Tuesday, January 27, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG criticizes Leftist support for penalty rates (Higher pay for weekend and night vwork)

You can't makes whites out of blackfellas

Successive governments of all stripes have tried everything To get blackfellas to behave like whites -- but nothing works.  Despite all efforts, blackfellas remain welfare dependent, violent towards their women and children, prone to alcoholism and in poor health.  The only people who really had any effect on them were the missionaries -- but nobody in government wants to know about that.  I knew some of the older generation of blackfellas who grew up under the missionaries and they had their limitations but were real gentlemen

Australia's native people mostly call themselves "blackfellas".  Interesting that only the Latin term "Aborigines" is used below

ALMOST 1½ years into the initial term of Tony Abbott’s Coalition government and the latest drastic overhaul of indigenous affairs policies and programs, the great mystery overhanging remote ­Aboriginal Australia has only deepened.

It is the besetting question no one in the circles of administrative power wants to ask clearly, or answer squarely: Why aren’t the men and women of indigenous communities across the deserts and the north sending their children to school, seeking out jobs and training opportunities, engaging with the scores of programs under way in their midst? Why, given the vast social engineering efforts launched for their benefit, are the people of the remote bush townships and outstations failing to thrive? And what more, beyond the measures tried already in the past decade of large-scale interventions, can be done?

Among the architects of new policy initiatives, the standard assumption is that the legacy of passive welfare is to blame for this persistent failure of response in the target populations of the centre, the Kimberley, Cape York and the Top End. Simply design the right combination of constraints and incentives, they argue, and human nature being what it is, all will improve in time.

But the emerging picture of policy fiasco is disquietingly stark. Despite the blizzard of despairingly tweaked official statistics and assessments of progress, the “gap” persists; even though measures of indigenous wellbeing are routinely presented so as to blur the distinctions between the remote bush and the towns and more settled regions, the landscape is plain. Across the country, remote community schools are empty and ineffective, grog and drugs loom large, health is poor, preventable illnesses rampant, feud and family violence pervasive; even the make-work jobs for locals tend to go unfilled.

The dramatic change expected in the wake of the 2007 Northern Territory “Emergency Response” and allied programs around the remote bush has simply not materialised. For a range of expert observers, there is now a dark conclusion to be drawn. Remote Aboriginal Australia is more than merely indifferent or disengaged: it is pursuing a mingled strategy of noncompliance and resistance to outside authority — and from this diagnosis several consequences flow.

The way the commonwealth bureaucracy and successive governments have reached the present impasse is instructive. By 1999 the new native title system had been launched and bedded down. Attention turned to the worsening condition of the bush. Cape York reformer Noel Pearson put forward his argument that passive welfare was the chief factor behind remote community anomie, and that alcoholic drinking should be treated as a cause, rather than a symptom, of social collapse.

These views won converts in the government of prime minister John Howard, whose activist indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough based the Territory intervention on the three principles of enhanced child protection, alcohol bans and welfare income management. This was a stripped-down version of the reform recipe being tested in four Cape York communities in concert with the Queensland government, and it would be extended, retouched and widened in its geographic scope by Labor under minister Jenny Macklin between 2008 and 2013.

Pearson’s schema won the day not only because of its upscale presentation and strong media support but because it came with a prescription, a cluster of linked programs to change behaviour: if parents failed to send their children to school their welfare income would be quarantined after review by a local panel, the Family Responsibilities Commission. The logic was straightforward: welfare simply paid without reciprocal obligation was sapping the autonomy and judgment of remote communities. They needed the guidance of a penalty-and-incentive model.

This became the ruling paradigm, with bipartisan political support. Welfare quarantining and close surveillance were enshrined as the mainstays of remote community administration in the Territory: a network of outside overseers is still in place, backed by trainers, job skills instructors, community capacity builders and engagement officers. From Mount Isa to Kalgoorlie, public servants now report and assess all signs of community advancement. These are well advertised by governmental media: upbeat spin and announcements of transformative new schemes have become the order of the day.

So things stood when Abbott took the reins in September 2013. In his opposition years he had made a habit of sitting down with traditional leaders and working alongside community members, and all this was more than show, it was a statement of intent. The Prime Minister was also close to the Territory’s centrist chief minister Terry Mills, who had recently won office with the solid backing of Aboriginal bush voters and was just beginning a redesign of the Territory’s relations with its remote communities.

It felt like a new dawn in Canberra, at close to midnight. A good four decades had gone by since the welfare net came down on remote indigenous Australia, the “sit-down” money times began, the outback cattle industry was modernised and station life for Aborigines vanished in the dust; four decades since drinking in town camps first became entrenched. Two full generations, in indigenous life. The last chance had come to cut into welfare dependency while senior remote community members who remembered another system were still living.

Abbott had given undertakings that he would consult and listen to Aboriginal voices in crafting his approach. Of course, when the maelstrom of office hit he found he had no real time to give to such a marginal portfolio. How to proceed? He held one simple truth fast: education was the key. Bush children had no hope without schooling. Abbott selected as his minister Nigel Scullion, from the same party as his Territory ally, Mills. But within months Scullion’s faction had deposed the elected chief minister in Darwin, torn up his program of reforms and brought in a group keen to break the political power of the large Aboriginal land councils and gain easy access to indigenous land: it was a change of course felt in the bush as a shock betrayal.

As a check to Scullion, Abbott had singled out Alan Tudge, a former associate of Pearson. He also looked for some blue-sky thinking: philanthropist Andrew Forrest, abetted by Melbourne academic Marcia Langton, produced a report on training in the bush that recommended a steroid expansion of compulsory income management’s scope and the creation of a largely cashless remote area economy to fight the scourge of drink and drugs. Abbott brushed these draconian plans aside when they were first presented to him, but the bureau­cracy in Canberra smiles on them and is keen to implement some of Forrest’s recommendations.

It is clear enough, by now, what happened to the Prime Minister’s indigenous affairs dream. When he came to office he had no seriously developed or fine-grained blueprint for transforming the bush, despite his feeling for its plight and the length of his waiting time as leader of the opposition. He swiftly brought the entire indigenous affairs bureaucracy into his own department and charged Scullion with prosecuting his one big idea, the compulsory school attendance agenda. And he adopted the cause of the constitutional referendum on Aboriginal recognition as his grand symbolic issue.

Only now, halfway into his initial term, is Abbott poised to commit the government to a new set of practical reform measures. What course will he choose? Advice comes to Abbott from a tight circle, including favoured members of the indigenous political class, but he has no real access to community-based voices, and his impulse to involve bush leaders has evaporated. His counsellors all believe in the primacy of economic signals as the most effective agents of social change. As a result, the commonwealth is now on the verge of adopting an intensification of approach — more stringent management of welfare income, more reciprocal obligation to work for transfer payments, more controls on substance abuse, more concerted action on parental neglect and domestic violence.

A milder version of this policy set has been in place in remote north Queensland, the Territory, parts of desert South Australia and much of the outback west for seven years. As a result, the impact of such top-down controls has been much studied and the outcomes tabulated.

The school attendance project being run by Abbott’s department provides the latest example. It covers 30 target schools in the Territory and a handful elsewhere, and has enlisted and paid some 300 community members to get children to go to school, at a cost of more than $30 million. An increase of 15 per cent in attendance has been claimed by the program managers, but this is a fiction: numbers have actually fallen in many schools, the reporting method is flawed, the numbers are grotesquely padded.

The record of the north Queensland “direct instruction” schools in boosting attendance has been more promising, yet the broader impact of Pearson’s long-running Cape York reform project in its four trial communities is much more ambiguous. The landscape there is one of stabilisation, at best, rather than revolutionary behaviour change. But the most telling research has been carried out in the Territory’s swath of intervention communities.

The largest of these evaluation reports, examining all aspects of the intervention, was released late last month, after long delay and with much reluctance, by the Department of Social Services. The study had been run over four years by an expert team; the sample was large, the range of data broad. For those who had put their faith in controls as triggers for behaviour shifts, its conclusions were startling. It found that compulsory welfare income management had not promoted “independence and the building of skills and capabilities”, nor had it changed patterns of spending on food, tobacco or alcohol. Rather, it had increased a sense of dependency on welfare and removed the burden of personal management from community people.

The take-out was pretty clear: the intervention’s flagship measure had been a costly waste of time. But government ministers promptly seized on the review’s findings as evidence of the need for much stricter income management. They argued that if remote area Aborigines were not responding to the sanctions placed on them, they had too much welfare cash on hand, and therefore 60 or 70 per cent of the welfare payment should be restricted to the “basics card”, rather than the present 50 per cent.

The idea was simple: disempower to empower; limit economic freedom to set free people’s minds. The parliamentary secretary assisting Abbott in the indigenous field, former management consultant and Cape York expert Tudge, gave the strong version of this thesis in The Australian last month, citing a Mornington Island study showing half of all welfare payments were spent on drink: a level that would defeat the present setting of the basics card.

This study, carried out in the 1990s and published in 2002, was the pioneering work of the profound and humane anthropologist David McKnight, whose constant focus was the colonial encounter. He saw no simple solution to the alcohol plague. He traced the despair and social breakdown on Mornington to the coming in the 70s of the local government shire, which stripped autonomy from the local Lardil people and gave them in its stead the welfare benefits that tore apart traditional ways of life.

Can the sharp remedy now being proposed by Tudge, Forrest and the government’s coterie of advisers make inroads, and reverse the long decline and fall of the Aboriginal bush? The commonwealth is the last authority willing to engage. The state government in South Australia has given up on social remediation projects in the Pitjantjatjara communities, and wants to adopt full-scale welfare income control. The West Australian government has canvassed a sharp reduction in remote support funds that would see a number of smaller communities and outstations shut down. And the Territory’s priorities are clear: it has just opened a $500m jail and launched a mandatory rehab scheme that has already recorded its first death in care; a new courthouse and new police stations are under way; it has assembled a crack team of lawyers for its bid to have the Aboriginal land rights act watered down in the coming year.

On the ground, signs of positive behaviour change are increasingly hard to find. Broome is flooded by remote community dwellers from the Kimberley and desert who gather there in camps to drink; in Alice Springs, there are 15 thriving sly-grog sale outlets unknown to the police, who pride themselves on their effective bottle-shop controls. The towns to the south of Cape York are fringed by seasonal drinking humpies, all currently occupied.

What is the group psychology underlying this pattern? Can it be that the remote population is not susceptible to economic pressure, or that intervention is proving counterproductive? What if the control programs are now generating defiance and sabotage?

In all the long official debate on the bush communities and their condition, there has been a blanket reluctance to take the harsh politics of the frontier seriously, or consider the impact when two distinct worlds and their perspectives meet. But close, committed observers free from governmental ties and consultancies and keenly aware of the indigenous thought-world have come to a contrarian position: one that demands attention as policy lines are hardened for the years ahead.

The most prominent exponent of this viewpoint is the Territory’s leading public intellectual, Rolf Gerritsen, a professor at Charles Darwin University’s Northern Institute. He knows the Roper Gulf region closely; he also knows the political economy of the centre and the north. He was for four years director of social and economic policy in the Chief Minister’s Department. After his resignation in 2006 he blew the whistle on the Territory’s large-scale diversion of commonwealth funds earmarked for remote areas to its own metropolitan priorities. Gerritsen believes that remote settlement Aboriginal men and women have adopted a strategy of covert resistance to the intervention and its associated programs.

At the heart of his analysis is an awareness of the persisting difference between the values of “our” mainstream society and the traditional Aboriginal world, with its emphasis on reciprocal responsibility and its strong belief in individual autonomy. Thus “we” are inevitably seeking to re-engineer “them”. For Gerritsen, bush Aborigines are not merely Australian citizens: they are also a dispossessed people, conscious their world is occupied by outsiders. They collaborate with the occupiers, and acquiesce, and also resist, and the strain of resistance strengthens when their limited free agency in life is infringed. They have two quite separate modes of expression: one for when white people are around, one for themselves.

Hence the school attendance puzzle, and scores of others like it. When asked, or “consulted” in public, Aboriginal parents all say they want their children to go to school, but that commitment may be insincere, or may waver, or be countermanded by dislike of the school, or the teachers, or the actions of the government and its local figureheads. Constraint is still the chief weapon of the state: Aborigines are being asked to adapt — “we are requiring them to become like us” — and they object, and fail to comply. This is what social policy observers then tend to describe as “dysfunction”.

There are several ways this pattern manifests itself in the bush. The resistance can be overtly political. Black votes were responsible for removing NT Labor in the 2012 election; when the conservative regime broke its promises to the bush, voters swung and gave Labor a rare good result in the Territory regional seat at the 2013 federal poll.

Individuals also act this disobedience out. Young Aboriginal men between the ages of 15 and 35 are the “zealot” resisters who engage in substance abuse, drive unregistered vehicles unlicensed, are fined repeatedly and then go to jail, thus “confirming the significance of their rebellion”. Their behaviour becomes “a resistance to what the white society has in mind for them”. Illegal card gambling is a form of rebellion. So is littering in communities, and in towns. Drinking, which the authorities prohibit or seek to limit, is itself a weapon — a deliberate gesture of “rejection of the conqueror and all he stands for”.

The rebel withdraws from the victor’s realm: and it is very striking how many well-trained community men and women refuse to work. Trained teachers don’t teach, builders don’t build, while more than 30,000 young Aboriginal men from remote areas have forgone their benefits and refused to submit themselves to the job search discipline of Centrelink.

This analysis of conflict between two cultures leads to a dark concluding point: self-­neglect, poor health and social harm are also expressions of what Gerritsen sees as the veto Aborigines hold in their hands over Australian society and its representatives: “Governments think they have power over Aboriginal welfare recipients, but Aboriginal people, in their failure, in their covert resistance, can place pressure on government.”

This version of the remote community context is in diametrical opposition to the consensus position of the indigenous affairs establishment, which likes to present a map of constant slow progress in the bush as newer and more enlightened strategies are brought to bear on the hapless native population. The upturn in outcomes is always just ahead, or just beginning to be visible in the reports and statistics.

Can Gerritsen be right? The evidence is suggestive — and bush Aboriginal people tend to smile quietly when asked their view. Resistance shades into pure reserve, and into indifference. Damian McLean, president of the Ngaanyatjarra shire in the far western desert, places the weight in the seven ultra-remote communities he represents on withdrawal as much as on defiance. He has watched aghast over the past half-decade as official policy blow after blow has damaged the resilience and capacity of the indigenous bush: “Successive Australian governments have been increasingly dismissive of the collective and individual indigenous identity, and insistent on compliance with social norms: school attendance, transition to work, home ownership and economic participation.”

These norms coerce, but have little transformative impact. In fact the world of the far western desert is still very internal to itself, McLean contends: “Its people are aware that they have limited interest in the things that engage the white world and they know that the outside world would find the practices at the heart of desert life quite confronting. And the intimidating impact of welfare reform drives people further into their own world, and makes them less confident and safe to feel out the wider world.”

Such sketches of the attitudes in the remote bush fit precisely with the outcomes: it is hard to point to a single top-down social reform or employment or home ownership project in any part of the centre or the north that has taken off. This may well be because the intervention has never been “owned” by the communities it affects.

In the Cape, a mounting hostility towards the Family Responsibilities Commission is palpable in the four trial communities. Social and medical workers on the front line know that wellbeing in their host communities is on the decline and that agents of the outside world are increasingly viewed with suspicious eyes.

What might be done to change this picture, and enlist the support of remote Aboriginal Australia’s men and women in a journey towards a fuller, easier participation in the mainstream? An article in next week’s Inquirer will seek to outline a fresh approach.


ABC uses "Have you stopped beating your wife" question to imply that mining is allowed on the Barrier Reef

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Malcolm Turnbull says an ABC survey question about mining in waters near the Great Barrier Reef “does not appear to be accur­ate” but placed responsibility on the broadcaster’s board of directors.

The ABC was accused last week of “push polling” with a “mischievous” question in an online Queensland election survey, which asked voters how much mining activity they thought should be permitted in the waters around the reef.

The possible answers included “much more”, “somewhat more”, “about the same as now”, “somewhat less”, “much less” or “don’t know”.

The question was included in the broadcaster’s Vote Compass poll — an online venture with the University of Queensland and Canadian research firm Vox Pop Labs — which matches respondents’ policy leanings with the parties’ policies.

“The policy about mining on the Great Barrier Reef is quite clear and the way it was described or summarised in that question does not appear to be accurate to me,” Mr Turnbull said.  “But the responsibility for ensur­ing the ABC news and information is accurate and impartial is up to the board of directors.”

The Whitlam government ruled the 344,400sq km Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off-limits to mining in 1975.

Mr Turnbull said he did not want to give a “running commentary” on the ABC but told The Australian: “Their act is very, very clear. “Under Section 8, the responsi­bility of ensuring that the ABC’s news and information is accurate and impartial lies with the board of directors.

“The ABC is a government broadcaster, it belongs to government, but we don’t control the editorial line.”

Last week, Liberal National Party senator Matt Canavan demanded the “mischievous” question be removed and accused the ABC of “push polling” by using the survey to influence votes.  “That question-and-answer set indicates to any reasonable person that the Queensland government allows mining in the waters­ of the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.  “It’s a bit like asking a question on public urination. Should you do it somewhat less, somewhat more, much less, much more? The question is absurd.  “That behaviour is prohibited, the way mining in the GBR is ­prohibited.”

The ABC has declined to change the question, claiming “mining activity” includes more than actual mining.

Vox Pop Labs director Cliff van der Linden supported the ABC’s position, saying the LNP was sent the questions ahead of time to provide its answers and it was “implicit” the party could have challenged the wording of the questions.

In an opinion piece for the ABC’s The Drum, Mr van der Linden said the “fundamental shortcoming” with Senator Canavan’s argument was there was no acknowledgment of mining activity near the Great Barrier Reef that “extends well beyond drilling”.

“This includes but is not limited to shipping lanes through the reef for coal exports, demands by mines on the local water supply, and the recently scrapped proposal to dump dredge from coal port developments on the Great Barrier Reef,” he wrote.

“Asking Vote Compass users about how much mining activity should be permitted in the waters around the Great Barrier is thus a perfectly legitimate question.”


Education expert supports university deregulation

A FORMER key policy adviser to Labor has blasted both sides of politics for the stalemate on higher education, urging the party to abandon its opposition to fee deregulation and “get over its sentimental attachment to the Whitlam legacy of free educatio­n’’.

Professor Peter Noonan, one of the nation’s leading education policy experts, also wants the Abbott government to back down on its holy grail of full dereg­ulation by appointing an independent body to advise on the best model to prevent excessive tertiary student fee increases and rein in the risk of taxpayer-funded bad HECS debts.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is working to lock in Senate crossbench backing for the government’s higher-education changes, including offering a compromise which could trade away $2 billion in budget savings to win support for dereg­ul­ating the tertiary sector.

The government has won praise from Universities Australia and vice-chancellors for being prepared to move on its proposal for a 20 per cent cut to university course funding in order to allow to institutions to set their fees.

Key independent senator John Madigan revealed last week his willingness to continue negotiating on the reforms, joining a number of his colleagues in declaring the current funding level “unsustainable’’.

But the government faces fierce opposition from Labor, the Greens and other crossbenchers, including the Palmer United Party.

Professor Noonan — who was on the Rudd government’s 2008 Bradley review, which uncapped student numbers, and served as a key policy adviser to former Labor education minister John Dawkins when fees and the Higher Education Contribution Scheme was introduced in 1989 — said Labor couldn’t afford to run a scare campaign on the reforms and had to be constructive.

He told The Australian parliament could endorse “fee variability” in a two-stage process, starting with parliament agreeing to establish a body that could recommend a model with the right market constraints within months. The model could then be voted on in parliament in time to meet the start date of the government’s higher-education reforms next year.

Professor Noonan said the government’s commitment to full fee deregulation was bad economics given the market was distorted by cheap student loans that blunted price signals, and it had no accountability on how universities spend fee money.

“To call that micro-economic reform would be heroic,” said Professor Noonan, a professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute in Melbourne. “Anyone who thinks that a system that blunts price signals can simply underpin price deregulation doesn’t understand economics.”

He said the government’s plan to make universities use some of their premium fee revenue for scholarships risked inflating fees and would be used by universities as simply a marketing tool. Student disadvantage should be addressed by the welfare system.

He also attacked Labor, saying fee variability was logical, would make the system financially sustainable and would boost quality if done right. Professor Noonan said it was also unfinished business for Labor after it began deregulating student numbers in 2010: “Labor has to get over its sentimental attachment to the Whitlam legacy of free education.”

He warned that if Senate negotiations allowed full fee deregulation, any Labor government wouldn’t be able to afford to wind it back and the party therefore needed to be constructive to ensure the market design was right.

“There is no doubt there are risks for Labor in this and it would be seen as a backdown … but trying to pick up the pieces after it has happened will be a bigger problem,” he warned. “Labor can’t afford to run some scare campaign. They need to be constructive.”

Professor Noonan dismissed proposals for a full review of fee deregulation, saying there had been enough reviews, going back decades. He warned that if the process dragged on the opportunity for good policymaking could be lost in the noise of the next election.


Cairns to get new CQUniversity campus

Not quite sure of the rationale for this but it does look like an upgrade for my old home town

Mock-up of future new campus building

Cairns’ elevation to the status of a two-University city is being confirmed today (FRIDAY) following the major announcement of CQUniversity’s much-anticipated CBD campus, CQUniversity Cairns Square.

Located on the corner of Abbott and Shield Streets, the multi-million dollar campus will attract thousands of domestic and international students, create over 50 jobs, and generate an economic spin-off worth almost one-quarter of a billion dollars to the local economy.

The social, cultural and economic potential of Cairns is set to flourish with a wave of new course offerings, research facilities, international students, skilled graduates and competition brought about by the arrival of the CQUniversity CBD campus.

Vice-Chancellor Prof Scott Bowman said the time was right to expand into a multi-story, full-sized, face-to-face campus following the phenomenal growth of its Distance Education Support Centre in Florence Street.

“For a number of years we’ve been overwhelmed by the community’s response to our Study Centre, but we’ve always been limited by how much we could offer because of its size. We’ve been busting at the seams there for quite some time - it’s been incredibly popular with students,” Prof Bowman said. 

“A full-sized campus is the next logical step for us in Cairns.

“We run incredibly vibrant, multicultural CBD campuses in the heart of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne along a very similar model to what we will be building here. In many ways Cairns has an even stronger global brand than these cities, and certainly a more exciting future, so we know the model will work,” Prof Bowman said.

Today’s announcement is supported by a $1M commitment for engineering labs at CQUniversity Cairns Square earlier this week by the Queensland Premier and local MP Gavin King. This will allow the introduction of Cairns’ first four-year, on-campus engineering degree.

Fit-out of CQUniversity Cairns Square will begin in March, with the campus operational by Term Two 2015, and with a comprehensive roll-out of new courses ready for the 2016 student intake.

New campus facilities will include engineering labs; research facilities; high-tech classrooms, theatres and teaching spaces; meeting rooms; library; student recreational and social spaces; and staff offices


1 comment:

Paul said...

Cnr of Abbott & Shields has been a rental black hole for some years now since an upgrade that seemed to have the opposite effect of an upgrade. There's only so many flavoured TimTam, kangaroo bottle opener and Macadamia nut vendors needed.