Aboriginal disadvantage is either getting worse or worse than we thought, or both

The Productivity Commission Report is worth a gander. It is called Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2009

As Paul Kelly in The Australian points out this two yearly report will start to make government accountable by showing whether its policies are doing any good.

Noel Pearson has an interesting piece in the same publication. He says that government bureaucrats cannot be trusted to come up with decent policies. Watching them in action is a bit like watching Ground Hog Day. The leadership has to come from the indigenous community.

Another piece from The Australian has a revealing quote:

“Mr Rudd admitted the unavailability of reliable data meant he was unable to say whether his $4.6 billion Closing the Gap policy package was having any effect in lifting indigenous living standards in crucial areas such as health and education.”

9 Responses to “Aboriginal disadvantage is either getting worse or worse than we thought, or both”

  1. 1 Bill Kerr

    It is Groundhog Day, another report saying things are really, really bad for indigenous people — so, what practical difference has the apology made? The Labour tendency is to flip flop between the two sides of the rights / responsibilities fence, which IMO has been brilliantly analysed by Pearson. Welfare dependency fuels drug abuse, child abuse etc. He picks out the central issues from the complex mix.

    One point that emerges from pearson’s recent book, Up from the Mission, is that due to the long term marginalisation of aboriginal issues (not many votes in it; out of sight out of mind for most urban dwellers) then probably a necessary requirement for significant change is some sort of principled unity between Liberal and Labour. We don’t seem any closer to that and there are some signs that things are going backwards, eg. the so called wild rivers in Queensland due to Labour cultivating the Green vote. I expect that the economic situation will also further slow down progress in indigenous politics

    btw the history b/w Rudd and Pearson is bad dating back to when Rudd was the wunderkid in the Goss government. But the significance of Pearson criticising Rudd on the eve of the election when Rudd became PM was the reneging by Rudd of writing a statement in to the Constitution (a promise from Howard that Rudd initially agreed to), ie. an about face from the sort of cross party unity that Pearson sees as necessary to turn the situation around

  2. 2 jim sharp

    b.k.to put ones money on one horse seeems a tad mechanical to this owd prolie

    Make us mates, not poor relations,
    Citizens, not serfs on stations.
    Must we native old Australians
    In our own land rank as aliens
    Banish bans and conquer caste,
    Then we’ll win our own at last.
    Kath Walker

  3. 3 davidmc

    This article by the Chair of the Productivity Commission sums up their findings.

  4. 4 John Greenfield

    I have actually read the Report, and it is shocking. Not because of what it reveals about aboriginal disadvantage and dissolution, but because of its clear privileging of ‘race’ as the most potent historical agent in modern day Australia.

    I was pleased to see the results broken down into big city, regional centres, and remote communities. But with each of these three it went no further than comparing “indigenous” people – whoever they might be, the Report never says – and NON “indigenous people.

    Ultimately, the REAL data we all need to face up is the precipitous differences in outcomes for aborigines living in big cities, where they do well quite well, right down to the 3rd world remote areas and 5th world very remote communities.

    There was no attempt to compare race against the two other factors that have more agency: class and remoteness from wider Australia.

    Noweher is NON “indegenous” Australians broken out at all. For example, we know that Sunni Muslims have the second incarceration rate, while Jews have better outcomes than Anglo-Celts.

    The binary thinking that irradiates this Report has been quite deliberate to be used by the bmembers of the Aboriginal Industry for MORE taxpayers money!

  5. 5 Bill Kerr


    I haven’t read the Report yet. I agree that a full analysis should also involve social class and remoteness issues and also agree that there is an “Aboriginal Industry” which doesn’t spend money in the best way.

    Nevertheless I would argue that indigenous or aboriginal people are the most disadvantaged group in Australia and that often this disadvantage is found in the cities as well (one example from sydney ). As a teacher in the city it is obvious to me that nearly all aboriginal students that I teach suffer disadvantage, often extreme disadvantage. It seems to me to be a fairly straightforward proposition that we ought to develop good policies for the most disadvantaged group in Australia. Do you disagree with that?

    I do see racism as a big factor (and there are different of racism) with government racism taking the form of paternalism. eg. following the 1967 recognition of aboriginal australians many of them lost their jobs (eg. because stockman had the right of equal pay) and the attitude was simply that welfare would be the fallback. This created a new cycle of problems where aboriginal people had more rights on paper but less opportunity to progress based on their own initiative.

  6. 6 Bill Kerr

    There is a thoughtful review of Noel Pearson’s book, The Pearson Influence by a person who can’t swallow the whole message but has been challenged to think about it. Maybe you should read the book Jim in between making cryptic comments?

  7. 7 jim sharp

    cryptic! that sounds a tad like the kettle callling the frying pan grimmy arse to me.
    e.g. if i’d used that word which ain’t in my vocabaulary at mass meatworker meetings up to 1000 comrades yesteryears when i were a motor mouth i wud ‘ave been howled down ‘just listen to the “prof! “he’s swollowed the dictionary again. please explane & i cudn’t ‘ave.

    interlectuals who appeal to me as well as to my prolie comrades are those who are active listeners who listens to what the speaker meant to say. i reckon brecht was on to some thing: “don’t push the truth” ‘coz it ain’t gude for it!’

  8. 8 Bill Kerr

    Sorry if I offended you jim

    The reason I referred you to pearson’s book is that his analysis does not put “ones money on one horse” but rather he draws some succinct conclusions (which you appear to describe as “mechanical”) from an all round and deep analysis. I feel there is more to learn there than from the Kath Walker poem.

  9. 9 Bill Kerr

    EVENT | Tuesday 14 July 2009 at 6:30pm
    Peter Sutton in conversation with Marcia Langton
    Readings Carlton: 309 Lygon St, Carlton, Victoria, 3053

    For a standout review of this book with details of Peter Sutton’s direct involvement see Untruth by omission


    “In 2000, anthropologist and linguist Peter Sutton travelled to the remote indigenous community of Aurukun for a double funeral. Sutton had already lost an extraordinary number of Aboriginal friends from this tiny Cape York community to suicide, murder and premature death. For him, that harrowing funeral was one too many. Shortly afterwards, this respected land rights expert delivered a lecture to the Australian Anthropological Society and gave one of the most damning assessments of contemporary indigenous policy on record. Sutton, who had been adopted (in the tribal sense) as a son by a prominent Aurukun man, urged Australians to reconsider “the contrast between progressivist public rhetoric about empowerment and self-determination and the raw evidence of a disastrous failure in major aspects of Australian Aboriginal affairs policy since the early 1970s”. The evidence of failure, he said, was “now frightening”.

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