Sam Watson: Tackle the real ‘Aboriginal industry’Saturday, August 27, 2011
The Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure was submitted to the government in February 2010 but only made public on August 7 after a long-running freedom of information case brought by Channel 7. Queensland Murri activist and Socialist Alliance spokesperson Sam Watson spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Jim McIlroy about the report’s findings.
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Over a decade ago, racist One Nation leader Pauline Hanson attacked what she called the “Aboriginal industry”. But the problem lies with the real Aboriginal industry, which is characterised by an army of white businesspeople, consultants, contractors and public servants.
This industry has made an enormous amount of money out of Aboriginal disadvantage over the years. If you closed down all Aboriginal programs tomorrow, many thousands of whites would be out of a job.
You see this contradiction right across the Northern Territory today. The whites live apart from the communities they are supposed to serve. They experience far better salaries and conditions than the Black communities.
This report reinforces what Aboriginal leaders have been saying for years. The major benefits are gained by career carpetbaggers, who follow the trail of Aboriginal disadvantage.
Australian governments have again been shown to have no understanding of the genuine needs and aspirations of Aboriginal people.
A succession of federal governments, under prime ministers John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, have also appointed a number of high-level Aboriginal advisers, such as Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton and Warren Mundine, who have no mandate to speak on behalf of Aboriginal people. Yet these governments have relied on the advice of such people to influence their policies.
Howard closed down ATSIC [the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission] in 2002. Despite the many problems with ATSIC, thousands of Aboriginal people did participate in the elections for the organisation.
ATSIC did have a legitimate mandate to represent Aboriginal people. Howard replaced ATSIC with a hand-picked, non-elected Advisory Council, which had no legitimacy.
We need to get back to community representatives elected by Aboriginal people, who can speak on their behalf. We now have an enormous leadership vacuum, in which people like Pearson, Langton and Mundine can put themselves forward as Aboriginal spokespeople. The real tragedy of the current situation is precisely that vacuum of real and current Aboriginal leadership.
This tragedy is measured in the ongoing suffering and slavery of the Indigenous people. This means that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are totally dominated and manipulated by big mining corporations and their agents.
If the NT intervention continues for another five years, it will destroy the ability of Indigenous communities to act to deal with their own problems.
The Strategic Review of Indigenous Expenditure is another in the long line of high-level government reports on Indigenous affairs. These surveys merely highlight the accelerating outflow of resources from Aboriginal communities.
In all this, there has been very little real outcome for Aboriginal people who really need government assistance.