Perhaps because of my proximity, remote Aboriginal politics has strongly grabbed my attention over the past year. Today I read of an ex-minister of the Howard government, and now opposition front-bencher, Tony Abbott, wants to put someone in charge of Aboriginal communities, taking advice from Aboriginal Elders, on all local government decisions. This, so-called, Cape York model, puts totalitarian power into the hands of an unelected administrator, in another patronising and paternalistic approach to Aboriginal people. Abbott advocates it because it is “more respectful than the (northern territory) intervention was.” Of course the Northern Territory intervention called for the suspension of the human rights of Aboriginal people, whether they were professional people or bush people.
It beggars belief that politicians still talk about going down these tracks. In the 15 years I worked on boards and committees of rural health organisations, every year or two I would be in Canberra raising the issue of the failure of funding of health for Aboriginal communities. I am sure the same lack of funding occurs across all sectors: justice, education, etc. Yet, when politicians decide they need to be seen as a strong leader or ‘doer’ for political reasons, they spend huge amounts sending the army in. Instead of just appropriating the relevant expenditure for Aboriginal communities to pay for necessary services, the tax payers money is splashed across the headlines with little reward. We don’t talk about the NT intervention anymore because it didn’t achieve anything. Today, it seems that child neglect by community and government is as bad as ever in remote Aboriginal communities in the NT. The money is spent, the people are still without house or school. Their human rights might soon be reinstated, but Aboriginal people around Australia now know that a lot of political leaders think that they are chattle, irritating chattle, whose only value is in wedge politics.
Many Aboriginal people have not had the education I have had. I have spoken to some Aboriginal elders who are lost for a vision, but have great yearnings for being part of a culture they have ownership. Well, that is much a tautology because if there is no ownership, there is no culture, whatever it may be. I have spoken to Aboriginal elders who have strong vision, put in long hours in support of their community and families, and can walk a meandering back and forth between newer and older cultures. So, yes, it is clear that Aboriginal elders must maintain their place in unfolding the story that needs to be told (a consultation) for appropriate local decisions to be made. And, yes, it is clear that skilled bureaucratic support is necessary to ensure the outcome is achieved. But it is surely wrong to relegate Aboriginal communities to the status of preserved museum pieces, from which only old cultural advice can be sought, but no true decision-making can ensue. What of the benefits of better education in those communities? Are they forever denied a place in decision-making, no matter how many degrees, or businesses, or awards for community development? Will an Aboriginal have to become the ONE, the KING, to have any ownership of life. And then they can have ownership of everyone’s life. Hasn’t this been done by the nation’s government and some Aboriginal leaders already? Hasn’t it already failed as a policy?
So, spare a dime. Don’t waste it on the fanfare of Aboriginal politics. All communities in Australia can be governed under the same democratic model that supports local government. All residents in all local communities should be allowed a vote for their local government, whatever the colour of their skin or ancestoral background. The local government should be guided by State and National law how to manage the land within their jurisdictions. Even if the local government has a massive landmass under Aboriginal land rights, then it might have elected official from whatever diverse backgrounds reside in the jurisdiction, and will be able to deal with the ‘ownership’ and use of the land under that legislation and other legislations such as natural resources, etc., in the appropriate fashion.
Aboriginal communities don’t need to be dealt with differently than any other. They just need to be dealt with the same. They need to be able, on one hand to elect their Councillors to local government, to make by-laws for all people living in their jursdiction, and on the other, to deal with the land that the clan has ownership. In every local / regional jursdiction there must be allowance for any person legally in Australia to access or live, equally of any other. The roads must be accessible to all. Towns must have availability for any person to live, if any person at all is to live. Councils must have allowance to build new towns as the needs of their community and the pressures of a growing population demands.
Aboriginal communities need, as we all do, a supported democracy.