Monday, April 19, 2010

India and immigrants: A small personal anecdote and some broad generalizations

Australia has always welcomed a LARGE influx of immigrants, initially from the British Isles (including all my ancestors) and later from all over Europe. In more recent times there has been a huge influx from Asia, mostly Han Chinese.

And ALL the arrivals have settled in very well to the Australian way of life -- if not the first generation but certainly their children. So Australia is a society with strong Anglo-Saxon traditions even though many Australians are not of Anglo-Saxon ancestry. America is much the same.

The assimilation is so marked that I have even noted Yugoslavs who argue in favour of the monarchy. For Yugoslavs -- who still reliably hate one another (Serb-Croat rivalry etc.) -- to favour Queen Elizabeth as Queen of Australia is a rather remarkable testimony to how well immigrants have accepted Australia's traditions and is, I think, impressive.

Needless to say, there is always a fly in the ointment and the two major flies are Muslims (Lebanese in particular) and Africans -- both of whom have high crime rates, high rates of welfare dependancy and an apparent inability to settle well into the Australian mainstream.

But all is not lost. Australia's Indian community are clear assets to the country. And I must admit that I speak from some prejudice. I like Indians and find their peaceable nature wholly admirable. I have been to India 3 times and to Fiji once (from whence many Indians have come to Australia) so I know Indians in their own context as well as in a local context.

I am always one to put my money where my mouth is, however, so I have filled up the spare bedrooms in my big house with Indians. I have not gone to India but India has come to me.

One indication of my Indophilia is that I have long flown the flag of the Republic of India from the flagpole at the front of my house. I did so both to indicate ny own affection for India and in order to make my Indian sharers feel at home.

Recently, however, two of my Indian residents took the oath of allegiance and became Australian citizens. One of them came to me and told me that. I of course shook his hand and congratulated him.

But he had one request: Now that both were Australians he asked me to fly the Australian flag rather than the Indian flag from my flagpole. I of course have obliged.

But isn't that just the sort of attitude that one would hope for from immigrants? I applaud it and see it as yet another demonstration of the desirability of Indian immigrants. If we could replace all our Muslim and African immigrants with Indians, I personally would be much pleased.

Mind you, I am also strongly in favour of Australia's major "minority" -- the restrained, peaceable and hard-working Han Chinese. And since Australia is probably about 10% Han these days, that is another great strength for Australia. Wherever I go I see Han people and they are never any bother to anyone -- but they are often important service providers -- restaurateurs, pharmacists, doctors etc. -- JR

Rudd's empty health-reform proposals

Stripped of its grand phrases, the funding architecture of the National Health and Hospitals Network serves chiefly to move existing funds into other locations, so that it appears as if the federal government, rather than the states, is doing the financial heavy lifting. Likewise, the proposed local health networks amount to nothing more than convenient assemblages of local professional bossy-boots, each spruiking their particular institutions and localities, with the inevitable effect, as former Labor adviser John Deeble observed last week, that "the more affluent areas in which doctors and nurses would most like to work" are bound to become, over time, also the best resourced.

Unravel the righteous words about the importance of primary and community care, and it becomes clear that nothing much is about to change there, either. There are no specific proposals about nurturing "wellness", or better treating the epidemic of breast cancers, or dealing with mental health more effectively. Nor is there any evident revision of the received view that treats old age as if it were a form of illness, so that the elderly are condemned to spending their autumn years under the cold fluorescent lighting of hospital waiting rooms.

The federal proposals won't make the business of hospitals easier, by keeping people out of them. They won't make the system fairer in any discernible way; nor, so far we can be told, will they work to restrain overall costs. They propose to revise our awkward and cumbersome state-federal division of health responsibilities, but in such a manner as to involve no extra policy work by the federal government whatever. In short, they are the perfect paradigm of political piety, devised with no purpose other than to displease as few of the major interests as possible, and involving an endless series of petty squabbles carefully pre-designed to have only one possible victor.

We're told the PM is trying to emulate Barack Obama's single-mindedness during his own health reform travails. And yet the contrast between the two is not a flattering one. Obama's year-long policy fight led to a messy and thoroughly unheroic outcome: but as a result 30 million Americans will sleep easier at night. Further, the Obama legislation came out of more than a year's worth of pragmatic but humble politicking, in the course of which the President (like Johnson 40 years earlier) must have abased himself before many people with whom he had little desire even to share the time of day.

Rudd's purely telegenic approach to leadership, by contrast, is accompanied by endless purposeless displays of strength. And yet on each occasion this is exercised only on those he already knows he has under his thumb: such as the unfortunate NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, who endured a ritual humiliation under television lighting, purely to provide the PM with a similitude of toughness.

In several decades we may be able to look back and say of Obama that he took the first halting steps in the genuine reform of American public health provision. Looking back on Rudd's proposals, by contrast, we will be bound to ask: was that really all there was?


Green bigots want to keep blacks "in their place"

By Richie Ahmat, chairman of the (Aboriginal) Cape York Land Council

THE confrontation between the Aboriginal traditional owners of Cape York Peninsula and The Wilderness Society in relation to Queensland's Wild River laws is fundamental. If it is not resolved fairly and soon, it will be the beginning of a long war that our people will never abandon until justice is restored.

What is at stake here is the very meaning of land rights. While our people are defending the principle that Australia was not a terra nullius, TWS is pursuing the restoration of terra nullius through the concept of wilder nullius.

Wilder nullius, which is a vision that TWS has for indigenous homelands across northern and remote Australia, allows for black people in the landscape but in a highly restricted form. These blacks are not supposed to engage in any form of wealth creation or development. They are only allowed to pursue traditional activities. They are to eschew employment or consumption, and not participate in or be in favour of any form of industry.

If the blacks abide by the role envisioned for them, then TWS will arrange for the environmental agencies of government to provide funding programs for them to be employed as rangers and so on. If they step outside of this role, then TWS will get the government to stop the funding. Only compliance to the TWS vision of wilder nullius will receive support.

To us in Cape York Peninsula it is disturbing that an environmental organisation born in the genocidal context of Tasmania is seeking to reverse the Mabo principle that Australia is not and has never been terra nullius.

If you want to do anything with Aboriginal land you must get the free and informed consent of the Aboriginal traditional owners. This is our right to self-determination. These are our land rights.

Whether you want to undertake development or you want to create protected areas: the principle is free and informed consent.

And the mechanism for securing this free and informed consent is via Indigenous Land Use Agreements that are registered under the Commonwealth Native Title Act. ILUAs are ultimately supervised by the Federal Court of Australia, which ensures that all of the traditional owner groups have been fully informed, and that they have given their free consent.

Our job as a land council under the law is to make sure the proper process is followed, that all of the traditional owner groups are properly identified and are given all of the relevant information. We are required to ensure that the necessary meetings take place, and that the traditional owner groups have legal representation throughout the whole process. We must make sure that consent is provided by the whole group, not just individuals or subgroups. Where there is dispute within the group, we are required to assist in the mediation of the disputes.

Land councils are like trade unions. We provide support to traditional owner groups, so they are not left vulnerable in their dealings with governments and third parties over traditional lands. We make sure proper negotiation processes are followed. We make sure legal and anthropological advice is available.

We don't allow individuals and subgroups to make agreements without ensuring that the whole group is involved. Otherwise unscrupulous bureaucrats, developers and other third parties will rip the landowners off.

Just look at what has happened and is still happening in Papua New Guinea and throughout the South Pacific with timber companies and tribal groups. Tribal groups are being ripped off because they do not have strong representative bodies with legal and other expertise to support them.

My colleague from the Kimberley Land Council, Wayne Bergman, and my fellow countryman from Cape York Peninsula, Noel Pearson, have pointed out the sinister parallels between the way in which TWS is pursuing its wilder nullius campaign across northern Australia and the way the mining industry used to operate in the 1970s and 80s.

The mining industry used to split tribal groups up, peeling off individuals and subgroups from the main group and setting them against the land councils and the majority of their own people. They discredited the land councils and pushed governments to weaken land rights because they did not want strong land councils. They wanted to rip off the traditional owners without any interference.

TWS has been pursuing the same tactics in its campaigns in the Kimberley and Cape York. As Pearson wrote recently, it is the extreme environmentalists who are today the real rednecks.

My own analogy of what is going on is a bit different. I come from a trade union background; I worked for many years for the Comalco bauxite mine in Weipa and participated in the strike against Rio Tinto's individual contracts.

I know from my CFMEU days about the tactics undertaken by opponents who don't want equality at the bargaining table. They want to peel individuals off and have direct dealings with them without dealing with the tribal group as a whole. This is what TWS is now doing across northern Australia.

The most curious thing about all this, is that the Labor politicians who are playing key roles in the Wild Rivers imbroglio have close affiliations with the trade union movement. Queensland minister Stephen Robertson was the state secretary and national president of United Firefighters Union of Australia. The chairwoman of the senate committee inquiring into Tony Abbott's private members bill which seeks to overturn the Queensland Wild Rivers Act, Senator Trish Crossin, was an industrial officer in Darwin with the National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian Education Union, as well as having been a development officer for the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers' Union.

They should be the first ones to recognise that the way in which the Queensland government has conducted itself, and the divide and rule tactics employed by the environmental groups is exactly what trade unions have experienced throughout the history of organised labour. Robertson should hang his head in shame.


Human rights act canned as election looms

THE federal government is preparing to announce that it will not create a human rights act for Australia despite the recommendations of a report it commissioned last year.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, is planning to outline the government's response to the report, by a human rights consultation committee headed by the Jesuit lawyer Father Frank Brennan, in a National Press Club speech on Wednesday.

Sources say he is likely to promise improved parliamentary scrutiny of new laws for human rights issues, the addition of human rights to the national schools curriculum, and increased funding and functions for the Australian Human Rights Commission.

But, as predicted, the government appears set to sidestep the key reform - a bill or charter of rights - because cabinet is divided on its political implications.

It is unclear whether a bill of rights has been ruled out or simply shelved for further debate if the government wins a second term. Mr McClelland's office would not comment yesterday.

The expected response would be a victory for the federal opposition and Labor figures such as former premier Bob Carr and the NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, who have campaigned against a bill of rights. Mr Hatzistergos was heard to quip to former Labor MP and rights advocate Susan Ryan at a recent constitutional law conference at the Art Gallery of NSW that he was ''sorry for her loss''.

Although most developed nations have one, resistance to a bill or charter of rights has centred around fears of a power shift from parliaments to judges, who would be asked to assess whether laws are compatible with human rights, although without the power of veto. There have also been fears it could prevent religious institutions such as schools from hiring religious staff.

Cabinet has considered the issue several times, and is reported to remain divided.

Some ministers are said to feel the political battle for a bill of rights is not worth the pain, especially before an election.

But others are said to be concerned about the effect of squibbing the charter issue in marginal inner-city seats where the Greens - who support a bill - are posing a threat to sitting members.

Ms Ryan, the chairwoman of the Australian Human Rights Group, said any government response that fell short of a human rights act ''would be a huge disappointment among all those organisations that work for vulnerable people and are hoping for a better deal from the government''.

If not this week, she said she expected it would happen in the future.

The Brennan report's recommendations were based on public consultations across the country and 35,014 written responses, of which 27,888 supported a charter or human rights act, while 4203 were against it.


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