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Industrial: How Low Is Low
Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
Unions: Bad Medicine
History: Right Turn, Clyde
Economics: Long Division
International: Union Proud
Politics: Howard’s Sick Joke
Indigenous: The year of living dangerously
Review: Lights, Camera, Strike!
Culture: News Front
The Locker Room
The year of living dangerously
'Oh-six' looms as a year more fraught than most for Indigenous Australia.
In this brave new world of Shared Responsibility Agreements, Indigenous Co-ordination Centres, and ominous mutterings about changes to communal ownership of land, great vigilance is required.
But some things don't change: The Russian roulette wheel of native title continues to spin, and there is no shortage of contestants prepared to try their luck.
The scene for the new year was set by an address Minister Vanstone delivered to the Australia and New Zealand School of Government at the ANU in December. It received a little bit of mainstream media coverage because of Vanstone's inflammatory observations about 'cultural museums'.
The Minister also reported that the Ngaanyatjara mob have a word that means 'mutual obligation'. Lest you should fear that the devil was quoting scripture for her own purposes, be reassured that she made no claim for Ngaanyatjara words meaning 'refugee detention centre', 'industrial relations reform' or 'sedition'.
The speech was a cold-blooded little number full of earnest bean-counting. It betrayed no obvious interest in the special relationship that Indigenous people have with the land. Nor any sense of joy or wonderment that our country plays host to the oldest living culture on the planet,
But the title of the paper 'Beyond Conspicuous Compassion' is a beauty, right up there with 'black armband history' and 'land-rich, dirt-poor'. The Indigenous affairs policy of the Howard administration post-election was to assassinate ATSIC, and that objective has been achieved. Now it's just government by snappy one-liners.
The Minister was quite chuffed about the increase in the number of Shared Responsibility Agreements. She said that they represented an 'expression of the aspirations of these communities, and the desire to improve the lives of their children'. Very cute.
She didn't explain why it is that only Indigenous communities have to barter with the government to secure basic services. Strange, given her insistence elsewhere in the same speech that it's time to start treating Indigenous Australians 'like every other citizen'. Nor did she identify the connection between the washing of faces and the provision of petrol bowsers. Perhaps there isn't one.
Detailed information about the content of SRAs is rarer than rocking horse droppings. You're better off looking for Lasseter's Reef. Sure, you can go to the OIPC website and read lots of warm fuzzy stuff about how we'll all live happily ever after. But where is the detail? Who is checking that the faces are clean?
The Minister is right: Aboriginal people do want to improve the lives of their children. As things stand, if communities don't sign proffered SRAs, then their kids might miss out. It's no surprise then that the number of Agreements continues to climb. Whether this constitutes a ringing endorsement of SRAs by Indigenous Australia is much less clear.
On the upside, Victoria finally has a patch of dirt where Native Title is deemed to have survived. Congratulations to the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagalk nations. A pat on the back also to the good folk at Native Title Services Victoria for the blood, sweat and tears lost in stitching this deal together.
Cynics will say that the native title bar has been set so low that it worries only limbo dancers. But there is important symbolic recognition bound up here. Traditional ownership has at last been meaningfully acknowledged by the Victorian Government and for that they deserve some credit.
The consent determination was made on country some six weeks ago and nothing has occurred in the interim to indicate that the sky is going to fall in. Hopefully the Bracks Government will take heart from this and pull out all the stops to achieve a speedy and generous resolution of the native title claim from the great Gunditjmara nation of the south-west.
The road to land justice is deeply corrugated. The occasional native title win is a serendipitous second spent airborne. But the bone-juddering thud that awaits as the Kingswood's springs bottom out is the looming controversy around the question of communal land ownership.
Communal ownership seems a bit like pregnancy, in that there's little room for shades of grey. Either you have it or you don't. Hopefully, Indigenous communities will be allowed to decide for themselves whether this is the way to go. Hopefully they will be provided with adequate resources by the government that is pushing this barrow.
Hopefully they will have the opportunity to fully consider their options and to seek advice from people other than those who have performance contracts which see them rewarded for the implementation of government policy.
They may wish to consult, for example, a paper on the Oxfam website (www.oxfam.org.au) called 'Land rights and development reform in remote Australia'.
This document was put together by CAEPR - the mob at ANU who specialise in high quality research and long sentences. I'm not a lawyer - I've got a proper job - but my reading of this paper suggests that the government's proposed course of action warrants the same degree of caution as did a sight-seeing trip to Maralinga back in 1964.
There's a tricky twelve-month ahead for Indigenous Australia. But they've managed to survive the previous forty thousand years, so there's a certain amount of experience do draw on.
Beware the Trojan Horse.
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