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Will our Kevin '07 deflate in '08?

By Graham Ring - posted Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The Christmas dinner dishes have long been cleared away, so that whiff of turkey in the air may well be emanating from the ALP's Indigenous affairs policy.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been careful to heed the eleventh commandment of Australian life and refrained from talking politics during the summer stupor.

But the beach cricket is finished now, and another year in the salt mines is upon us.


Kevin from Queensland has lobbed at The Lodge and installed a Cabinet whose initial responsibility appears to be one of hosing down expectations of any kind, and making sure that the horses don't get frightened.

These dictates would seem to apply particularly to the troubled terrain of Indigenous justice.

Mind you, Rudd has clocked up a few points for his skilfully orchestrated roundtable with Indigenous leaders in Darwin a couple of weeks before Santa hit town. Though no specific promises were made, he listened to people, acknowledged their concerns and undertook to come back and listen again.

The talk in Darwin's lefty Roma Bar on the day of the meeting was of how the invitation-only guest list had been assembled. Who was in, who was out, and how had the decisions been made? The Larrakia traditional owners were understandably unhappy about not getting a guernsey.

But in the wash-up, the Prime Minister's willingness to travel to Darwin for discussions with Indigenous leaders provided a sharp contrast to the style of the previous incumbent, and he left the Top End smelling like roses. It's his new Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, who has a harder road to hoe. It will be her job to say “no”.

Macklin recently poured cold water on the possibility of a compensation fund accompanying the government's long-awaited apology to the Stolen Generations. The disingenuous government line - that the money could be better spent on improving health outcomes for Indigenous Australians - is hard to swallow. People are entitled to reasonable health care as well as to compensation for wrongs done to them by the state. These things are not mutually exclusive.


In any case, a less curmudgeonly government may find that the demand for a symbolic apology is much greater than the demand for financial compensation.

On the upside, Macklin has acted to euthanise the late and unlamented National Indigenous Council. The NIC was surely one of the least effective and most divisive bodies in the history of Indigenous affairs in this country. But now that the NIC is knackered, Labor must move swiftly towards replacing it with a truly representative body.

On the ground around Alice Springs, Aboriginal people are worried for the future of the CDEP program.

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First published in the National Indigenous Times on January 24, 2008, Issue 145.

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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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