Friday, 6 August 2010

Indigenous Policy

Indigenous quality of life is a great metric for the success of Australia. These are the conquered people of this continent, who previously had sovereignty over the land in a diverse mix of tribes (or nations, depending on your translation). I say conquered because no treaty exists between the British invaders and the conquered tribes. Legally, the Anglo-Australian state recognises citizens regardless of place of birth or colour of skin, and that's a good start, but to think that the Aboriginal peoples are anything but conquered is to forget the violence brought by Europeans in taking the resources of the land.

But suppose that we take the view that we all peacefully co-exist now, and that we are all Australians, and that The Apology has put it all behind us. The sociological group of Australians who live in the worst conditions are the Aboriginal peoples. If the prosperity of society means anything at all, it will be evident in the lives of people in the worst conditions. Middle Australia is doing fine, rest assured. Just look at the rate of ownership of mobile phones. We apparently have "one of the highest rates of mobile phone ownership in the world." A lot of Middle Australian money has contributed to that rate.

But enough from me. Let's look at the major parties' policies on indigenous issues.

The Liberal party doesn't have an explicit policy for it. They've bundled it into a Community policy. That's a good move because it acknowledges the necessity of equality across the community, that everyone should be regarded in the same way. It covers a few areas, including mental health (with a focus on early intervention, hospital beds, youth sites) childcare (child care rebates and child care centres), families (a single-page about what Labor did wrong) and paid parental leave (26 weeks paid). Overall, it makes the assumption that we're all living within reach of hospitals and child care centres. That doesn't bode well for remote communities, where most indigenous people are.

The Greens have a separate policy for indigenous affairs. Although I'd mark it down for being a separate problem, at least it has some explicit words around it. It (like my preamble) pays attention to the prior occupancy and the lack of a treaty, and wants those issues dealt with. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of it is the demand for implementation of the recommendations of seven reports into indigenous affairs. Money has been spent on research and investigation, and recommendations have been given; so I understand why the Greens want to see some action from all that expenditure. I'm still undecided about some of the points to do with native language education and so on, because it feels as though we should then fund schooling in Mandarin for the Chinese enclaves throughout Australia (for example). The jury is out on that.

And last on my list of Big Three is Labor. They don't have a policy for indigenous affairs, but they have a hot topic, just like the Libs. One key advantage that Labor has over the Liberals is the ability to take action on the issue. Looking at the ALP tags on indigenous affairs shows a lot of activity, from job creation and doctor placement through to sports programs and accommodation for trainees from remote communities. Of course, I read it with some skepticism because it's election time, and this skepticism would be allayed if I had an idea of their policy. Where is the ALP going with all this? Do we just see a series of random "photo opportunities" here, or a clear strategy to improve living conditions for aboriginal people?

This is important for my vote. Our treatment of aborigines is woeful, like the sans papiers in France. This is a "symptomal torsion" as Badiou would say. Fix this problem and along the way we will solve so many other problems.
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