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Howard's 'Hansonism in trousers' policy

By Gavin Mooney - posted Wednesday, 31 May 2006

In the current debate about Aboriginal violence, there has been much fire and little light. Black-blaming, soft-ideology-of-the-leftists bashing and claimed Coombes-driven socialism have all been used to divert the focus away from where it really belongs: on the Australian people as a whole, black and white, and on their elected representatives.

All of us, black and white, have allowed governments of all hues over several generations to ignore these issues or hide behind countless government reports. Too few of the Aboriginal community have sought, or been able, or had the strength, to fight for their rights to the extent they should have. Too few of the non-Aboriginal community have sought to protect Aboriginal rights.

In general non-Aboriginal Australians have retreated in front of their television sets, their senses and sensitivities dulled by the charms of Big Brother. They have become inured to the problems besetting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


White Australia has continued to believe those journalists who lie about the supposed fortunes that have been and are being spent by governments on Aboriginal health and well-being. Reporters have failed to investigate what the problems are but instead settled for looking at the symptoms of grog and drugs and lack of market jobs.

The expression “Aboriginal welfare dependency” has been accepted into the nation’s lexicon, without questioning its antecedents, or its relevance to Aboriginal well-being. What just a few years ago would have been called for what they are - assimilationist government policies - are accepted by a complicit and compliant media in terms set by government: giving Aboriginal people an equal opportunity as other Australians, treating them the same.

The Howard Government’s call for treating everyone the same is not equality nor is it fair. It is Hansonism in trousers. It is Aboriginal cultural suicide, if not questioned by Aboriginal people: indeed it will be the death of Aboriginal culture if not questioned by the Australian people as a whole.

The issue here is about fairness and a “fair go”. It is at that altar white Australia seeks to worship. Such fairness is absent in today’s Australia and it is absent in Aboriginal Australia’s history. The “history wars”, fought between whites on the left and whites on the right, were about whether my number of black dead were bigger than your number of black dead. It was not a debate about the indecency and injustice in our past.

The current and past attacks on Aboriginal culture and customary law are based on ignorance and racism. There is no place in Aboriginal culture for violence against women or child sex abuse. None. It is more the breakdown in culture where the problem lies.

We need to recognise that the problems besetting Aboriginal people today are long-standing and deep-seated. They are born of a turbulent past, just as the violence against women and children in post-Apartheid South Africa is a legacy of a violent, oppressed past. The solutions will not be found in short-term measures; they will not be successful if they are not born of the informed preferences of Aboriginal people. They know the problems, they know the solutions, and can make them work, if given the chance and the resources.


The Indigenous Family Program (IFP) in Perth a few years ago is a case in point. It was funded across six state government departments, run under the auspices of the Coalition of Aboriginal Agencies (a peak body of Aboriginal organisations in Perth), based (crucially) on local Noongar (Aboriginal) values, and aimed at Aboriginal families in severe strife who had been, more or less, given up on by other agencies. Within 12 months the IFP turned these families around, with vast improvements in several social indicators, including reductions in domestic violence. Additionally an evaluation showed that for every $1 spent it saved the state government $1.50.

The program collapsed when the state government took it away from its Noongar base.

Here is a proposed 10-point plan:

  1. accept that Aboriginal peoples are not one people, their problems vary and so too will solutions to what might look like similar problems;
  2. any solutions to Aboriginal problems must come from Aboriginal people;
  3. the federal, state and territory governments should facilitate regional summits of Aboriginal people, who would be empowered to propose solutions to the problems in their regions for their people;
  4. adequate funds should be made available over a period of at least 10 years to allow these solutions to be implemented;
  5. resources should also be made available at a community level to allow communities to rebuild, to win back pride in their communities and culture, essentially to develop a human and physical infrastructure to allow communities to rebuild themselves;
  6. whatever else, major training programs in leadership, management and culture will be needed, but should all be conducted in accordance with local Aboriginal culture;
  7. the denigrating of Aboriginal culture by governments (for example, Amanda Vanstone’s comments about “cultural museums”) needs to stop;
  8. the current revising of the CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects) needs to be reconsidered and, most fundamentally,  the “CD” - Community Development - reinstated;
  9. the program of Shared Responsibility Agreements (SRAs) needs to be revised and recast in a way that is supportive of the communities in which they are planned, so that it empowers communities, rather than demeaning and diminishing them; and
  10. there should be, integrated into this whole process, an open explicit evaluation so that all Aboriginal communities can learn from each other and where successes are given due recognition.
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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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