Indigenous Australians: The right to succeed and to fail

by on 14 October, 2014

Jack Wilkie-Jans (4)Jack Wilkie-Jans argues that local communities and councils, not Canberra, should direct and implement policies in their own areas to provide the best outcomes for indigenous Australians:

It’s an unpopular belief among the staunch left but Aboriginal people have the right to both fail as well as to succeed, the same as any other person living in Australia. The welfare/payment/spending monitoring cards as encouraged by Andrew Forrest’s recent report into Indigenous Australians are, in my view, a step towards paternalism, a step away from individual liberty and hence it ignores Aboriginal peoples’, such as myself, the right to fail, which ignores our right to grow and therefor inhibits our right to succeed.
Paternalism has crippled rural and remote places (places with a higher Indigenous population) such as Cape York Peninsula. It is the easy way out in the guise of doing something while being “caring”. It’s easy to say we’ll wean people off of welfare but a lot harder to ensure there’s something sustainable and rewarding for them to move on to i.e. real jobs and training opportunities in their home regions. The latter of which requires some serious investment and expenditure of energy in rural Australia- something I hope the Federal Government’s Green and White papers on Northern Australia and development can result in.
Outback Australia still has a lot to give, the economy in the city centres like Cairns in Far North Queensland revolves a lot around retail whereas the bush has the opportunity to provide for food & farming and tourism (eco, cultural etc.) not just resources. These are industries, old (like cattle) and some which would be new (such as expansive agriculture), which could benefit all Australians. By looking at the unemployment rates in such places there is clearly an ample work force at the ready in spite of a lack of rural based training providers, there just aren’t the jobs. Wouldn’t this be a more ideal direction to move towards than a here-and-now approach of welfare payment micro-managing?
I understand the reasons behind such calls for welfare monitoring (and by a similar creed policies relating to alcohol consumption) and it is something which comes from a good spot in Forrest’s heart I am sure. Looking at the smaller percentage of the overall population which Aboriginal people make up, Indigenous Australians are no greater affected by alcoholism and substance abuse & misuse than any other cross-section of society, however it is more concentrated, and definitely more isolated in remote places hence more obvious. Add to the fact that these remote places have little opportunities for healthy stimulation let alone health care access- for both blacks and whites- it is no wonder that problems in these regions have festered over the decades into something of a disaster. So naturally there are concerns and calls for immediate intervention (a policy adopted in the Northern Territory controversially so and which still seems not to have had any lasting affects).
In such light, such a response, much like Forrest’s is not so much unadulterated paternalism as it is an emergent response, but we must look at the implications this has for the communities and Australian society nation wide. Where does it stop and given the multi-cultural communities and caucasian communities with similar degeneration, should these policies be adopted across the board where there are similar symptoms and if not is that not apartheid?
When the former Labor government in Queensland introduced the Alcohol Management Plans in Aboriginal townships much concerns was raised that this only addressed the symptoms of alcoholism both social and health wise and only created criminalisation (because alcohol or some alcohols are not to be brought into some places) as opposed to introducing say rehabilitation centres and employment opportunities in every single one of the towns deemed bad enough for such management plans to be placed over them- with no consultation. So it would seem paternalism for all it’s perhaps noble ambitions is a word which comes up a lot in Aboriginal policy and the mantra of “we weren’t” or “only a select few” were consulted seems to ring ad infinitum.
We have government folks, both conservative and liberal, calling simultaneously for “Indigenous self-determination” and then also for greater intervention in the every day lives of Aboriginal people by way of Alcohol Management Plans, welfare reform and the Stronger Futures legislation in Northern Territory. It’s strange. Alcohol Management Plans and welfare reform seem to inhibit freedom of choices and stiffles self-determiniation. I say that if people want to drink and become alcoholics, let them. The same ways of dealing with this and any subsequent criminality, the same justice procedures and assistance services that seem good enough for the cities and urban communities would work just as well in Aboriginal towns. Just some effort is needed to introduce them there. If people don’t want to access them, dob on their abusive partner or kick the drink then who are the government to hold their hands and mollycoddle them? Their own families certainly don’t. In my family if you play up or over step the line you answer to the old people first then the government or police second. You place too many noses out of joint then you’re on your own until you prove yourself again.
Like with parenthood it’s important to let the young make their own mistakes and learn or not learn and pay the consequences for that. Letting the baby birds fly the nest, loving someone so letting them go etc. etc. all these notions of the importance of stepping back to allow growth seems to work fine when applied to relationships. So why not to society’s relationship with governments?
At the end of the day, in the regions, in the small towns and among society the wishes of the politicians is neither here nor there, as they flit between both approaches, what I am hearing on the ground in places such as Cape York is that the people and councils there want to go down the self-determination road. Like the rest of Australia. Generally Aboriginal people are moving on from the victim mentality after realising that their areas are not flourishing and realising that welfare reform is not working because of no further effort to introduce any, and diversify, economic opportunities rurally. They are accepting their responsibilities, the opportunities and the hurdles they just need to chance. Self-determination and facilitation (not paternalism) is what is needed.
It’s time for governments and the left-wing ideaologists to do what is necessary for a future, prosperous Indigenous population. It’s time for them to realise the opportunities for success we have at our finger-tips but to also allow for the opportunity for us to fail or, and hopefully, succeed by letting local communities and councils direct and implement policies in their own areas as opposed to ones developed in Canberra, in an office.
Jack Wilkie-Jans is a an Aboriginal Affairs Advocate from Far North Queensland and a Board Member of Cape York Sustainable Futures Inc.

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