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Our mob's future isn't in our hands

By Stephen Hagan - posted Tuesday, 1 September 2009

I’ve read countless reports on Indigenous Australians throughout my life and not once have I examined a paper that offers so much to our adversaries and so little to our people. Right wing social commentators would be charging their glasses, and ultra conservatives in the Coalition Party marvelling at the blue print “gift” on Indigenous affairs handed to them on a silver platter.

Even more astounding still for antagonists of Indigenous Australians is the fact they did not contribute a single word of the almost unintelligible report that is littered with complex tiered structures requiring a degree in strategic management to decipher.

Tom Calma’s Our Future In Our Hands report released to the world via his National Press Club address in Canberra on August 27 can best be summed up in one word: inept.


The first thing that came to my mind after reading the finer details of the report is that its intent is eerily reminiscent of the old Aboriginal protectors and mission manager’s instruction manual on how to control their incarcerated hordes.

The protectionist era of the early 1900s sought to save the first Australians from the savagery of abuse by marauding white settlers operating beyond the frontier. In that era, our mob was deemed to be incapable of making informed decisions about their lives and needed an assertive mission manager to fill that nurturing void.

The mission manager’s instruction manual rules were generic and proved a highly effective operational tool to keep the blacks in order:

  1. the white man is always right;
  2. don’t let the blacks have the right to vote or make decisions that affect themselves;
  3. develop a dossier on all blacks to sort out the good from the problematic ones;
  4. when rule 3 is completed proportion jobs to peak leaders accordingly;
  5. use language so complex that they will never fully understand what is being asked; and
  6. if all else fails - revert back to rule 1 and send for the native police.

I can’t understand why, in Calma’s report, there is so much emphasis placed on probity checks for his proposed structure for Indigenous representation when there are clear government rules pertaining to applicants wishing to stand for public office. If someone has been charged with a serious criminal offence they are automatically deemed ineligible to stand for election. If that tenet is good enough for mainstream political candidates why isn’t it good enough for black candidates?

Why set up a structure that favours control being placed in the hands of lead Indigenous organisations when evidently, despite their best efforts, they have not been able to have any impact on giving native title to our people, to keeping our people out of jail, to lowering the incidents of children being removed from their families, or to addressing our chronic health, housing, education and employment problems?


And why limit Indigenous women to 50 per cent of the proposed structure’s membership when clearly they are the majority of the incumbent leaders throughout the nation running our organisations as well as holding public office in state and territory politics.

Incidentally, Lowetja O’Donaghue was the chairperson of the first ever federally endorsed elected representative body, the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC), established by Gough Whitlam in 1973. My father Jim was Lowetja’s deputy and later went on to become chairman of the NACC successor, the National Aboriginal Conference (NAC), brought in by Malcolm Fraser when he gained office in 1975 after he controversially ousted Gough Whitlam.

How many of Tom Calma’s committee who rubber-stamped this blue print have ever stood for public office in an NACC, NAC or ATSIC election? Could it be that some of these members have designed an alternative, non-elected, body that will keep them in the game without the need to ever experience the ignominy of campaigning and missing out on a seat in an Australian Electoral Commission sanctioned election?

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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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