Advice for the PM in the 2016 Elections
The Australian newspaper reported that Malcolm Turnbull is “urgently seeking novel ideas to break the deadlock ahead of what is expected to be another damning Closing the Gap report.” I will offer some novel ideas for the PM in this opinion piece. However, I don’t think what I offer will come as a surprise to many. I will discuss what many people already know but have been too afraid to say given the politically correct environment we live in. The PC environment I believe is doing as much harm to Aboriginal people as drugs and alcohol. It has stifled debate. This must change. So before continuing, let’s decide that we will not be gagged from saying what needs saying just because some people will take offence.
The first idea is to abandon the myth that government should and will fix everything for Aboriginal people. This is not true for the general population so why should it be true to for Aboriginal people? To suggest that government need to fix everything communicates the message that the Aboriginal people are weak. This message has created a self-fulfilling prophecy where many Aboriginal people see themselves as so weak that they can be blown off course by hearing words like “lifestyle choices” spoken by Abbott. Government has a role, but so do the people. Many are already playing their part, but a minority are not.
The second idea is to abandon the myth that Aboriginal affairs is the responsibility of only Aboriginal people and only they should be allowed to voice opinions. Let me be clear on one crucial matter – Aboriginal affairs is every Australian’s business? How can I be so certain? Easy. Aboriginal people are Australian citizens with the same rights as other Australian citizens. For far too long the Aboriginal industry has attempted to keep its doors closed while it conducted its secret Aboriginal business often funded by the tax payer. We are all in this together so let’s start working together.
Third, and following directly from the previous point, is the need to challenge the prevailing and largely unquestioned belief that Aboriginal people are vastly different from other Australians, hence require special treatment and rules. While there may be some differences between Aboriginal Australians and their non-Aboriginal brothers and sisters, the commonalities far outweigh any differences. The commonalities I refer to include that all people have the need to live in safe and clean environments, need an education that equips them for the modern world, need to engage in some form of service to their local and broader communities, and need access to basic goods and services such as modern health facilities and fresh food. This belief that Aboriginal people are a different species with a culture that requires special catering to has kept an Aboriginal industry thriving and allowed academics to build successful careers for themselves. Where cultural differences exist they should be respected, as they are for other cultural groups such as more recent immigrants and refugees, but such differences should not be used as excuses for not participating in the mainstream. Many successful Aboriginal people have already proven that they can participate without compromising their cultural identity and obligations. They have made us a better Australia, so let’s follow their lead.
Finally, to break the deadlock will require political and Aboriginal leaders, and others in positions of influence to make unpopular decisions. It will require reallocating resources to where most gain is to be made. It will also mean discussing some elephants in the room such as drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and child neglect. These are the tough issues that need addressing. Instead, as is demonstrated on 26 January each year, we see protestors claiming that calling that day Australia Day is harming Aboriginal people. It is not harming them. What is harming them is the endless array of distractions such as a treaty, sovereignty, and allegations of universal racism that keeps people from focusing on the more important issues.
If this all sounds discouraging, consider that there are already many Aboriginal people who are thriving in this modern world – they are not rare. The words of Mick Dodson are very inspiring: “There are plenty of examples of Indigenous success; we just have to recognise it and replicate it”