Hooray for the National Indigenous Times (NIT) for blowing the whistle on the Howard Government’s appalling track record on Indigenous affairs. The paper recently published leaked Cabinet documents which revealed the real story behind the government’s unseemly haste to abolish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission — the near certainty of an embarrassing defeat in the High Court! NIT revealed how Cabinet was misled about support in the Indigenous community for its handpicked puppet the National Indigenous Council (NIC). It also published figures demonstrating that the number of Indigenous Australians working in the Australian Public Service has reached a ten-year low. For its efforts, the feisty little newspaper was the subject of a dawn raid by the Federal Police!
The paper was also the first to break the news about radical plans by the Howard Government to impose “shared responsibility” agreements on Aboriginal communities. Once again quoting leaked documents, NIT tells us that under its new scheme, the government does not expect to make substantial inroads into Aboriginal disadvantage for “at least a generation.” This prediction is hardly unexpected — the surprise is that the government was bold enough to put it in print!
Special treatment. The first “shared responsibility” agreement recently hit the headlines. The remote desert community of Mulan signed an agreement promising that children shower daily and wash their faces twice a day in return for government funds to install a petrol pump. This agreement, and the thousands more that Minister Vanstone hopes to make with remote Aboriginal communities, are racist to the core. This scheme is a throwback to the days when missionaries exercised complete control over Aboriginal people’s lives.
The shift from a racist paternalism to the policy of Aboriginal self-determination was a huge step forward for Indigenous Australians. The Howard Government is rapidly destroying decades of gains. The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation — a peak body representing 131 Aboriginal community-controlled health services across the country — has rejected shared responsibility agreements as racist. But surprise, surprise, the NIC — which represents no one — has given the plan its stamp of approval!
Who is next? Mutual obligation was first imposed on Aboriginal Australians through the introduction of work-for-the-dole scheme via the Community Development Employment Program. It was then imposed on many other sections of the community. It is therefore certain that the Howard Government’s shared responsibility agreements will be imposed on other oppressed groups if the principle becomes accepted. Unite and fight back now! The way to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians is through massively increased funding for Aboriginal programs to be administered under community control.