Indigenous affairs is a dog's breakfast. Anyone who tries to tell you
otherwise is deluded.
The government's 'quiet revolution' is fast
becoming a silent disaster.
There are many reasons for that, but
the most compelling is that the alleviation of poverty and poor health in
Aboriginal communities now relies solely on motivating the mainstream
Australian Public Service and changing its culture.
disadvantage has built over 200 years. The APS has built a culture over
100 years. Neither change quickly.
There are many individuals
within the APS who are committed to lifting Aboriginal Australia from the
mire and have the capacity to do so, but they are in the
Despite popular belief bureaucrats, by and large, are no
more motivated to help Indigenous people than most Australians.
even if they were, most simply don't understand Aboriginal people or
culture and so won't be able to adequately meet their needs.
US, Canada and New Zealand realised long ago that to facilitate Aboriginal
advancement, self-determination was crucial. In Australia, we get 'Shared
Responsibility Agreements'. The principle is not, of itself, an offensive
concept. The challenges confronting Aboriginal Australia are extreme, and
they require extreme solutions.
SRAs will certainly not prove to be
the whole solution. They may prove to be a complete disaster. But that is
more inevitable when politics becomes involved, and the whole SRA process
is being driven by precisely that.
Rather than maintain the status
quo while the principle of Shared Responsibility was rolled out and tested
(not to mention evaluated), the Howard government instead dismantled an
enormous and - despite the critics - largely effective regional Indigenous
Why? In the name of politics.
The decision to
abolish ATSIC, and later the regional council structure, came about
because the Coalition was trying to match an ALP promise. Both had an
upcoming election squarely in mind. Neither were thinking about the
welfare of Aboriginal people.
The result is a confused, lumbering
bureaucracy trying desperately now to catch up.
having played a part in the downfall of ATSIC, also re-emerged with the
construction and roll-out of the SRAs.
The Howard government
committed itself to a target of 100 quick SRAs - the result is a
bureaucracy scrambling to sign communities onto everything and anything
that has the appropriate initials attached. The SRAs, as they are
currently being practised, are mere window dressing.
the core of the problem facing Aboriginal Australia remains untackled -
unmet need. Sadly, it looks unlikely either Labor or Liberal will
acknowledge that problem any time soon. Both have run the public line that
throwing more money at Aboriginal affairs is not the solution. But both
know it is, at least, in part.
The claim is simply an attempt to
pander to an electorate that neither understands nor particularly cares
about the plight of Aboriginal Australia.
The Australian Medical
Association has identified a funding shortfall in Aboriginal health of
half a billion dollars.
Numerous government reports have identified
an unmet need in Indigenous housing of more than $2 billion.
is one other aspect of politics that warrants mention.
abolition of ATSIC was, in political terms, the greatest strategic error
the Prime Minister will probably ever make. The Coalition no longer has an
Aboriginal organisation to use as a whipping boy. There's no ATSIC to
scapegoat anymore for the ongoing failures of the Howard
That is the only positive to come out of the abolition
of the nation's peak Indigenous body and the only up-side of the quiet