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Skinny latté ideology

By Stephen Hagan - posted Tuesday, 24 June 2008

I accepted the offer to present the 2nd Rob Riley Memorial Lecture at Curtin University, Perth on May 23 (Pat Dodson delivered the first) with the rhetorically challenging title of Skinny latté ideology, because I have fond memories of Rob's unwavering conviction of proactive Indigenous advocacy.

I got to know Rob well when I worked in Canberra in the 1980s and met him regularly when he made his frequent trips over the Nullabor Plains from Perth in his capacity as Chairman of the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC). My father Jim was also Chairman of the NAC in the late 1970s.

I considered Rob to be one of our finest leaders and acknowledge his grass roots practical endeavours. Reflectively, I also view his achievements as a symptomatic accumulation of goals from a man whose visionary disposition was a redeeming feature that paved the way to a multitude of strategic national outcomes. I viewed Rob also as a man of high intellect who I believe would not be out of place today in the austere corral of academia.


The following observations are abstracts from my paper:

Should Indigenous Australians proportion all blame for their parlous living conditions on the government or should they accept the lion’s share of the responsibility?

The Little Children are Sacred report released in 2007 highlighted the extent of Indigenous dysfunction. In particular the single most oppressing finding that gained national and international attention, was the high level of sexual abuse of children in the Northern Territory communities.

Co-authors Rex Wild and Pat Anderson identified the various causes for the escalation of child sexual abuse:

Excessive consumption of alcohol is variously described as the cause or result of poverty, unemployment, lack of education, boredom and overcrowded and inadequate housing. The use of other drugs and petrol sniffing can be added to these. Together, they lead to excessive violence. In the worst case scenario it leads to sexual abuse of children.

The chronicle of abuse of Indigenous children is not specific to the Northern Territory, as illustrated by the Gordon report in Western Australia, the Mulligan report in South Australia, the Ella-Duncan report in New South Wales and more recently the alleged child prostitution racket in the NSW and Queensland border communities of Boggabilla and Goondiwindi - where it was revealed truck drivers are offering Aboriginal girls as young as eight-years-old drugs and money in exchange for sex.


The public reaffirmation of the abhorrent outcome of high levels of social dysfunction in Indigenous communities, aided by Paul Toohey's article in The Australian (May 14, 2008) - which identified a sharp jump in the past year of killings of Aboriginal women in remote parts of central Australia - is conclusive evidence that we all need a seismic shift in attitude on this debate.

We all need to pool our collective thoughts on how we can best tackle this insidious problem afflicting our communities that has obviously been allowed to fester unchallenged by people in positions of responsibility for far too long.

As the title of my paper Skinny latté ideology suggests - or at least the metaphorical imputation evokes - many public figures; Indigenous and non-Indigenous, working in the Indigenous industry have taken the easy option when tackling Indigenous disadvantage - safe in the knowledge that results in their field are not the aspirational outcomes that governments expect to see.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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