As the dust starts to settle and Australia reflects on the outcomes of the recent federal election, many Aboriginal people have growing concerns over Tony Abbott’s new Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC) and the agenda behind its plans for real action for Indigenous Australians.
The Council appears to be on the road from idea to institution, with scant consultation or consent from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In the style that has marked so much of successive governments’ approaches to our issues, the proposed council is top down and unrepresentative, with Tony Abbott and nigel Scullion being joined at the table by Warren Mundine, Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton.
There may be more Aboriginal leaders involved, but who knows? – and that is the whole point. Unlike ATSIC or the newly elected National Congress – with all their limitations and flaws, the IAC is hand-picked by the politicians, not promoted by our people. This is not to say that these three individuals do not have things to offer and positive contributions to make. But they do not have a mandate to represent all or views and they hold views about Aboriginal ‘development’ that are far removed from the lived experience of many Aboriginal people, particularly in relation to the role of the state and of the resource sector.
In 2012 Marcia Langton outlined her views though the Boyer lecture series ‘The Quiet Revolution: Indigenous People and the Resources Boom’. Her view that mining is helping to pull Aboriginal people out of poverty was widely promoted through the media. Less promoted was her connection to the resource sector through the Rio Tinto group and her involvement with the Australian Uranium Association’s Indigenous Dialogue Group.
Warren Mundine is not only the co convenor of the Uranium Association’s Indigenous Dialogue Group but also is a Director of the Australian Uranium Association. His views on the nuclear industry are in conflict with those of many Aboriginal Australians living with the legacy of nuclear testing or actively resisting uranium mining and radioactive waste dumping on their country.
We all want to make things better for our people, but there is a real danger in talking about the interests of mining and the need for change in Aboriginal Australia as though they are the same thing. They are not. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We three do not believe that mining is always in the best interest of our families, the long term health of the country, or will stop the suicides, alcohol, abuse, violence, or raise the level of education or health services.
If mining meant these things, then the Aboriginal communities of the Pilbara would have a very different set of social indicators than the current ones.
The resource sector does have a role and a responsibility to improve outcomes in areas where it operates, but government must meet their responsibility to provide the roads, schools, health services and other infrastructure that people in cities take for granted.
Basic citizenship entitlements hard won by our predecessors following the historic 1967 referendum – should never be tied to or traded around proximity and access to a mineral deposit.
Mining is neither a new development nor a new answer to old problems. Mining has been around for hundreds of years. Look at Aboriginal life in Australia’s mining regions around Roebourne, Port Hedland and Port Augusta. Spend a couple of days out at Laverton, go talk to the folks at the missions in Kalgoorlie, and tell us that mining is pulling Aboriginal people out of poverty.
Even in 2013 community development is at the front end of mining, particularly during approvals and heritage clearance. But as soon as the commodity price drops or costs increase, it is the community development budget that is cut.
The establishment of the IAC, two thirds of which is directly aligned with the uranium industry, does not bode well for advancing a mature conversation around and action on the problems of Aboriginal disadvantage. At the very least there should be a diversity of communities and a diversity of views represented.
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About the Authors
Kado Muir is a Tjarurru man, a member of the Ngalia tribe who are
desert people from the Goldfields region in Western Australia. He is passionate
about his Aboriginal heritage, history, language and culture. He teaches its
values to all Australians through his writings, cultural awareness courses and
Mitch is from Alice Springs and has a proud history of working for Aboriginal rights.
Peter Watts is a member of the Arabunna people, one of several Aboriginal groups
living in South Australia, has spoken at global conferences in Japan and Europe,
on Aboriginal rights and environmental protection.