Malcolm Turnbull has been relatively quiet in regard to Aboriginal affairs, that is, until recently when there was news of the Indigenous Advisory Council being in limbo. People have been quick to criticise Turnbull (it seems that’s what politicians are for), but a spokeswoman for Turnbull said the Government was still committed to continuing the council. We can therefore expect to see the emergence of a new council of some kind.
I will offer some novel ideas for the PM which I hope he and the new incarnation of the council can act on. 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.
Government can only do so much
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 some Aboriginal people see themselves as so weak that they go into ‘mourning’ on 26 January. Many Aboriginal people are already playing their part, so the view that government is solely responsible is patently false.
Aboriginal affairs is everyone’s business
Second there is the assumption that Aboriginal affairs is the responsibility of 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; they are Australian citizens. For far too long the Aboriginal industry has attempted to keep its doors closed while it conducted its ‘secret Aboriginal business’ funded by the tax payer. We are all in this together so let’s start working together. More will be achieved with an ‘us’ mentality rather than an ‘us them’ mentality, which currently dominates Aboriginal affairs.
Following from the previous point, there 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, they essentially have the same needs and desires: to live in safe and clean environments, have an education that equips them for the modern world, engage in some form of service to their local and broader communities, and have access to basic goods and services such as modern health facilities and fresh food.
Much in common
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, while people on the ground languish. 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.
Let’s discuss the elephants
Finally, helping Aboriginal people will require political and Aboriginal leaders and others in positions of influence to discuss some elephants in the room such as drug and alcohol abuse, violence, child abuse, and sensible exit strategies from some remote communities if they are not sustainable. Sadly, instead of discussing such issues, more attention is given to distractions such as a treaty, sovereignty, Australia Day protests, and allegations of rampant racism.
If we start acting today, Australia Day 2018 will be one really worth celebrating. It will be great if this time next year we are celebrating Aboriginal achievement where more kids are in school, more adults are working, and communities are thriving. Aboriginal people are Australians and we should not expect anything less. For as long as Aboriginal Australians are diminished, all Australians are diminished.