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14 responses to “Abbott on the first people: just muddling through”

  1. wilful

    “But the conclusion at the end of all of this reflection seems to be that he doesn’t really know what he can do. So what he would do, it seems, is muddle through.”

    And this is worse than the current offering how?

    Look, I know we all hate Tony Abbott, but to suggest that the Coalition are grossly incompetent (relatively) and visionless (relatively) is pretty groundless.

    “a line or two in Australia’s most antiquated document.”

    That’s the oddest statement about Australia’s constitution I’ve ever heard.

  2. wilful

    [incompetent and visionless in indigenous affairs that is]

  3. akn

    Thanks for this Guy. Why I’m pleased LP is alive again.

  4. Chris

    Tony Abbott’s address to the Sydney Institute last Friday went little remarked or reported, but offered the nation a glimpse of the Coalition’s planned approach in government to the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio.

    Perhaps it’s so little reported because coalition and ALP policy on Aboriginal Affairs is very similar now? With the exception of the apology, The ALP pretty much adopted what Howard was doing.

  5. FMark

    Thanks for starting a conversation on this Guy.

  6. Sam

    If you rank the things that Abbott is scarily bad on, starting with the worst, Aboriginal affairs is way down the list. This is true in absolute terms and especially true in comparison to the Labor Party.

  7. Paul Norton

    I think it’s reasonable accurate to say that Abbott is engaged closely with the current of thinking on Aboriginal affairs espoused by people such as Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton and Bess Price, among others. I think it’s also now undeniable that this current of thinking has significant support within Aboriginal communities and is raising important questions that credible policies on Aboriginal affairs have to address.

    This is not to say that all the policy prescriptions that flow from this current of thinking should be accepted without question, and we should certainly resist the tendency of some policymakers to seek to anoint Pearson et al (or anyone else) as “the authentic voice of indigenous Australia” in John Howard’s words. There are many authentic Aboriginal voices. However, the emergence of the Pearson/Langton/Price et al discourse requires a more thoughtful response than a retreat to left (or left-liberal) orthodoxies.

  8. Matt in the Springs

    Paul, I’m not sure you should be so quick to assume that “this current of thinking has significant support within Aboriginal communities”. Having just finished some research (conducted in the NT- and I recognise this is just a small part of Aboriginal Australia) that looked at the governmental/ community interface I think that the people who participated in our research are less interested in the “my right to take responsibility” line than they are in a “how can we work together more fruitfully” one.

    However I think you are right that “the emergence of the Pearson/Langton/Price et al discourse requires a more thoughtful response than a retreat to left (or left-liberal) orthodoxies.” Merely looking at how things change (and how they stay the same) using the same concepts and categories means that we will simply recapitulate our understandings based on them. The emergence of those discourses might tell us something about what is going on in the collective heads of Aboriginal people, or it might tell us something about how problems and solutions are conceived far away from the day to day lives of people affected by those discourses (and of course it will tell us about both and more besides).

    So where to from here then? I think the intractability mentioned in the post is indicative of the problem of conceptualising the “problem” from a traditional policy development point of view. Government agents at the coal face put in a lot of effort, thinking creatively to make things work (and equally this work occurs by and on behalf of Aboriginal people with whom they interact), something which occurs in spite of rather than because of the policies they are charged with implementing. What we don’t need is a structural solution to a non structural problem. The issue around solving the “intractable problem” therefore is how do we make the functionality that exists at the ground level visible, so that we can support it and learn from it. Of course this is not to suggest that things are easy, work at the ground level is necessarily messy and difficult, but surely we know enough to tell us that a new top down policy prescription is not the way to go.

  9. Guy

    wilful, I’m intentionally not making an attempt here to spruik Labor’s offering on Aboriginal affairs – in part because I think they have made a bit of a mess of it.

    The Constitution may have pride of place on Australia’s political mantlepiece but it is a hundred years old and is of little or no practical significance to most today. I am not opposed in principle to recognising Australia’s first peoples in the Constutition – in fact I support the idea – but such a step would need to go hand in glove with some practical offering or vision for the future for indigenous Australians. I don’t think Abbott is offering that.

  10. Guy

    Matt, I agree that top-down policy prescription is not the way to go, but on the other hand, ideally it would be good to see Canberra taking a bit of a lead in terms of bringing the country to the table. Canberra also of course holds a lot of the purse-strings.

    Most of Australia is either apathetic or actively antagonistic towards efforts visibly expended on indigenous issues, so if Canberra is not on board steering a course that can be sold nationally, we shouldn’t be surprised that efforts made by individuals state and territory governments ultimately are unsuccessful. Canberra needs to be probably more collaborative than prescriptive, but clearly there is a leading role for the federal government of the day to play.

  11. Chris

    Various governments have tried over time a few different approaches and most if not all for regional communties seem to have just ended up as a major fail. Perhaps it’s a crazy idea, but aren’t there enough disfunctional regional communities to just try most of the ideas out there in parallel for say 5-10 years and see what works and what doesn’t in practice? Expand the ones that clearly work, close the ones that don’t.

  12. John D

    In 1964 I knew personally all the Aboriginal university graduates in Australia – both of them. In terms of education there has been a lot progress since then. I also believed at the time that, if the changes I was supporting at the time were adopted that a blossoming would occur and there would be a rapid improvement in Aboriginal lives. Most of these changes were adopted and they did result in many improvements – but it was all a lot slower than what I expected and there is still an awful lot of progress to be made despite changes, despite a lot of money and despite a lot of effort from people of good will.
    Given the above I am actually encouraged when I here Abbot admits that he really doesn’t know what has to be done. Understanding that he doesn’t know is the first step towards progress.
    My take on Abbot is that he really does care about Aboriginal affairs and becoming “prime minister for Aboriginal affairs” is more than empty symbolism. Let’s give him credit for that.

  13. Matt in the Springs

    John, while he might care about Aboriginal Affairs, we need to concern ourselves as to whether his “care” means that he is primarily interested in the day to day impact that his potential government’s acts have on Aboriginal people. One of the issues we have in this country (IMHO) is that governments (particularly of Canberra) view Aboriginal Affairs with one eye on what it means for Aboriginal people, and another on what it means in the marginal seats of the eastern seaboard (or elsewhere). Doing what is right by the blackfellas, wherever they may be, is only one consideration. Thinking about how that goes down elsewhere is the other. Talk to ANY Australian and you will realise that what we do or don’t do in relation to blackfellas matters- and matters big time. For this reason Aboriginal Affairs as a policy area will never just be about what it means for Aboriginal people (given that they make up such a small percentage of the Australian population). That is why a self professed interest in Aboriginal Affairs is not enough for me, I want to see what meat is on those bones before making judgement.

  14. John D

    A powerful outsider who understands that he doesn’t have all the answers is a good start.