Tony Abbott likes to portray himself as the Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, a claim which sits comfortably alongside the claim that he believes in global warming and has the policy to lower emissions.
It’s bullshit, and under Howard and Abbott, and with the support of the ALP, he has contributed greatly to the nadir the handing of Aboriginal affairs has come to in recent years. It began with the axing of ATSIC, was expedited by the intervention, which included the dumping of the CDEP, (Communty Development Employments Program) and culminates in Abbott’s pitiful droning on about being the great Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the greatest friend they ever had ad infinitum. This despite severe cuts to funding for Aboriginal affairs, including cuts to legal aid, cuts to support for remote out-stations, and the effective disempowerment of the Aboriginal voice, apart from Abbott’s hand picked lackeys.
I was working at Mount Allan in 1989 when the CDEP was brought in to replace the ‘sit down money’ which was being paid to most of the residents of the community. The CDEP was effectively a work for a the dole program, in which one would work towards the betterment of the community for wages, with those who work the longest hours receiving more pay. Included in the package was funding to buy equipment, workshops and training, thus providing at Mount Allan, a modern motor workshop for the servicing and repairs of motor vehicles and other assorted repairs and maintenance, graders and front-end loaders for the maintenance of roads and landscaping, and the facilities for mixing and laying concrete.
The CDEP was not without teething problems, and relied very much on the quality of the administrator in the key position, a tough job, but only to be expected in a period of such major change. It was also very flexible, and funding could also go toward the work done in the cattle industry at Mount Allan, or the support of the arts industry. The CDEP was soon widespread in Aboriginal Communities, for the obvious benefits it brought. I will come to the cynical disbandment of the CDEP under John Howard later in this post.
Before 1990, the Aboriginal people of Australia had very little representation on a national level. The creation of ATSIC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, was by far the best attempt to overcome this anomaly. Aboriginal people were elected by their peers throughout Australia and its islands. ATSIC was not perfect, but as was often quoted at the time, “The white fellah’s been fucking things up for a long time. Give us the opportunity to fuck things up for ourselves for a change.”
ATSIC also had oversight by the Federal Government, and got off to a good start, with their representatives being seen to participate in indigenous affairs, and with significant public recognition, including for example, an annual cricket match between ATSIC and the Federal parliamentarians. A certain amount of perceived corruption in its later years gave John Howard the excuse he needed to axe the organisation, helped in no small part by the ranting of the Labor Opposition leader of the time, Mark Latham.
In 2006 I was preparing for a visit to Croker Island for some research I was doing. I discovered online, that there was extensive work being done to facilitate the controlled use of Kava on the island. There were extensive boundaries being worked on, and a strict distribution criteria being drawn up. Residents were allowed one small bag of kava each, per fortnight, for $5. I was on the island to observe the first ever distribution of this substance, an island I hasten to add, which seemed to have a complete absence of grog, no doubt helped by the isolation of the island.
Unfortunately, while I was on the island, John Howard, using consequently debunked hysteria about the abuse of children to initiate an “intervention” announced that he would stamp his mark on Aboriginal affairs, by further degrading and disempowering them. Government cheques would be purloined, so that a certain amount could only be spent at designated stores, to ensure that it wasn’t all spent on grog. No pornographic videos were to be allowed on Aboriginal lands, (but ok for white fellahs). Kava was to be declared illegal in all Aboriginal communities and only allowed for those of Fijian descent or other, for traditional use.
There was a Racial Discrimination law, which made such decisions awkward, so the Howard Government simply suspended the act for the purposes of the intervention. Because the government couldn’t control the wages the CDEP workers were getting, as they weren’t welfare cheques, the Liberals set about dismantling the CDEP. To its eternal shame, Labor, when it came to power in 2007, kept the same policies going.
Now, with its boots on the throats of Aboriginal people, the Abbott Government cuts legal services, training and other support for them. In addition, it is defunding support for the happiest, the closest to their land, and the healthiest Aboriginal people in remote regions; those in so-called out-stations. The ALP is making some half hearted objection to this decision, but frankly their support for Aboriginal people lacks credence, as apart from the Rudd ‘sorry’ speech, the Labor Party has jettisoned any Aboriginal policies worthy of support. It is left to the Greens to provide a ‘left’ view of support for the downtrodden dumped by the major parties.
The same could be said of the treatment of refugees, but that’s another sorry tale.
”Poor Fellow my Country,” has never been so apt.