ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS

 

ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS - looking over the fence to Australia

 

The Indigenous spending drip

by Christian Kerr

Land rights – the new debate we had to have


Crikey Daily - Tuesday, 12 April

Political correspondent Christian Kerr writes:


“Indigenous communities have suffered from misplaced idealism,” Jenness Warren, a workplace English language and literacy tutor for the Laynhapuy Homeland Association Inc in the Northern Territory, wrote in a Financial Review (see below).

It’s true. From the age of “smoothing the dying pillow” to today, benevolence has been a curse to Indigenous Australians – hence the shock caused by the tough love message of some young Indigenous activists today.

"An individual property rights land ownership framework must be established to enable Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to develop enterprises and attract investment to create jobs and incomes," Warren said. "Ninety-nine year leases are essential to facilitate individually owned private housing."

Last week, the prime minister visited the remote Wadeye community in the Top End, where a housing shortage means people live 17 to a house. The idea of allowing individual Indigenous Australians to buy their own houses in settlements, where property is now collectively owned, is now firmly on the political agenda – backed by Aboriginal activist and incoming federal Labor Party president Warren Mundine.

Its supporters say communally controlled housing is too easily degraded, that no individual has any reason to take responsibility for property everyone owns. It’s part of a wider debate. Warren wrote:

With the 1967 Aboriginal citizenship referendum, liberals expected that Aborigines would be able to take advantage of the full opportunities and challenges of Australian life. But HC (Nugget) Coombs, who had been so influential in postwar economic planning in Australia, together with Maria Brandl and Warren Snowdon, wrote a blueprint to enable Aborigines to revert to living in remote hunter-gatherer communities, that would eventually culminate in a ‘nation’ independent of the rest of Australia.

The Mabo and subsequent judgments and legislation provided communal land for that experiment. Substantial taxpayer transfers made it a reality. The results have been hidden from mainstream Australia by a policy of apartheid-like permits needed to visit the remote communities. Only their so-called curators have free access to these living museums. Fortunately, fearless Aboriginal leaders, notably Noel Pearson, and some journalists have opened up a debate on the effects of the Coombs experiment…

“No economy in the world has ever developed without private property rights,” Warren says. This new debate, however, is sparking controversy. “John Howard is bent on taking the white picket fence to remote Aboriginal Australia,” Michelle Grattan wrote last weekend in The Age ..

If we’re going to have a new debate, we need some background. Social systems vary across Indigenous groups – from city to country, from traditional to dislocated, from “home grown” land council to white land council legislative creation and so on. Will one form of land tenure fit all these various social systems? Unlikely. So perhaps we should all admit that from the word go, before we debate – before our nation’s greatest shame, the state of its Indigenous population, is put in the too hard basket yet again.


The Indigenous spending drip

Crikey Daily - Wednesday, 13 April

Political correspondent Christian Kerr writes:


This doesn’t make for light reading over your lunchtime mochaccino – but it sure is interesting. There’s been a lot of feedback to yesterday’s piece on Indigenous policy. This is one of the more detailed:

Your call for an appreciation of the complex background was refreshing in the present climate of policy formulation by op ed.

Wadeye itself is of interest for another reason. A recent COAG commissioned report measures actual government funding to Wadeye. The report puts measure to the myth that ‘buckets of money’ are being thrown at remote Aboriginal communities. And for the first time, it provides an objective measure of the present situation and hence of progress.

So it does. It’s available at the ANU’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research

website


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Executive Highlights No 260

Coombs' tragic legacy

Helen Hughes & Jenness Warin

Published in The Australian Financial Review 1 March 2005

Indigenous communities have suffered from misplaced idealism, argue Helen Hughes and Jenness Warin.

In reviewing the Community Development Employment Program the federal government has hopefully taken a first step toward dismantling the Coombs experiment in remote Australia . Land legislation reform is an important second step.

While standards of living of mainstream Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have been rising, the housing and health conditions in the remote communities have been falling. They would be shocking in the Third World . Alcoholism and other substance abuse are destroying lives and exacerbating the large gap in longevity between remote communities and mainstream Australia . The murder rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men is 7.5 times that for non-indigenous men and for women 11.7 times the rate for non-indigenous women.

With the 1967 Aboriginal citizenship referendum, liberals expected that Aborigines would be able to take advantage of the full opportunities and challenges of Australian life. But H. C. (Nugget) Coombs, who had been so influential in postwar economic planning in Australia , together with Maria Brandl and Warren Snowdon, wrote a blueprint to enable Aborigines to revert to living in remote hunter-gatherer communities, that would eventually culminate in a "nation" independent of the rest of Australia . The Mabo and subsequent judgements and legislation provided communal land for that experiment. Substantial taxpayer transfers made it a reality.

The results have been hidden from mainstream Australia by a policy of apartheid-like permits needed to visit the remote communities. Only their so-called curators have free access to these living museums. Fortunately, fearless Aboriginal leaders, notably Noel Pearson, and some journalists have opened up a debate on the effects of the Coombs experiment.

The core problem is low labour force participation. In the Northern Territory, only 15 per cent of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the working-age population are employed, 5 per cent are unemployed and a further 16 per cent receive CDEP payments; that is, 64 per cent of the working age population is not in the labour force. Remote-community households are dominantly dependent on welfare for their income and live in public housing, with the same disastrous effects as elsewhere in Australia and the world.

There are no jobs. No economy in the world has ever developed without private property rights, so it is not surprising that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communal landowners have lost the cattle stations and other enterprises and have not been able to create new ones. Twenty-first century living standards are based on high productivity that can only be achieved with inputs of capital and skills. Only privately owned land can be sold for capital or used for collateral for borrowing. Using communal land commercially leads to conflicts, corruption and the emergence of big men who live at the expense of others.

Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders can't become skilled because the education system denies them English, maths and basic knowledge about Australia and the world. Children are not allowed to learn English at a pre-school age when they are most receptive to foreign languages. By the time they reach the higher grades in which learning English is permitted, they have been bored out of their minds. The Coombs generation knows less English than their missionary-educated parents, who were destined to be domestics and bush workers.

Adults in remote communities are overwhelmingly illiterate and innumerate. They cannot read labels on tins of food, cleaning materials and medicines. They are frustrated and angry because anthropologists have learned more of their languages than they have learned of English. They resent the allegation that they find English more difficult than all the other people in the world, including immigrants to Australia .

Incomes for remote-community households are low, averaging $14,000 a year. To this must be added income in kind in education, health and housing spending. But transfers from Australian taxpayers have been generous. In 2003/4 federal government spending alone (without state and Northern Territory spending) was $70,000 per household. A very considerable share of government expenditure clearly does not reach its targets. Notionally, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders would be better off if they were paid the amounts spent by the commonwealth, states and Northern Territory in cash and were free to buy their own education, health, housing and other services. The Coombs model has to be scrapped if equal employment and income opportunities are to be assured for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

Helen Hughes is a senior fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. Jenness Warin was a visiting fellow at CIS in late 2004 and early 2005. A New Deal for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Remote Communities is published by CIS today.

SOURCE: http://www.cis.org.au/exechigh/Eh2005/EH26005.htm