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Mullin' over Mulan: 'Snot what you do, it's the way that you do it

By Gavin Mooney - posted Monday, 20 December 2004

In its new policies on Mulan and, later, other Aboriginal communities, it is evident that the government, in seeking to tie benefits, such as the provision of a bowser, to the successful wiping of Aboriginal kids’ noses, will need some sort of performance indicator. Snot is the obvious one and by implication at least the greater the amount of snot collected, the higher will be the benefits that the government will provide. What a great incentive for Aboriginal health improvement - but it is dependent on being able to measure snot.

Yet measuring snot is problematical. The quantities of snot per nose blow or per face wipe will vary both with the frequency of blows and wipes. There are also qualitative differences in snot but, as with other health considerations, just what constitutes quality in this respect is difficult to pin down. One has to wonder if the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Amanda Vansnot, has really thought this through.

There is also the fundamental problem of whether amounts of snot are best measured by cubic metres or in kilograms. I tend to favour the idea of weighing snot but the wet weight and the dry weight will differ. In a place like Mulan, once the snot is removed from the nose the chances are it will dry fast. That at a practical empirical level suggests that dry weight is the preferred way to measure snot. It may mean that snot providers will have to hang about while their snot dries before it can be weighed. There is also a risk that before the last delivery has dried, another will be produced resulting in the snot provider having to take up permanent residence at the snot bureau.


There is however another problem which is tied to the whole question of incentives. If delivery of Government goodies for the residents of Mulan is dependent on the amount of snot they can produce, what is to stop them entering into negotiations with other communities to import snot? Has the government thought through the implications of such a snot trade? (Of course the snot could be DNA tested to establish if it is Mulan snot but that raises important questions of human rights in getting agreement to snot testing.)

Further there is, of course, no reason in this globalising world why snot needs to be restricted to Australian snot. I am not aware that snot was on the table during the US FTA negotiations but then why not? If there is to be free trade in snot, it must be monitored closely to ensure that good quality Australian snot is not contaminated by inferior US snot. A world body already exists to conduct such monitoring (UNESCO - the UN Education in Snot Control Organisation). 

There is a yet greater threat to snot assessment - fake snot! Yes, according to a reputable website, snot can be produced artificially. Clearly there is a need to be able to sort out what is snot and what is not - quality control of snot is thus essential.  

There are many non Aboriginal Australians who feel outraged about what is happening in Mulan. Why are these benefits that flow from snot restricted to Aboriginal people? Why can’t ordinary Australians get these benefits? This is racist! Please write to your MP and demand that white Australia gets these snot benefits too.

In the meantime for those of you who recognise that getting this government to provide the same level of snot services to white Australians as to Aboriginal Australians will not happen or will take a long time, you might want to avoid wasting your snot (existing or past however you might have saved it up). Send your snot to Mulan! The people there can make good use of it. Even if it is wet to start with, by the time it gets there it will be well and truly dry.

Whatever, there will be a need for snot patrollers - both fast and slow snot patrollers. The fast patrollers will be assigned to spotting snot on the run; the slow patrollers will be able to pick snot that has got stuck.


One can imagine a future conversation in Mulan along the following lines.

Snot patroller (SP): “Is that snot?”

Aboriginal Child (AC) “No it’s not!”

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About the Author

Gavin Mooney is a health economist and Honorary Professor at the Universities of Sydney and Cape Town. He is also the Co-convenor of the WA Social Justice Network . See

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