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Mainstreaming: The Final Solution

By Graham Ring - posted Thursday, 31 March 2005

I’ve seen the light. They’re right after all. No use swimming against the tide forever - nothing is going to get done. I should have seen it earlier - but I was just too blinkered in my approach. Now it all seems so clear: Mainstreaming is the answer. Not for the delivery of services of course. Only the duffers are still persisting with this folly. Ringy’s rules are simple, and there are only three of them, so listen up.

Rule 1: If you’re really hungry, don’t try to use the chop-sticks.
Rule 2: Collingwood will choke in finals matches.
Rule 3: Services for Indigenous people are best delivered by Indigenous people.

As pearls of wisdom go this last one is not a rare jewel. Just your basic common sense.


If you still haven’t twigged to this simple fact, then you’d better nick-off to the remedial class and leave the rest of the column for later. It’s Indigenous Justice that needs to be mainstreamed. Because mainstreaming is the way of the future.

Minister Vanstone addressed the National Press Club late last month and she made it pretty clear. She said that a “quiet revolution” in Indigenous Affairs was underway - which is pretty bolshie talk coming from a minister in the party that gave us Robert Menzies.

What with the coup that has toppled ATSIC in recent times, politics in Australia is taking on quite a spicy Latin-American flavour. The Minister noted that ATSIC wasn’t an “Indigenous construct” (it’s long been my experience that people who use words like “construct” aren’t much fun to go to the footy with - but let’s let that pass).

I imagine that this bombshell must have provoked a roar from the crowd. Presumably the assembled hacks were struck dumb by the revelation that the oldest living culture on the planet wasn’t innately attracted to setting up huge, unwieldy bureaucracies.

To be scrupulously fair about it, my understanding is that Indigenous Australia regards this land girt by sea as comprising perhaps 500 nations. As the Minister so rightly pointed out, these are a vast and diverse range of communities with different cultures and different aspirations. “One size will not fit all” was the cliché that got trotted out.

So if Minister Vanstone and her cohorts are prepared to meet separately with the leaders of 500 Indigenous nations every time they want to fly a policy kite, then they should be widely commended. But I suspect they will require the “Aboriginal view” to be presented in a rather more “concise” form. Not to mince words, the government seems happy to foist a “construct” of “one nation” on the hundreds of different Indigenous nations on this continent.


In recent times, the Minister has made an art form of painting a grim picture of ATSIC.

Consider: Voter turn-out in ATSIC elections is low.
Solution: Knock the whole organisation on the head - then no-one at all will be able to vote.

No doubt there are some plodding administrative types who would address this problem by coming up with a creative campaign to increase voter turn-out. You know the sort of thing. Get great Indigenous footballers like the Clarke brothers from the Mighty Saints - and even black players from dud sides like the Weagles and the Brizzy Bears - to promote the idea to the kids. (Don’t get me wrong. I admire people who barrack for second-rate teams like these when deep in their hearts they all secretly want to barrack for St. Kilda. It shows character.)

But there’ll be no fey publicity campaign for this government. They’ve come up with the "Final Solution". There will never be another ATSIC election with less than 100 per cent voter turn-out because there will never be another ATSIC election. The logic is inescapable.

Luckily for our pollies, voting in Australia is compulsory. Make it optional, and they may, just might, find large numbers of us voting with feet rather than pens and staying away from polling booths in large numbers. They might be able to force us to vote, but they can’t compel us to respect those who are elected.

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First published in issue 76 of the National Indigenous Times.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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