I have always had trouble understanding why some people have such a virulent dislike for Bess Price. Read Michael Brull's article from a year ago, and it is clear that his biggest problem with Price is the friends she keeps, in particular, Gary Johns and the Bennelong Society. My support of Price may not do her any favours either, as I work for a think tank reputed to be 'right wing' and 'conservative'. But judging people by their friends is pretty petty schoolyard behaviour. Surely as adults we should be beyond that and can take people on their individual merit.
Most people reading the article about Price in the Weekend Australian would have been impressed with her. Here is a woman who has overcome a great deal of hardship in her life – arranged marriage, abusive partner, and the death of her 10-year-old son from leukaemia. But Price is not bitter. She has not allowed herself to become a victim. She fought back at the cards she had been dealt, escaped her arranged marriage, and gained an education. Now she is running for the Country Liberals in the next Northern Territory election.
Price is an example of someone negotiating the tricky tightrope between two worlds. Her father was a boy when he saw a white man for the first time. Straight from the desert and an ancient culture based around hunting and gathering to cars, television and fast food. It has been a difficult journey for many of Price's people, and she is acutely aware that many of them feel trapped between two worlds. In a blog post on her website, she quotes the words of an old Warlpiri man from Yuendumu explaining why so many young Aboriginal men fill the cells of the Alice Springs jail: "There's yapa (Aboriginal law) here," ..."and there's kardiya (whitefella law) here," ..."Those young fellas are running around in the middle."
Price became a supporter of the Northern Territory Intervention because she saw it bringing much needed improvements in housing, night patrols, community safety, child protection, and employment opportunities. Often forgotten among all the negative talk about the intervention are the positive measures such as increased policing, funding for 192 more teaching positions and the conversion of Community Development Employment Project (CDEP) jobs into real employment. A 2011 report evaluating the impact of the intervention released by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) found that since 2007, 62 additional police have been deployed to communities, including 18 that did not have a police presence before the intervention. In a survey of more than 1,300 community members, 59% of the respondents reported feeling their lives were better than three years ago, while 73% said their community was safer now than three years ago.
Brull and his cohorts would have you believe that nothing good has come out of the intervention and blame it for many of the social ills in remote communities today, but these problems existed well before the intervention. The intervention may not be perfect but it is better than pretending the problems in remote communities do not exist as previous governments did.
Although many remote Indigenous residents complain about income management, many others are pleased. The quarantining of welfare gives woman a legitimate excuse to refuse 'humbugging' from their family and enables money to be spent on food and other essential items. At a conference I attended last year, an academic from CAPAER (an organisation not known for supporting the intervention) said more than half the people he had spoken to in the Northern Territory supported income management. Of course, he was derided for saying that. But it's the truth. Though the likes of Brull may not want to admit it, his view and the views of the people he talks to are only half of the picture. Price's views are the other half. To criticise her because she does not share his views is wrong. We need to listen to dissenting views because only then can we gain a full perspective of the multitude of opinions in communities. They are not homogenous entities full of anti-interventionists.
In the year before the intervention, Price faced the deaths of more than 30 people known to her, including the suicide of her 14-year-old niece, which strongly affected her decision to support it.
Price has been called a puppet because of her support of the intervention, but it is hard to argue with what she wants for her people: "real education based on real standards" so they can walk the line between two worlds and not fall into the abyss between.
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