2006 looms as a year more fraught than most for Indigenous Australia. In this brave new world of Shared Responsibility Agreements, Indigenous Co-ordination Centres, and ominous mutterings about changes to communal ownership of land, great vigilance is required.
But some things don’t change.
The Russian roulette wheel of Native Title continues to spin, and there is no shortage of contestants prepared to try their luck.
The scene for the New Year was set by an address (pdf file 49KB) Indigenous Affairs Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone delivered to the Australia and New Zealand School of Government at the ANU on December 7, 2005. It received a little bit of mainstream media coverage because of Vanstone’s inflammatory observations about “cultural museums”.
The Minister also reported that the Ngaanyatjara mob have a word that means “mutual obligation”. Lest you should fear that the devil was quoting scripture for her own purposes, be reassured that she made no claim for Ngaanyatjara words meaning “refugee detention centre”, “industrial relations reform” or “sedition”.
The speech was a cold-blooded little number full of earnest bean-counting. It betrayed no obvious interest in the special relationship that Indigenous people have with the land. Nor did it display any sense of joy or wonderment that our country plays host to the oldest living culture on the planet.
But the title of the address, Beyond Conspicuous Compassion is a beauty, right up there with “black armband history” and “land-rich, dirt-poor”. The Indigenous affairs policy of the Howard administration post-election was to assassinate ATSIC, and that objective has been achieved. Now it’s just government by snappy one-liners.
The Minister was quite chuffed about the increase in the number of Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRAs). She said that they represented an “expression of the aspirations of these communities and the desire to improve the lives of their children”.
She didn’t explain why it is that only Indigenous communities have to barter with the government to secure basic services. Strange, given her insistence elsewhere in the same speech that it’s time to start treating Indigenous Australians “like every other citizen”.
Nor did she identify the connection between the washing of faces and the provision of petrol bowsers. Perhaps there isn’t one.
Detailed information about the content of SRAs is rarer than rocking horse droppings. You’re better off looking for Lasseter’s Reef. Sure, you can go to the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC) website and read lots of warm fuzzy stuff about how we’ll all live happily ever after. But where is the detail? Who is checking that the faces are clean?
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