The crisis in Australian indigenous communities

by John Quiggin on June 23, 2007

Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s plan to ban alcohol and pornography in indigenous communities has, unsurprisingly, attracted world wide attention. Probably inevitably, the framing of the issue in the international press is largely in terms of civil liberties versus intervention, and this is also the frame preferred by Howard himself.

The situation in many remote indigenous communities, and in camps on the edge of rural towns is so bad that concerns about civil liberties are unlikely to trump any policy that has a serious chance of improving matters. Not only is unemployment high to universal and abuse of drugs and alcohol, with the associated violence and crime, chronic but recent reports have shown high rates of child sexual abuse. Howard’s rhetoric suggests that what is needed is drastic intervention, and a willingness to slay the sacred cows that have dominated policy in the past.

In fact, the situation is far more complicated than that.

Alcohol is a huge problem, and anything that could reduce alcohol abuse is welcome, but most of the communities concerned have been officially dry for years, so Howard is, at best, offering stricter enforcement of existing laws[1] . Of course, if he was willing to be really draconian and ban alcohol in nearby (white) towns, that might make a difference, but there are some cows too sacred to be slain. Similarly, there’s nothing that new in making welfare payments conditional. The Community Development and Employment Program, in which welfare payments were tied to participation in community job programs was introduced thirty years ago, under the Liberal (=conservative) Fraser government and greatly expanded by subsequent Labor governments.

As regards enforcement, it’s striking that Howard’s announcement came a day after a Queensland policeman was acquitted of manslaughter in a case in which (on the defence account) he fell on a man he had just arresting, breaking four of his ribs and cleaving his liver in two. More on this here. So sending in more police is not, by itself, an automatic improvement.

The problems of substance abuse and unemployment go hand in hand, but there is nothing, so far, to suggest that anything is going to be done on the jobs front. The last significant innovation in this area was the CDEP scheme, and there has been no real development of this during Howard’s decade in office. Despite all Howard’s talk of practical reconciliation, his government has done little or nothing to promote indigenous employment.

Dealing with unemployment is not going to be easy. People who’ve been permanently excluded from the labour force can’t be made job-ready in short order, and the number of ‘real’ (economically viable at market prices) jobs that can be created in remote indigenous community is always going to fall short of the number of potential workers. And, just as enforcement alone is not enough, so there’s little point in trying to generate economic development in an environment of rampant alcohol abuse and crime.

At the policy level, Howard’s push has a lot to do with the allocation of power. Reversing the traditional party positions, Howard’s government has been the most centralist in Australian history[2], convinced on every issue that it knows better than the states. A lot of the time, as here, this is reflected in fairly simplistic attempts to impose mandates that make for good soundbites but don’t add up to a coherent policy. Howard has also been keen to get rid of policies of self-determination for Aboriginal communities, and the measures in this respect seem in some respects to be counterproductive to the stated aims. For example, you currently require a permit to visit Aboriginal communities. This would seem to make life easier if you want to enforce rules keeping alcohol out, but Howard wants to get rid of the restriction.

Then there’s the politics of announcing measures a few months before an election (no date yet, but almost certainly this year), which can’t be expected to show any real results for some time. The Labor opposition has, not surprisingly, refused to take the bait of opposing the policy, but the government of the Northern Territory (also Labor) has been distinctly unimpressed, pointing out that Howard showed little interest in the problem until very recently.

The best that can be said about this is that having taken such drastic steps, Howard can’t escape the obligation to deliver substantial improvements in outcomes, regardless of the cost. And, having endorsed the broad thrust of the measures, Kevin Rudd, should he be the next PM, is under the same obligation.

1 The situation is broadly similar with respect to X-rated porn. Sale, but not possession, is illegal everywhere but the Australian Capital Territory which does a brisk mail-order trade. Howard’s government has legislative power over the ACT so it could ban the whole business if it really wanted to, though the issue seems moot in the light of easy, and easily concealable, access to all kinds of porn on the Internet.

2 The Whitlam Labor government in the 1970s was probably just as centralist in inclination, but lacked the control over the Senate required to do very much about it.

{ 44 comments }

1

SG 06.23.07 at 5:29 am

Today he announced plans to extend the conditions on unemployment benefits to non-Aboriginal people, as he promised. So he plans to fight an election on the basis of demonizing Aboriginal people and single mothers (who will be the main intended victims of the extension, I would guess).

It’s Tampa 2007. For this reason alone it doesn’t deserve serious discussion; but sadly, the state of the Australian media is such that, just like the children overboard lies, they will treat it as serious policymaking and engage his party as if they were serious about the issues. Even though they are obviously rascist scum.

2

Rhyd 06.23.07 at 5:37 am

It’s nice to read something less terse about this subject. However, i don’t think the subject can go discussed without mentioning the “save the children” aspect which had perpetually been used to hide all kinds of colonial, racist, and paternalist policies throughout the world.

The title of the report that was used to justify this new move was called “Little Children are Sacred.”(!) I’m reminded immediately of the policy in the United States and Canada of taking away the children of First Nations families, a sort of redundancy insofar as western policy towards natives has always treated them as children (when not seen as a terrorist threat). Protection of children provides a ready justification for all kinds of statist interventions, and even the american attorney general falls back upon his record of “protecting children” in response to entirely unrelated allegations of tyranny. All you really need to do to get the public to let you do whatever you want to a minority group is hold up a toddler and mention that if you don’t do whatever horrible thing you’re about to do, the little tot will die.
Further, Native activists of all lands rightly point out that the problems of alchohol abuse (how puritan!), unemployment, and all those other liberal concerns among their communities have roots much deeper than any government policy, short of reparations and self-rule, could begin to address. even attempting to frame a defense against policies such as that liberal (civil rights) terms only perpetuates the same conditions which ensure such problems will continue (and always beg some sort of paternalistic intervention).

3

Mr Art 06.23.07 at 5:55 am

People who’ve been permanently excluded from the labour force can’t be made job-ready in short order

Agreed, and a lot of commentators on the right seem to pay no attention to this important detail.

the number of ‘real’ (economically viable at market prices) jobs that can be created in remote indigenous community is always going to fall short of the number of potential workers

Why ‘always’? What does remoteness have to do with it? Have you got a theoretical economic model to back up this claim?

4

rilkefan 06.23.07 at 6:49 am

“People who’ve been permanently excluded from the labour force”

Is “excluded” the right word here?

5

slakko 06.23.07 at 7:07 am

Is the reason for Howard’s centralism that all 8 State and Territory governments are run by Labor? Or is there a less pragmatic reason also at play?

6

John Quiggin 06.23.07 at 7:28 am

“Why ‘always’? What does remoteness have to do with it? Have you got a theoretical economic model to back up this claim?”

I have the observation that employment in remote areas (excluding CDEP) has been declining for years, and the same has been true, to a lesser extent, for small country towns in general.

7

Mr Art 06.23.07 at 8:38 am

I have the observation that employment in remote areas (excluding CDEP) has been declining for years, and the same has been true, to a lesser extent, for small country towns in general.

It seems rather pessimistic. In the absence of a minimum wage/welfare, wouldn’t the market price of labour in these areas eventually fall and thus generate employment? As you may have guessed, I’m not an economist.

8

Linca 06.23.07 at 11:24 am

In a sufficiently remote area, the cost of transport and communication might be so high that the total cost of doing business there will always be higher than the production you can expect from there.

9

Matt Weiner 06.23.07 at 2:33 pm

As a complete outsider on this issue, what does pornography have to do with anything? I suppose the pornography ban is supposed to combat the child sexual abuse, but is there any evidence of a link?

10

Russell Arben Fox 06.23.07 at 2:36 pm

“…the problems of alchohol abuse (how puritan!)”

Good grief, rhyd. It’s “puritan” (meaning, I suspect, smarmy, pharisaical, mean-spirited, paranoid, etc.?) to be worried about alcohol abuse? Amongst communities where sometimes as many as 4 out of 5 children under the age of 12 regularly drink? Where deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis are about 4 times higher than the surrounding averages? Where adult alcoholism rates sometimes reach 75%? And that doesn’t even get into those situations amongst certain populations where violence, drug abuse, gas-sniffing, and more have built upon widespread alcohol abuse to create conditions of almost total hopelessness.

Perhaps you will see the above as another example of someone “hold[ing] up a [minority] toddler and mention[ing] that if you don’t do whatever horrible thing you’re about to do, the little tot will die.” I am not an apologist for drastic, “must-do-something” interventions, primarily because they usually ignore the sort of deeper issues you rightly point to (besides the fact that they are usually unfairly enforced to boot). I am not opposed to reparations, even massive ones, if it could mean tribal self-rule and development really meaning something (which tragically it may not, given the structural and environmental limits which many reservations and indigenous communities have historically been forced to operate within). But in any case, to argue for more and wiser aid to native peoples while dismissing all concerns over lifestyle and cultural issues as a bunch of “puritan,” paternalistic, possibly fascist nonsense, strikes me as at best a rather blase attitude towards the reality that some children are in impossibly worse situations than others.

Sorry if this comes off as intemperate; I’m no expert here. But labeling a desire to do something about a source of genuine and deep harm as “puritan” simply because the sort of people we all apparently know seem to have a handle on it really sticks in my craw.

11

roy belmont 06.23.07 at 4:45 pm

r.a.f.-“…a desire to do something about a source of genuine and deep harm as “puritan” simply because…”
But then if it’s symptom and not “source” your craw may have a little more to contend with, no?
There’s a weird elision that takes place where the problem’s seen purely as economic and purely as lack of integration into the present economy, blocked by the sadly unable semi-innocent quasi-helpless indigenous to prevent themselves from succumbing to the cheap seductions their somewhat stronger white counterparts are more able to resist – so they need “help”. Integrating into the economy, becoming productive “citizens” with all the submissions and successes and failures and rewards and punishments that brings.
Which all on the surface of it is true.
They didn’t have any trouble with alcohol and glue and pornography before you showed up though did they?
Maybe you’re the problem.
Maybe there’s more here than just the failure to integrate and become productive, maybe it’s even more complex than racist colonial leftovers rotting in the back of the fridge. Maybe the thing they’re being integrated into is itself dysfunctional.
Any symptoms of that around lately?

12

airth10 06.23.07 at 6:21 pm

“People who’ve been permanently excluded from the labour force can’t be made job-ready in short order.”

Most likely they will never be made job-ready because its to late to train them. If they weren’t trained and instilled in their youth with the work ethic, it is to late. The window of opportunity is gone. It could also be a culture deficiency that they can not work in modern society.

“Is ‘excluded’ the right word here?”

Well, excluded in the sense that they were overlooked, not trained and not encouraged to work. They have been discriminated against and ignored, thus excluded.

13

alphie 06.23.07 at 6:48 pm

If only mindless consumerism could be contracted with a shot (or a bomb!).

14

Bruce Western 06.23.07 at 8:35 pm

The current policy debate in Australia is similar to American debates about drugs and crime in poor, mostly minority, urban neighborhoods. In America, three kinds of policy show promise. First, more police out in the field, particularly perhaps, where they can establish strong ongoing ties to local communities. Second, employment and education programs (training, job readiness, and supported work). Young idle men pose real risks to public safety so these programs are partly conceived to reduce idleness as well as to develop skills. Third, early child programs, in part to support pretty unstable family situations and partly to promote child development, and improved school achievement through adolescence.

There aren’t good examples where all three measures were attempted in an integrated way. Still, program evaluations suggest you wouldn’t make things worse with this approach. (The same cannot be said of a grog ban in isolation.)

I don’t want to overdraw the parallels between the American ghetto and indigenous communities in rural Australia. Still, the problems seem similar enough to take an approach that spans the life course and combines crime control with employment-linked social supports.

America also provides cautionary lessons. Prohibition by itself is not effective, and neither is exclusive reliance on punitive policing and incarceration. The American mistake was to use police and prisons to try and solve what were essentially social policy problems.

15

Slocum 06.23.07 at 11:18 pm

“People who’ve been permanently excluded from the labour force can’t be made job-ready in short order.”

It strikes me, from an economic perspective, that the problem might be characterized as the value of labor of low-skill workers living in remote areas who are susceptible to substance abuse problems is probably well below the Australian minimum wage (which I understand is fairly high — somewhere around US $10, no?)

I would frame the problem as, “What kind of inducement would be necessary to get employers to set up shop in these areas and employ these workers”? A much lower min wage (supplemented by something along the lines of the EITC in the US) might do it. But I’ve no idea if something like that is politically feasible in AUS.

16

John Quiggin 06.23.07 at 11:27 pm

Your analysis is correct, slocum. Certainly, some form of wage subsidy (explicit or through job creation programs/business incentives) is essential. Unfortunately, this runs into political problems once it is conceded the subsidy will have to be semi-permanent.

17

Rhyd 06.24.07 at 12:43 am

R.A.F.: What i am saying is precisely that, but i do suggest a much larger context here.

First of all, where was the concern for minority children when land was taken from their families, tribes, and nations? Where was the concern when they were taken away (as wards of the state) from their parents and put into (re)education programs?

I use Puritan as a much grander program…this isn’t just some smarmy gesture. Consider the history of native groups in America–even still, you hear talk of political groups asserting that the problem on reservations is alchohol, though you’re lucky if you don’t also have to hear about laziness and unwillingness to work themselves out of poverty.

Now, the issue of “saving the children.” We’ve heard this before as justifications for all kinds of things, and never to states (liberal or conservative) ever do anything proving there is some genuine concern there. How is this not the same as getting “feminists” in america to agree to the invasion of afganistan because of the veil, or homosexuals to agree because of the lack of gay rights in either afganistan or iraq? It’s disingenuous, to say the least, but always very, very effective.

So, you care about the children there now? Did you before this was announced? Did the children of aborginals constantly hold a place in your heart before you heard they might be drinking or, as the report suggested, exposed to hard-core pornography? Or are you just being manipulated?

B.W.: Those “ghetto” policies are working for whom? The cities constantly concerned about “idle [minority] men?” The neighbourhoods “de-policed” any time an unarmed minority man gets shot dead and someone complains? Employment and education programs are certainly a nice way of saying “we’re sorry that we’ve kept you in such poverty, but my, you’d make a great secretary. Oh, and how about a nice predatory loan?” And family support is a sweet name for taking children out of homes and shoving them through a frightfully abusive (but white-dominated, so it can’t be too bad, right?) foster-system. If they’re lucky, they might get to see their parents again, if not, they get thrown out right when they turn 18 without any of the familial support that the children of the (white-dominated) middle-classes can expect.

Further, I’m quite curious why you suggest a parallel between “ghettos” in america and not the First Nations. Where tribes have been given complete control over their own affairs, have begun to receive a tiny portion of the moneys owed them from conquest (mining, forestry, factories all taking resources from them to fill the coffers of the inheritors of colonial expansion), you find a completely different story. Several of the tribes with which my partner has worked do a damn fine job of taking care of abuse issues, but when the state tries to intervene, the problems only increase. Of course, when they get too uppity (that is, demanding more self-rule), then the ATF starts moving in and the government shows them “who’s daddy” and “who’s little colored child.”

18

bjk 06.24.07 at 5:24 am

One of the tragedies of the modern world is the toll that alcohol takes on so many indigenous peoples: e.g., American Indians, Eskimos, and Australian Aborigines. Even the reasonably successful Maoris of New Zealand suffer terribly from drink and its accompanying problems such as wife-beating and child abuse.

It’s always seemed to me that this is clearly in part a genetic difference caused by Darwinian selection responding to cultural differences. Peoples who ancestors have had ample access to alcohol for the most generations have the fewest problems with it. Here in the U.S., Jews have the lowest alcoholism rates, followed by Italians, which parallels the spread of winemaking from the Fertile Crescent to the Mediterranean during the Neolithic. Presumably, they went through alcohol-related problems long ago (e.g., as in the Biblical story of Noah getting falling down drunk), and the people whose genomes were least resistant to drink died before mating or couldn’t get spouses.

The farther north you go in Europe, the worse drinking problems get. The Scandinavian states, for example, have all sorts of restrictions on liquor sales, which the European Union, dominated by countries less damaged by binge drinking, is trying to get rid of.

Finally, the peoples who didn’t have any experience with alcohol until Europeans brought it to them post-1492, seem to be hit the hardest of all, as you would expect because they have had the fewest number of generations to evolve defenses.

19

Bruce Western 06.24.07 at 5:29 am

Ryd: B.W.: Those “ghetto” policies are working for whom?

Its tendentious to call these ghetto policies, with or without quotes, but there you go. It’s not a term I’d use.

Policing: the 1990s crime drop was widely experienced across urban America. This was a real improvement in public safety, especially for the poor (beause their risks of victimization are highest). Many cities did this in different ways, but a common denominator was the large increase in the numbers of police on the streets. New York at least in the 1990s did this in a very authoritarian way, but other cities like San Diego supported community policing. Crime fell in both places, and more police was common to both.

Employment: The National Supported Work Demonstration improved employment and earnings for men their in late twenties with arrest records. Some prison work and training programs have been shown to reduce re-offending (though the effects are not that large). The Job Corps evaluation was somewhat promising, though those results are often oversold. Rhyd you seem to ridicule secretarial jobs — I know many men who have served or are serving prison time who feel that such jobs might have made an enormous difference in their lives.

Early child programs: Perry Pre-School, Head Start. These programs don’t remove children from the home. They improve achievement, reduce dropout, and delinquency. Programs like this should not be minimized.

There has been so little social investment in aboriginal communities, its just empty political correctness I’m afraid to say these things don’t hold some promise. The promise is not great, frankly, because of the limits of what we know and the depths of historical injury.

I’d also add that employment (as hard as that is) is not enough. Although employment is fundamental, the problem of violence in aboriginal communities is so urgent, that we need to combine measures for public safety alongside suggestions for economic improvement.

Last thing: because there aren’t really any votes in this in any particular direction, I think there maybe a chance to do something pretty programmatic.

20

Tracy W 06.24.07 at 6:00 am

There’s a weird elision that takes place where the problem’s seen purely as economic and purely as lack of integration into the present economy, blocked by the sadly unable semi-innocent quasi-helpless indigenous to prevent themselves from succumbing to the cheap seductions their somewhat stronger white counterparts are more able to resist – so they need “help”.

I have not checked it out, so take it with a grain of salt, but some people say, when supporting the idea that alcoholism is a disease, that the genetic descendants of those people who have been around alcohol the longest (Mediterranean groups with wine) have far lower rates of alcoholism than those whose experience is more recent (Northern Europeans with beer) and then those whose experience is most recent (Native Americans, Aborigines, etc). If true, this supports that humans are evolving to cope with a lifestyle disease and that it is not that, say, Greeks have a stronger moral fibre than Aborigines, rather that if you have Greek ancestry your liver is more likely to handle alcohol in a way that reduces long-term addiction than Aborigines because of your genes (with, say, Danes somewhere in the middle).

Aborigines died at a great rate from the introduction of European diseases such as smallpox which Europeans had relatively more immunity to. If the theory about a genetic basis is right, then Aborigines are going through the same adaption process for alcohol as they had to for smallpox. Moral fiber has very little to do with avoiding smallpox infection, and little to do with avoiding alcoholism in a society where alcohol is present.
This theory has the implication that if we wait for a few thousand years alcoholism won’t be a significant problem for Aborigines or Northern Europeans. The downside is the suffering in the meantime.

Also, noticeably, there have been many prohibition movements in European history. Women’s suffrage in NZ started out of the temperance movement, led to a great deal by Pakeha women, we know that the USA in the 1920s managed to pass a constitutional prohibition against alcohol that was intended to apply as much to whites as to any other race, this indicates that the concern about alcoholism is not racist. (Though the experience of the American prohibition movement does raise some doubts about how effective any Australian ban would be – no matter how non-racist an idea it is in conception).

21

Rhyd 06.24.07 at 9:35 am

Tracy W:

I think there isn’t enough salt on the earth to make such a theory palatable. Mis-uses of evolutionary theory have had great consequences in the past, and i was hoping our experiences with eugenics would have taught us this is a bloody path. I guess i was wrong.

If the Australian government was really non-racist about prohibiting alcohol (and don’t forget porn in this equation), than they’d ban it everywhere. If it isn’t good for native communities, why should it be okay for everyone else? Because they’ve built up a long biological tolerance for it?

And how do you explain the porn? Do men of european ancestry (and really, try tracing that!) react to depictions of sex more moderately? If i were greek, am i less likely to think naughty thoughts about it because of all the copulating statues in my civilization (or genetic) past?

Do, be serious.

22

bjk 06.24.07 at 11:20 am

Post 18 is a quote from Steve Sailer. It looks like the link was cut, I repost it here.

http://www.isteve.com/Web_Exclusives_Archive-Dec2003.htm

23

Ronald Brak 06.24.07 at 11:44 am

There are genetic differences between populations and an idividual’s genes are related to how likely likely they are to become alcoholic. However, the population of Russia, despite having been exposed to alcohol for a very long period of time, currently has high unemployment levels and has an alcohol related male mortality rate of 19%. The rate for Western Europe is 3%. This makes me think that the environment and not just genetics is an extremely important in influencing the rate of alcohol abuse.

24

Peter Erwin 06.24.07 at 11:48 am

matt weiner: As a complete outsider on this issue, what does pornography have to do with anything? I suppose the pornography ban is supposed to combat the child sexual abuse, but is there any evidence of a link?

There’s arguably evidence that increased access to pornography leads to decreases in rape and other forms of sexual assault (e.g., this study looking at Japan, or this study looking at the US; both studies have discussions of past research on the subject). A more conservative analysis would be that pornography is, at worst, irrelevant to the occurence of rape.

Sexual abuse of children is not as well studied, though the first study I linked to notes a decrease in Japan at the same time as pornography became more widespread, and it references studies finding similar decreases in Denmark and Germany following the legalization of pornography there.

25

Ronald Brak 06.24.07 at 12:45 pm

When I first heard that John Howard was banning pornography in indigenous communities, I thought this idea was nuts as it wouldn’t solve any problems and if pornography is dangerous, why is is it just dangerous for indigenous people? But then I realized that this was actually a cunning plan to spark the development of an indigenous pornography industry and encourage internet use in remote areas. Good one, Mister Howard!

26

Michael D 06.24.07 at 2:25 pm

A few quick comments to give some context:

Porn connection
– The report “Little Children are Sacred” on which some of the policy is purported to be based, noted that there is a very high level of x-rated pornographic material in the communities shown by adults TO children and also in some cases by principals at schools. In addition it was found that the children regularly act out scenes from the porn films, such that sexual acts between adults and children are somewhat ‘normalized’. Hence the ‘porn’ connection. For more read the report or see the thread at Larvatusprodeo. (Where much of my info is from.)

on employment possibilities:

– the shear remoteness of these communities cannot be overlooked. the Northern Territory (NT) is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Australia (its capital is 100,000, 2nd biggest city ~ 30,000). i’m not sure what sort of companies/businesses the various commenters had in mind that would be feasible in this sort of region, but beyond minimum wage considerations its just not practical. For example, the Wadeye community (admittedly one with a relative lack of the problems mentioned) is inaccessible by road for 4-6 months of the year due to wet season. obviously the situation of the each community is very different, something the Howard policy seems to miss.

m

27

MQ 06.24.07 at 4:13 pm

THe aboriginal situation is very different from the black ghettoes in the U.S. that Bruce Western discusses. The level of physical remoteness and cultural isolation is far greater, and educational attainment is less.

28

greensmile 06.24.07 at 5:15 pm

Last year, on account of random surfing occasioned by various Aussie bloggers I read, I came across some harrowing stories about the condition of the social fabric in tribal communities around Darwin. Taking away abusable entertainments seems at best a half-measure or an attack on symptoms rather than causes. Was there no sex among the aboriginals before colonization? What were the native industries and pastimes that they cannot or will not pursue any more, i.e. for what is the drinking a poor substitute? Violent video games might be next on Howards list?

29

Bruce Western 06.24.07 at 5:15 pm

Michael d: i’m not sure what sort of companies/businesses the various commenters had in mind that would be feasible in this sort of region, but beyond minimum wage considerations its just not practical.

The biggest employer in the Territory is the government, in adminsitration, health, and education. The Little Children report says that 5 percent of NT public sector workers are aboriginal compared to 30 percent of the population. This suggests there’s scope to expand public sector employment opportunities for aborigines. I agree that its hard to imagine how private employers could play a large role for the 10,000 or so men we’re talking about, particularly in remote communities.

30

Bruce Western 06.24.07 at 5:34 pm

THe aboriginal situation is very different from the black ghettoes in the U.S. that Bruce Western discusses. The level of physical remoteness and cultural isolation is far greater, and educational attainment is less.

I’d be interested to know how big the gap is. Just thinking about the young men in the US prison system, they average a 10th grade education, and a seventh grade reading level. How much different is the situation of young men in indigenous communities in NT or FNQ?

Anyway, my point was not that poor urban communities in the US are generally similar to indigenous communities in rural Australia. Rather, I’m thinking that the several respects in which they are similar (high crime and unemployment) suggest that a combination of policing, employment, and early child programs would help in Australia. Why would the US-Australia differences rule out these measures? And if not measures like these, then what?

31

martin Wisse 06.24.07 at 9:20 pm

I thought Howard’s plan sounded like one of Tonuy Blair’s crime initiatives: though on symptoms, not so tough on the causes of those symptoms…

32

Rhyd 06.24.07 at 9:44 pm

BW: I’m familiar both with head start programs (my mother worked for one and both my sisters benefited from them) and community policing (I sat on a Community Policing board for two years). I have nothing favorable to say about the latter. The point is, though, that urban policies are never limited to these, and child-removal rates in minority neighbourhoods are very, very real.

But again, why not draw the parallel instead between indigenous peoples on different continents, victims of the same processes? Why avoid this much more obvious parallel?

When First Nations have been given back full control of their lands, cultures, and government, the results have been incredibly positive. I’m not just talking about Casinos, either.

Let them have their sacred places back. Don’t force them to accept anglo-capitalist models. Instead of putting them on the dole, give them the entire sum owed to them by governments and corporations who have taken their land. Include interest. Allow them to make their own decisions, even (especially) if this includes sovereignty and statehood. respect that any resources on those lands belong to them, not to the state. Let them develop treaties with other nations (other indigenous groups or other nation-states). Don’t sabotage their attempts to regain their culture and political voice (i refer particularly to the FBI/ATF in the states, though Canada is just as guilty;i know nothing of Australian covert political manipulations, but the anglo-model is well know, so i doubt Howard hasn’t been tempted).

33

Tracy W 06.24.07 at 9:45 pm

Mis-uses of evolutionary theory have had great consequences in the past, and i was hoping our experiences with eugenics would have taught us this is a bloody path.

This is irrelevant to the questions of whether alcoholism has a genetic component and if so, if the frequency of that genetic component varies across different population groups.

If the Australian government was really non-racist about prohibiting alcohol (and don’t forget porn in this equation), than they’d ban it everywhere. If it isn’t good for native communities, why should it be okay for everyone else? Because they’ve built up a long biological tolerance for it?

You got it. Of course alcoholism causes a lot of damage when it occurs in anyone, regardless of their genetic history. But the level of social problems are going to be higher the higher the rate of alcoholism. And high social problems means more support from the local community for *something* to be done. Whether that is effective is another question entirely. I am suspicious of the effectiveness of any alcohol ban in any community, regardless of ethnic group.

And how do you explain the porn? Do men of european ancestry (and really, try tracing that!) react to depictions of sex more moderately?

In my experience, sex is necessary for children, so I’m not sure what evolutionary argument you are running as to why an interest in sex would get “bred out” of any population. The argument for alcoholism being bred out is that alcoholics are unattractive spouses, and bad parents (eg spending resources on alcohol rather than food for the kids).

Presumably an interest in pornography so intense that it gets in the way of actually having sex or raising kids would be evolutionarily disadvantageous. This does not seem to be a problem in Aborigine communities judging by the number of children. Can you please explain why you think an extreme interest in porn would be evolved out of Europeans?

And I don’t ignore the influences of environment. I’ve just noticed that we all have bodies and our brains are as much part of our bodies as our livers and thus will be affected by what is going on in our bodies. And what is going on in our bodies is affected by our genes responding what is going on in our environment. Not everything is a matter of moral fiber.

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Rhyd 06.24.07 at 11:49 pm

Presumably an interest in pornography so intense that it gets in the way of actually having sex or raising kids would be evolutionarily disadvantageous. This does not seem to be a problem in Aborigine communities judging by the number of children. Can you please explain why you think an extreme interest in porn would be evolved out of Europeans?

I’m not arguing for any such thing, but actually asking you how your theory includes and justifies the pornography ban. The ban is not just on alchohol, and a significant aspect of the study concerns pornography in aboriginal communities. If alchoholism is something such groups haven’t evolved a tolerance to, than is that the justification also for the porn ban?

Look, my point about misusing evolutionary theory is not whether a genetic predisposition can be found, it is that it has dangerous consequences for public policy and tends to get used as a posteriori explanations and defenses for policies that derive from entirely different bases.

I don’t know if Arendt is okay to mention in these kinds of discussions, but her analysis of the development of race theory as a posteriori defense for practices of subjugation (eg. slavery) (Burden of our Times) seems very relevant.

Do we not see the same sort of thing happening with evolutionary theory? Its (mis?)uses in the realm of indigenous relations seems exactly the kind of thing we ought to concern ourselves with.
Sometimes, one suspects that it isn’t mis-use at all and is instead–at least from a historical perspective–a natural outgrowth of “the white man’s burden.”

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Rhyd 06.24.07 at 11:50 pm

(and please forgive the bad mark-up)

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Lang Mack 06.25.07 at 8:13 am

One thing that strikes me is that most of the posters don’t know just how big Australia is, and I include Australians in that remark, all this talk of employment and social reform, do people actually know just how isolated most of these communities are? Howard has been flying over them on his way to ponce on the worlds stage without a bloody thought, sipping on his tax payer wine he’s so fond of , and now “Eureka” it’s an election and I need a “war” or any crisis to find some votes. So, here we go.
There is no “employment” locally in most of these remote areas, there are no medical centers, no librarys , no shops, no nothing in some cases within a ten or fifteen hour drive to a large centre. If Howard brings in the Army, and that looks likely, what, helicopters? , planes?,nice little two or three hour flying trip,fly in medical and boffin head scratchers, fly out again?,now that’s how to show your sincere to the isolated, ignored (well not now ,psst”ELECTION” ),and all this for one mans ego. Why do you ‘recon that these people live where they live, mostly because thats where they have always lived, sad for them that us whitey’s know better and have decimated and destroyed their culture over the past two hundred years, but wait, there’s hope, Howard has ‘discovered’ another whitey cure, ban the grog, porn, incest, bludging,handouts, that these people we afflicted with, send in the heavy artillery. Did I mention it’s an election year?.
They got along without us very well for some thousands of years, then we came along and put ’em on the right track, now thank heavens , as they have strayed, Howard is going to fix ’em up. Sweet. Did I mention it’s an, Oh yes!.

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ajay 06.25.07 at 10:31 am

a Queensland policeman was acquitted of manslaughter in a case in which (on the defence account) he fell on a man he had just arrested, breaking four of his ribs and cleaving his liver in two.

The problem of obesity in the Queensland police force is clearly not being taken seriously enough.

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Michael D 06.25.07 at 1:05 pm

BW: where would such govt jobs be predominately located? wouldn’t they need to be in the cities? or do you think there would perhaps education/health opportunities in the more remote communities? say for example (pulling out of a hat here…) providing training for locals to become nurses and conduct the medical exams howard’s now forced on every kid?

and re: “what is drinking a poor substitute for” – (no expert here) but perhaps a loss of sacred sites and traditional land, younger generations lack of education/awareness in traditional ways, fundamental breakdown in communities through white man’s presence and ‘good intentions’ (stolen children), and perhaps a general feeling that no one really cares all that much about your histories….

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H. E. Baber 06.25.07 at 4:57 pm

Real question, not entirely rhetorical: do they really want to live out in the backside of beyond–with or without “sacred sites” and traditional culture? Isn’t it possible that lots would rather the lives of middle-class Australians in cities and suburbs if that were feasible?

People in outlying rural areas where there were no opportunities, where life was dull and poor, have always flooded to cities. Serfs escaped the manor to make their way in the towns, villages emptied out during the industrial revolution, etc. These people had no interest in preserving, or recreating, a traditional way of life–they wanted a better life. Why assume that indigenous peoples want anything different?

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Omri Schwarz 06.25.07 at 6:05 pm

This thread would probably be more useful if folks went and read what Aborigine activist Noel Pearson has to say about this. Here’s a good start.

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Carlos 06.25.07 at 7:23 pm

We need a bit more context in this discussion:

hoWARd’s arrogant, paternalistic and racist plans are more about “political show” and electioneering” only months before an election – even recalling parliament from the winter break to create more hype and tv coverage – than any long term change. Nor are we using an evidence based approach to achieve real solutions rather than simply masking symptoms without even dealing with their deeper causes.

After 11 years, the hoWARd government having done nothing but vilify and blame Aboriginal people themselves for their problems – using clearly racist attacks such as Pauline Hanson’s – now and only now, months out from an election is willing to send in the army, extra police from other states, and extra federal police… funded for… wait for it…. with funding for a whole 6 months!

After years decades of local groups and reports calling for significant improvements in Aboriginal health and education funding, crisis-prevention, this is now such a crisis that 6 months worth of dough should do it!

No other funding nor other details have been specified, not even for the very basic health and education programs that are indeed required. Many of such programs, especially the locally developed ones with community involvement, have constantly struggled to attract any funding from either states or federal sources, even if proven and successful.

Next: hoWARd wants to force extensive medical examinations for all children, to ascertain if they have any “STDs” or have been victims to abuse.

No bloody idea about the trauma that this policy can of itself create?! Even worsening the cases of those that have indeed been affected already… This bit is a massive can of worms, even for the nursing and medical practitioners involved and their own ethics!

Would hoWARd or any other politician be willing to carry out such a extreme and radical interventionist act in a white suburban population with any similar problems?

Now, as far as the alcohol and pornographic material is concerned, the hoWARd government has refused to restrict take-away sales of these in the major towns that are the very source of an extensive distribution network (some even hundreds of kilometers away), since it would affect some very large supermarket chains and retailers, as well as the wider white population.

I guess some sacred cows are more sacred than others. Especially if they happen to be white sacred cows.

Of course, there is a huge and well documented “trade” of such problematic materials, like drugs, alcohol, and petrol (also used as a drug for sniffing). This illegal “trade” of grog for sex and worse, may even involve inter-state boundaries, white men, miners, truckies, farmers and even the police.

At least 60% of all Australian mines are surrounded by Aboriginal communities.
Hence hoWARd will meet and coordinate this whole intervention with the Minerals Council [ http://www.minerals.org.au ] and other industry lobby groups. Yet not even a minister, let alone hoWARd himself have meet with the affected communities.

Importantly, hoWARd is only picking on the Northern Territory including a greedy Native Title land grab simply because he can, due to our Constitution: Federal legislation overriding the Territorian legislative assembly. Hence the recent previous Federal Government decision to base uranium waste storage sites in the Northern Territory in defense force land and in Aboriginal land.

Meanwhile the states have decidedly opposed any such moves, with South Australia even legislating to ensure any similar moves by the Federal government would automatically trigger a plebiscite.

This is more about having a new wedge issue, to divide the ALP and to paint hoWARd’s government as the “saviour of poor abused Aboriginal children” just 4-5 months before an election.

If it also delivers more uranium mines, waste depots and a greedy federal land grab, all the better. [Now there’s also the new Adelaide to Darwin railway, 20% controlled by a subsidiary of Halliburton Australia:”..from the USA, Mr.David J. Lesar, Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of Halliburton addresses the large crowd. Adelaide, Jan 15th, 2004″ [ http://www.touradelaide.com/adelaide_news/adelaide_darwin_first_train.html http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Halliburton_Australia ]

One of the few Aboriginal leaders that have been consulted, is Noel Pearson, perhaps the most hardcore pro-capitalist pro-intervention Aboriginal figure head. [http://www.thewest.com.au/aapstory.aspx?StoryName=393038]

At best he is being very naive and paternalistic, aligning himself with a government whose ideology that has helped fund Pearson’s Cape York Institute through grants and programs. At worse he is being a tool of division for a racist government 4 months before an election. Or simply a tool.

Another prominent Aboriginal leader involved is the hoWARd appointed Chairwoman of the National Indigenous Council (2004), the West Australian Children’s Court Magistrate, Sue Gordon. Understandably her focus and priority is the protection of children, and her approach is also highly interventionist. [ http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2007/s1959824.htm AM – Co-architect defends Indigenous plan ]

What’s key to the electoral effect of this hoWARd “emergency” is our reaction in Australia and the more critical analysis that he’s already being subjected to. Most important of all is what the wide range of Aboriginal voices have to tell us, what the very communities have to decide and live with, so let’s be humble and listen to the Aboriginal people! We might even learn something!

As far as the ALP is concerned, it just sits in the fence doing little, scared to piss-off some imagined marginal seat voters. Do not make this another TAMPA!

Let’s take a solid coherent stand to protect abused children and improve community outcomes. This starts by funding proven successful local programs that involve the very communities affected and empower them to improve their own education, health and justice. And not by shoving in arrogant, paternalistic and racist plans without any care or understanding.

Let’s call a spade a bloody shovel: hoWARd has a tract record for arrogant greedy lies and 11 years of inaction and racist neglect towards Aboriginal people.

Using and abusing our indigenous brothers and sisters is what most governments do, not just in Australia but world-wide.

Coming from someone like hoWARd, with such a well known racist and manipulative track record, this is simply more of the same.

More Info:

Are Aborigines Howard’s Tampa 2? – Margo Kingston on June 22, 2007 5:11pm.
http://webdiary.com.au/cms/?q=node/1926

Howard’s Aboriginal plan ‘racist’
http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,2195675-2,00.html

Greens challenge Howard’s neglect on grog, sex abuse – 22nd Jun 07
http://www.rachelsiewert.org.au/600_media_sub.php?deptItemID=343

30 years of reports into Aboriginal Australia – Friday, 22 June 2007
http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20070622-30-years-of-reports-into-Aboriginal-Australia.html

Another tricky Howard ruse – Gregory Phillips. June 23, 2007
http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/another-tricky-howard-ruse/2007/06/22/1182019361459.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

Greg Barns: There goes the rule of law – Thursday, 21 June 2007
http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20070621-There-goes-the-rule-of-law.html

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Tracy W 06.25.07 at 9:50 pm

I’m not arguing for any such thing, but actually asking you how your theory includes and justifies the pornography ban.

I don’t think my theory includes or justifies the pornography ban. I was merely commenting on alcoholism.

If alchoholism is something such groups haven’t evolved a tolerance to, than is that the justification also for the porn ban?

I don’t know. I don’t know of any evidence that the consumption of pornography in extreme amounts is correlated with a family genetic history of consumption of pornography in extreme amounts. Nor do I know of any evidence that it doesn’t.

Plus, as I said before, I am skeptical about how effective any alcohol ban would be in practice, given US experience of their Prohibition.

Look, my point about misusing evolutionary theory is not whether a genetic predisposition can be found, it is that it has dangerous consequences for public policy and tends to get used as a posteriori explanations and defenses for policies that derive from entirely different bases.

Can you name a scientific theory that has policy implications that has’t been misused?

People make bad arguments for policy all the time. And there’s pretty much always two reasons people have for advocating a policy – the reason they state and their actual reason. There’s nothing special about misuse of evolutionary theory.

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roy belmont 06.26.07 at 3:54 am

The “argument for alcohol” is it gets you through the immediate weight of unbearable living. Thus “water of life”. Thus “whiskey” or “usquebaugh” and “aquavit”.
The difficulty is it diverts, or can and often does, outrage and rebellion, and allows the dominating culture its slow triumphs. Thus removing it as immediate outlet for rage and self-harming futility as effective solutions.
But when Noel Pearson says in the cite by o.schwarz:
Our culture of reciprocity had been a source of strength during the lean and mean times of discrimination, but in the passive welfare era…
the tacit goal is non-discriminatory assimilation. The difference between discrimination against a culture and discrimination of members of a culture is subtle for a time.
Thus the “Puritan” accusation. Because what’s behind that Mrs. Grundy b.s. is good little wogs putting on their skirts and suits and ties and trooping off through through the morning mist to work.
Alcohol isn’t the problem there, as it often isn’t in a lot of people’s lives who come up against that facile diagnosis. Getting the indigenes good jobs gives them as well a complicity in the predation against what they really are and still could be. And it’s a complicity with something that increasingly proves itself to be unworthy of any cooperation whatsoever, even as it runs the world and places most of us squarely in the midst of the dilemma of survive by compromise with it, or face extinction of one kind or another.

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SG 06.26.07 at 9:04 am

Discussion of employment for Indigenous people when they don’t have access to housing, running water, medical care or decent transport is just stupid. There is no business on earth that can function in many of these remote communities, and if Aboriginal people in the outback were paid wages which industry could afford in the circumstances, they would be paid tobacco and sugar (which is how they were paid during earlier years). Those of you who don’t live in Australia need to understand – most of these communities are several hours’ drive on unsealed roads from tiny towns, which themselves straddle a road linking a town of 300,000 people to a town of a million people on a 24 hour journey through nowhere.

Instead of thinking of these communities as the “rural fringe” they need to be thought of more as camps for displaced persons. They are Australia’s internally displaced by genocidal design, and their conditions today match that situation. They live in overcrowded houses or humpies, often without sewage or running water, suffering diseases of overcrowding (like glue ear) which have been eliminated in the rest of Australia. Some of these places have so few decent homes that people are living a family a room, and the “communities” themselves have a large transient population. Everyone knows that these kinds of situations breed child abuse, violence and drug dependence; the environment needs to be repaired before interventions can be successful. The Herald pointed out in an article yesterday that when the “much-needed” police turn up to these communities they will have to camp by the river beds and cook over fires because there is no accomodation. Where will they hold people they arrest, living 6 or 8 hours’ drive from the nearest police station? The same Herald article also pointed out that an estimated 1.4 billion dollars is needed to provide sufficient housing to reduce overcrowding. Howard has had 11 years to provide that money as part of his much-vaunted “practical reconciliation” program. Why now?

The reason for “why now”, and the reason that this response is going to do more harm than good, is that it has nothing to do with Aboriginal kiddies. Howard has blown his dog whistle. Recently the tory working class who voted him in in 2001 have returned to the labour opposition. Howard wants to remind them that it is him, and only him, who speaks their hidden racist language. His response to this “emergency” is couched in the doublespeak of dog whistle politics. When Howard speaks this way, it is not because he believes the “tough love” politics of Noel Pearson – he doesn’t, because Noel Pearson is black and therefore hated – but because contained in it is the hidden message to the racist Aussie horde. He is reminding them that labour is the party of “special interests” and self-determination, which they hate, and he will destroy it. To analyse his response as if it has any value is to fall for his trap. Argue on his terms, and the racist underclass will be more strongly reminded that only Howard can “protect” them from the “privileged” Aborigine, so long given “special treatment” by “do-gooders” instead of being treated how the urban fringe wants – ignored, abandoned and preferably eliminated, or at best assimilated.

This response will do more harm for Aboriginal people than good. It is the concentration camp trap. Take decent people, take away their rights and their ability to look after themselves, and then when they turn into savages say “see, they can’t be treated the same as us, they’re savages.” This is how the “rural fringe” views Aborigines, and John Howard wants to blame the Aborigines for the savagery which we witness. No response based on this will do anything but hasten their descent. And in fact unless John Howard is blowing his dog whistle, he never has anything to say about Aboriginal issues – to him and his kind they don’t and shouldn’t exist.

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