Friday, May 8, 2009

Tony Abbott, the NT invasion, bright lights and big cities and paternalistic humbug

(Above: tree hugger mysticism in Baz Luhrmann's Australia).

What can you say about a politician who manages in the second para of his article No place for noble savages these fatuous, humbug words?

The former tendency to paternalism swiftly became one of "noble savage" romanticism, especially under the influence of H.C. Coombs.

Former tendency to paternalism? Hmm, this wasn't Tony "Magic Puddin' Man" Abbott in John Howard's government when it famously embarked on an invasion of the Northern Territory, in a bout of neo-paternalism that managed to solve few of the problems it targeted, while managing to restrict the rights of aboriginal people?

Most notably, the invasion - by the military,  police, doctors, nurses and sundry bureaucrats - was supposed to target sexual abuse, and yet one year after the promise of effective prosecution was put on the table, not one person had been prosecuted for child sexual abuse as a result of the NTER (check out Howard's NT Intervention promises: a progress report in Crikey).

Perhaps the most significant measure was Howard's attempt to stem the flow of cash going towards alcohol abuse by legislating to control the welfare payments of all aboriginal people in prescribed areas, regardless of whether or not they had children. It was a kind of federal garnishee of an indiscriminate kind, designed to treat indigenous people as helpless supplicants who needed to have their lives ruled from Canberra.

There's a lot more to the NTER, but it makes me chortle into a glass of my cask wine when a sanctimonious prat like Abbott starts offering up platitudes about paternalism, when he himself was deeply involved in neo-paternalism, and still defends it as a beneficial activity. Now he's in opposition and the spokesman on indigenous affairs, he remains a serial offender. Here he is blathering on in the House in October 2008 as quoted on his website here:

In recent days, we have had a published report of the review board into the intervention. The government released its report a few days ago, and yesterday morning we had on the front page of the Australian quite a detailed article on the original draft report that the government received. The original draft report that the government received some weeks ago expresses the Indigenous policy establishment viewpoint of the intervention. The draft report essentially states two things: first, that the intervention has not worked and, second, that the intervention is racist. Let me quote a section of the original draft report that the government received as it appeared in the Australian under the by-line of Paul Toohey, one of the most perceptive and distinguished journalists in this area:

Claiming that Aborigines felt the intervention was akin to a return to “ration days”, the draft report stated: “These words describe real things. These are expressions of the deep emotional and psychological impacts of the [Northern Territory Emergency Response]. The long-term effects of such impacts can be as potentially damaging as the experience of violence itself.”

So the intervention has not worked and it was almost an act of violence against Northern Territory Indigenous communities.

The draft report, the one that was originally given to the government, also claimed, and again I am quoting from Paul Toohey’s report:

“In every community there is a deep belief that the measures introduced by the Australian Government under the [Northern Territory Emergency Response] were a collective imposition based on race that no government would ever direct at any other group of Australians” …

So there we have it: the view, in a nutshell, of the Indigenous policy-making establishment that the intervention, first, has not worked and in fact has harmed remote Indigenous communities and, second, that it is racist.

I want to say this: I do not object for a moment to the government, having received that report, sending it back to be rewritten. If I had received a report as intemperate and as over-the-top as that, I certainly would have sent it back to be rewritten ... But I have to say that even the rewritten report, as released by the government, is a serious problem because it calls for an end to welfare quarantining.

As members of this House should know, welfare quarantining means that Indigenous people in these remote communities who are receiving government benefits have 50 per cent of that money quarantined to the necessities of life—a perfectly reasonable thing to do, particularly in situations where we had that money regularly spent not on the necessities of life but on booze, cigarettes, gambling and other things. It was a very reasonable thing to do. 

Well yes, and since we all love the beneficial outcomes of paternalism, it would be perfectly reasonable if all working class folk on welfare and dole bludgers - wearing a white skin - also had their welfare payments quarantined so that they spent fifty per cent on the necessities of life, rather than on booze, cigarettes, gambling and other things. Fat chance.

The reality is that the Howard government flung its intervention policies together in a time period estimated somewhere between six days and 48 hours, and the result has been a mess remarkably similar to the mess prior to the intervention, with just a few few highlights illustrating the futility and the flailing around and the political grandstanding indulged in by politicians wanting to use black bashing as a way of getting re-elected after all other strategies looked like failing (viz the checking of the first 7,433 children and finding that 39 were at risk of serious neglect or abuse).

Sure there were serious problems - problems that had accrued in the decades of neglect, chief amongst them the Howard decade of dissing and neglecting blacks - but the solution was as half cocked, half assed a piece of paternalism as this country has seen, worthy of George Augustus Robinson. If you were black and didn't like what was happening to you, forget it, you were black, and likely a serial offender.

But never mind all that, the vexed question has always been what policies to adopt regarding remote Aboriginal communities. Well magic pudding man is right on top of that question:

... government policy should not be designed to force people out of remote communities, just to empower them to leave if that's their choice. For at least a generation to come, government will have to ensure that remote Aboriginal people have sufficient education to cope in the wider Australian community and then let brighter lights exert their pull. That way, Aboriginal people will live in remote areas if they have a reason to do so, not because they have no choice.

Why that's just jim dandy, and totally gobsmackingly caring. Bright lights will solve the problem once these pesky blacks realize that all this talk of love of the land and a spiritual connection to their place of birth is all just noble savage romanticism and hot air mysticism. Once they're given a choice, they'll be off to Redfern or La Perouse as quick as a flash, rather than living in that vast desolate empty landscape we lovingly know as the Northern Territory, so far beyond the black stump the one big town is called Woop Woop.

And great, no force will be involved. It's all choice for at least a generation to come, until bright lights and education do the rest, and we have an empty, deserted dead heart, fleeced of pesky, difficult blacks. But wait a second what's this?

In remote Aboriginal communities the problem is not just that the government has to provide essential services at very high cost for people who can't otherwise afford to live there. It's that government is expected to provide every service including housing. Eventually, as perceptive Aboriginal thinkers such as Noel Pearson have recognised, Aboriginal people in remote areas will have to fund their own lifestyle, much as tree-changers and sea-changers do already.

Oh that's right, they're just like tree-changers and sea-changers, just a lot of tree huggers and beach bum hippies. Well we can soon sort them out by refusing to pay a cent for them and their indulgent, high class lifestyle at the taxpayers' expense. It's either bright lights, big city for them, or they'll be cut off without a dime. No hospitals or police or schools for them, because they can't fund them, can they, the bludgers.

Second thoughts, let's forget that nonsense about choice, let's see them fund their own lifestyle, and let's see it done right here and now. They'll be off the land and congregating in ghettos before you can say witchetty grub.

Ever wonder how politicians resolve contradictions in their thinking, and no, don't say it's by not thinking at all? It's by waving their hands and thinking they somehow know better than the chappies they dismiss as noble savage romantics.

Assimilation and eventual obliteration is still the promised land for apparatchiks like Abbott, who love the notion that we should all somehow look, talk, think and act the same.

The fundamental mistake made by the authors of the great policy shifts of the '70s and '80s was the assumption that Aboriginal culture was not just somewhat different but that it was viable in some degree of isolation from that of broader Australian society.

Yep, bright lights big city will take care of all that, and all the blacks will have left will be the lush, dreamy, delusional romantic images delivered by Baz Luhrmann's Australia.

Who'd want to be a black in this country, and treated to the pious, paternalistic missionary zeal of an Abbott? And told their sense of place was just a kind of aspirational, tree changing, sea changing white middle class horseshit? 

Is the dreaming more fucked up than Catholicism? I wonder.
I never took rocking,  but I soon learned how to roll
Was left no room for knocking, or the thought to draw the dole
With both hands on the wheel, to keep the middle of the road
With one eye on the straight ahead, and one on overload.

If all the people in the world are dreaming - and I agree that's how it seems
Then all must sail in separate boats, upon that sea of dreams
So the only boat that anyone is rocking - is their own
Guess I'll leave you rockers rockin'- while I roll on home alone.
Pigram Brothers, Roll on Home Alone

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