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Sorry, but not sorry enough

By Adam Creighton - posted Friday, 7 March 2008

Australia entered 2008 one of the richest nations, both on paper and on the ground. Far from fearing recession like Europe and America, Australia bursts into its 17th year of uninterrupted economic growth with its currency surging to 23-year highs, its unemployment rate approaching 4 per cent, and its weekly wages more than 20 per cent higher than in the United States and Britain (not to mention the cheaper cost of living). Swimming pools and rumpus rooms adorn working class homes, and for almost everyone a sandy beach is but a two-hour drive away.

Yet for the descendents of Australia’s original inhabitants, its half-million Aborigines, this success has proved as remote as the Great Sandy Desert. Male Aboriginal life expectancy, at less than 61 years, is less than Cambodia’s, while Australia’s as a whole is higher than Switzerland’s.

Aboriginal statistical data is a catalogue of social disaster. Basic communicable diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis are respectively five and eight times more prevalent among Aboriginal than white Australians. Aborigines are almost three times more likely to kill themselves, and more than 15 times more likely to be imprisoned.


But these aggregate statistics are a walk in the park compared to life in remote Aboriginal towns, where up to half Australia’s Aborigines live.

In May 2006 the Northern Territory Crown Prosecutor, Nannette Rogers, exposed conditions bordering on dystopian. Children and babies have been routinely raped and abused. Extreme substance abuse (including petrol sniffing among children to the point of brain damage) and general lawlessness give central Australia a homicide rate 10 times the national average, and Aboriginal women are 52 times more likely to be hospitalised from domestic violence than white women.

In June 2007 the situation had reached such “depths of depravity and despair”, as the former Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough put it, that the Howard government shocked international café society worldwide by sending in the military to restore social order, and restricted pornography and alcohol. Inevitable squeals of “racism” emerged from the fashionable, trendy quarters of Sydney and Melbourne, unable to imagine life without porn, petrol and alcohol.

That such an execrable state of affairs exists in such a rich country is surely deserving of an apology, a real apology among the living, for the bald empirical fact of white wealth amid manifest black squalor?

These appalling social conditions are of course entirely unrelated to the nature of Aboriginal people themselves, an absurd concept in any case. Yet if any group is most to blame for the status quo, it is the ultimately pernicious group of left-wing intellectuals, whose ideas have dominated public policy on Aboriginal issues for the past 35 years. Rather than reaching for Marshall and Mill, they reached for Marx and Foucault, facilitating a poisonous mix of double standards in public policy, and an ongoing celebration of a crude “diversity” for its own sake.

In 1938, two Aborigines, J Patten and W Ferguson, from the Aborigines Progressive Association, wrote:


We do not wish to be … ‘preserved’ like the koala bears … [or] ‘studied’ as scientific or anthropological curiosities … we have no desire to go back to primitive conditions of the Stone Age. We ask you to teach our people to live in the Modern Age.

Since gaining the constitutional power to make laws for Aborigines in 1967, rather than encouraging assimilation, the federal government has effectively subsidised hundreds of tiny, remote, uneconomic communities to promote an Aboriginal “hunter-gatherer way of life”.

It has provided ongoing passive welfare payments without any requirement to work, resulting in labour force participation half that in white society.

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This is an extended version of an article which was first published in the American, a magazine of the American Enterprise Institute, on March 4, 2008.

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About the Author

Adam Creighton is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.

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