By David Truman, drawing on a review by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson

The indigenous Voice referendum was lost resoundingly – 61 to 39 per cent, including 69 per cent NO in Queensland – but the state Labor governments, even in Queensland! are still pushing to legislate treaties.  This shows flagrant disregard of public opinion.   And some of the defeated cabal that pushed the Yes vote in the referendum are shamelessly calling on PM Albanese to legislate a Voice.  The arrogance of it!

Aborigines were never nations.  They were hundreds of warring Stone Age tribes racked by misogyny, domestic and inter-tribal violence and cannibalism.  [On cannibalism, see article in Quadrant from September 2021:  https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2021/09/the-incidence-of-cannibalism-in-aboriginal-society/]

The national anthem of modern Australia proclaims “for we are ONE and free.”  How can a nation have treaties with itself?  This racist and divisive idea assumes that indigenous people will always be separate and never an equal part of the Australian nation.   What does that say for the vision of the Aboriginal industry?

Treaties, like the now defeated Voice, would create expensive special bureaucracies with lucrative jobs for the corrupt elites.  The “Uluru Statement from the Heart” would have required a large bureaucracy paralleling every Commonwealth department!  Treaties are NOT the answer to the disadvantage of those Aborigines who are truly marginalized. 

A Very Timely Book Published In 2022

Former federal Minister Gary Johns pointed out in his  book The Burden of Culture: How to Dismantle the Aboriginal Industry and Give Hope to its Victims  that the “gap” really exists only for 20 per cent of Aborigines;  the rest are fairly well integrated into the general economy.   This immediately raises TWO QUESTIONS:

1.  HOW did the 80 per cent achieve this?    Answer:  through education and moving out of remote areas to where there are real jobs.   Every one of the Aboriginal elite has done this.

2.  Does the Aboriginal industry really want to close the gap?  Answer:  No, because that would take away the gravy train of the self-appointed elites and destroy their relevance.

Gary Johns powerfully summarizes where we are now, on page 49 of his book: 

“Aborigines who remain stuck in the middle of nowhere – whether a place, a culture, or a state of mind – have been subject to the vilest experiment in this nation’s history.  We subject some of the least able to this experiment and tell them to persist with the worst of cultural practices, with languages that have few speakers, and invite them to run a society with no economic base.  What madness, what cruelty.”

Let’s Look At The Objective Of “Closing The Gap.”

The stated goal of policy is to bring the standard of health, education, income, and employment for indigenous Australians up to the level of the mainstream.  But there is also an emphasis on promoting Indigenous culture:  teaching Indigenous languages (no real jobs in that), respecting Indigenous medicine (say what?), keeping children in Indigenous households (however dysfunctional), and staying “on country” hundreds of kilometers away from major towns and cities.  The fact is, Aboriginal culture is a huge stumbling block preventing Aborigines from living better lives in the modern world.  Mindless, ideological adulation of Aboriginal culture undermines any efforts on the economic and educational front.  Aboriginal languages (spoken by only 10 per cent of the Aboriginal population) may be of interest to academic linguists, but they are useless, indeed counterproductive, to the objective of allowing Aborigines to flourish in the modern world.

Key themes of Gary Johns’ book

  • 80% of Indigenous Australians are living lives roughly at parity with non-Indigenous.  It’s 20% who are severely disadvantaged
  • The more integrated into mainstream Australian culture an Indigenous Australian is, the more likely the person is living a life of equal outcomes
  • All Australians must stop marking whether or not they are Indigenous on forms, in order to starve the Aboriginal industry
  • Moving off the land and into towns and cities is crucial for closing the gap
  • A Voice to parliament (now thankfully defeated) would only entrench a sense of victimhood and entitlement.  What room would this leave for “owning your own life”, and taking personal responsibility?

Existing policy has delivered power into the hands of a small number of people who run health centres, some land councils and the like.   But mostly the power is held by public servants (including many white advisers) who benefit from lucrative public funding and who want Aboriginal people to be dependent on them.

On The 20% And 80% – Gary Johns’ Research Findings

Of the 80% of Aborigines doing well, 70,000 have graduated from TAFE and 50,000 from university (page 425).   Nearly 70,000 Aborigines have gone to university in the past 20 years, with 12,000 in the system in 2022 (page 367).

The 20% of Indigenous Australians that are doing very badly are the drivers of high Aboriginal incarceration rates.  Around 20% of Aboriginal males are in jail or have been in jail, and 78% of these in 2021 had been imprisoned earlier; and Aborigines made up 30% of all prisoners in 2021.

Another factor is the higher dysfunction in Aboriginal family structure.   In 2012, 40 per cent of Aboriginal households were single-parent, compared with 15 per cent in Australia as a whole.  In the same year, 92% of WA Aboriginal births were ex-nuptial, with paternity not acknowledged in 21% of births.  There is an epidemic of fatherless children – a situation replicating that of blacks in the United States.  This does not stem from racism in the mainstream community. 

School attendance in remote NT communities remains very poor.  The 20% most disadvantaged often live in very remote areas where there are virtually no real jobs and little chance to integrate into the mainstream culture.  What future is there for these remote communities, dependent as they are on social security from the general taxpayer?

Johns says very clearly, “The best way to help Aborigines is to stop privileging victimhood and to treat Aborigines as citizens [not dependants].”

Dead-End Policies

Indigenous languages:   There is very little evidence to suggest that mastering one’s Indigenous language contributes much to one’s life outcomes.  The 2016 Census reported that only 12 Indigenous languages had more than 1000 speakers (page 395).   Of the top 10 languages being renewed in Australia the number of speakers varied from 40-450; child speakers only from 12 to 130 (page 410).   

Obviously the languages being learned do not open up to a wide world of communication.  There is nothing wrong with wanting languages preserved, but in current circumstances the opportunity cost is massive.  Every hour teaching an Indigenous Australian a dying language is an hour robbed in teaching proficiency in English, the very language needed to escape disadvantage and thereby close the gap.

Child Placement Policy:  In 2019-20, one in 18 Aboriginal children (around 18,900) were in out-of-home care, eleven times the rate for non-Aboriginal children (page 118).   Since 1987 the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is premised on the supreme importance of Aboriginal children being raised in Aboriginal culture.  The policy directs social workers to place children with Indigenous families where possible.  But its application can certainly in some cases be to the detriment of children (pages 111-12, 121, 186-189).

Remaining regional:  “Although Aborigines living in remote communities on their own land are the most ‘cultural’, they are also the most ‘disadvantaged’ of all Aborigines” (page 338).   While most Indigenous Australians are doing well and are urbanized, those who live hundreds of kilometres from hospitals, good schools, jobs, and modern conveniences are of course faring less well in terms of health, income, employment, and education than the rest.  The hard truth is that the Aboriginal Industry’s encouragement of Indigenous Australians to stay in remote locations is contributing to the seeming impossibility of closing the gap.  Much as non-Aborigines and many of their Aboriginal spokespeople have got off the land and moved into cities and suburbs, so must the Aborigines who clearly aren’t able to flourish in those circumstances.  Rather than “sit down money” there should be “walk away money” (page 443).

No Indigenous Voice?

There are fifty peak councils in Australia representing thousands of Aboriginal organizations (page 2).   Many of these  liaise directly with the ministers for Indigenous affairs in every state and territory.  There are currently 22 members of Australian parliaments of Indigenous descent (page 457).   The combined income of the top 500 ATSI corporations for 2015-16 was 1.92 billion, more than double the income 10 years prior (page 164).   How can this justify saying that Indigenous Australians lack a voice to parliament?  And this voice is certainly effective in generating revenue.  In 2015-16 total government expenditure on Aborigines was $33.4 billion, or $45,000 per Aborigine, twice the $22,400 spent on non-Aborigines (pages 42, 435).

On the proposed and now defeated Voice to Parliament, Johns says this would only further harm Aboriginal Australians:

“The proposal is one that rewards one section of society to ask for something different, and if it keeps asking, it must be heard, there is no end point.  In the broadest sense, parliament is meant to offer a place to resolve societal issues, and move on from them, but this body is explicitly established to NOT move on.  Its very existence is predicated on not moving on.  The voice, in any of its formulations, will institutionalize the dependence relationship between provider and supplicant” (page 345).

Policy Recommendations

  1.  Stop ticking the Indigenous identity box on forms.  It merely feeds the Aboriginal industry and justifies ever expanding budgets;
  2. Stop offering acknowledgements and commemorations.  They are perpetual reminders of colonialism and perpetuate victimhood;
  3. Celebrate the Referendum result of 1967 when Indigenous Australians were “counted and treated as equals” (page 438);
  4. Celebrate ‘Intermarriage Day’ (30 December) (page 439).  Around 60% of Indigenous marriages are with non-Indigenous spouses (82% in Melbourne!).  Intermarriage is the ultimate sign of reconciliation and unity between races;
  5. Give benefits only to those who can prove Indigeneity;
  6. Stop treating Aborigines as necessarily sick and vulnerable;
  7. No race-based programs by 2030;
  8. Pay “walk-away” money for Aborigines to establish themselves in mainstream society (off the land);
  9. Stop the Child Placement Principle;
  10. Leave the Constitution alone.  “Aboriginal despair will not be abolished by constitutional change” (page 337);
  11. Intervene earlier in the lives of children at risk (within the first 100 days of birth);
  12. Enforce school attendance;
  13. Spend every spare dollar on school scholarships, especially scholarships that allow children to live away from remote communities;
  14. Make trusts transparent;
  15. Make Aboriginal service provision programs contestable and competitive;
  16. Teach facts and trades, not ideology.

Final Commentary

The very disadvantaged 20% remain “stranded” in cultural ways that are at odds with the modern culture that has made possible the good health and prosperity we all want.   What differentiates the 80% is that these have become fully integrated into mainstream Australian culture.

As Johns says, “The prospects for Aborigines to escape their culture are dim when they live where it is heavily embedded.  It does not help matters when academics and industry leaders sing the culture’s praises as a ‘solution’ and demand Aborigines show loyalty to the culture (page 295). No integration into mainstream culture, no closing the gap.

The challenge to Indigenous Australians, says Johns, is not a country of racists, or a systemically racist system.  The challenge is an entrenched bureaucracy that has an economic interest in perpetual victimhood and can only think of Aboriginal Australians as museum pieces of a pre-modern culture, rather than as citizens with the same potential as everyone else in a modern world.

This article was first published at Freedom and Heritage Society

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