Open letter to Jenni Macklin, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs

January 2008

Re: Intervention in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

On the 17th January 2008 you claimed that the intervention under Labor would only utilize techniques which had been shown to work.

The first question that must be asked is “worked for whom?”

There is no evidence that using racist income support policies does anything to promote the self- managing capacity of any group of Indigenous people in the world or assist the individuals of that group to manage their affairs better.

There is evidence from South Africa during the Apartheid era that such policies worked a treat for the Apartheid Government and their nice white supporters. I have seen similar benefits accrue to whites in the NT and QLD flowing from state and federal Aboriginal policies.

I began working with Indigenous people in the 1960s and am still taking an active interest in the Indigenous struggle today so I have seen lots of stupid government policies come and go. I worked with Aboriginal people in the NT for 15 years. I have even seen some sensible government policies come and go particularly during the Whitlam Government.

I realize that the Rudd alternative Government in the run up to the last election did not want to make Aboriginal affairs a political issue and so you went along with Howard and Brough’s racist policies. You are probably frightened that if you revert to sensible policies now you will look as if you are reneging on what you said in 2007.

I urge you to adopt sensible non-racist policies immediately before any more harm is done. I congratulate you for reinstating the permit system. The intervention task force should be advised that although the Legislation allows the bypassing of the Racial Discrimination Act that they must comply with the RDA now that Labor is in power. Just because there is a legislative provision which allows racial discrimination against Australia’s Indigenous people does not mean the Labor Government has to continue to act in a racist manner.

In relation to quarantining 50% of welfare payments in order that children are fed and housed that can be done in a non-racially discriminating way. Such provisions have always been part of the Social Security legislation. That is quarantining of welfare payments must only be undertaken after it is established that particular parents have failed to make adequate provision for their children. It is racist to say all Aboriginal people will have their social security quarantined in a particular area irrespective of how adequately they provide for their children.

You only have to see the work of Dr Ross Kidd in Queensland on stolen wages and social security to see the outcomes which occur when you let nice white people control Aboriginal people’s money. The nice white people eventually work out ways to steal Aboriginal peoples’ money. In fact the Queensland Government itself stole much of Aboriginal peoples’ money.

The only way you will solve the issue of alcohol addiction, family violence, child abuse and other social problems in Indigenous communities is by working with the communities on their terms. There is a need for sufficient decent houses to prevent overcrowding, job creation, properly funded clean water, nutrition, sanitation and health programs. Yes, children must have access to education which is culturally appropriate and delivered by skilled teachers. You can’t do that on the cheap as past governments have done.

I was glad to see you have said that Aboriginal people will be involved in building the new houses you have approved. They need to be if houses in remote areas are to be maintained. There aren’t hardware stores where building supplies can be purchased in much of rural and remote Australia

I urge you to have as many of your senior staff read:
Professor Jon Altman and Melissa Hinkson’s (2007) Coercive reconciliation. Arena, North Carlton.

And Professor Guy Standing’s (2002) Beyond the new paternalism. Verso, London.

You may have time to read my critique of the Howard intervention in the Northern Territory”
written on the 29/6/2007 for On Line Opinion

Further information can be found at the Basic Income Guarantee Australia web site at QUT, particularly Chapter 6 on Income Insecurity

In relation to alcohol problems you or your officers might also like to read my paper:
“Must be the grog can’t be the Government: Relationships between Government and Indigenous people in Australia.” YANQ new transitions Volume 10, No 1, 2006  Tomlinson, J. Queensland University of Technology, Carseldine, Queensland, Paper given at the International Conference on Engaging Communities Brisbane 14-17/8/2005