If you want to close the gap, cut the crap!
This year’s NAIDOC theme is: “voice treaty, truth: let’s work together for a shared future”. The truth is that Aboriginal people already have voice and a treaty will not solve the serious problems to many of them face. Now that I’ve made contribution to NAIDOC week I would like to discuss some ideas for closing the gap, that we hear so much about, and rightly so. The gap between the general health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is a national shame. But there are some other gaps that we generally don’t hear about. These need to be acknowledged if we are to bring living standards, health and wellbeing, and quality of life of Aboriginal people up to those of non-Aboriginal Australians.
That first gap is the one that exists between those Aboriginal people who, like myself, are leading a good life, and those who live in conditions we wouldn’t let a dog live in. I know where my next meal is coming from and I don’t have to worry about having my money taken by kin or being bashed any night. When I sleep, I don’t need to share a mattress with five others and two dogs. And there are thousands of other Aboriginal people who have what I have. But sadly there are too many Aboriginal people who live in appalling conditions, and accept their plight as normal.
If we can lift the standard of living of those who suffer the most—frequently occupants of remote communities—to a standard which is common for Aboriginal people living in urban settings, we will go a long way towards closing the gap that governments currently invest billions of dollars to close. My point is, not all Aboriginal people are doing it tough. There are so many successes. It should not be assumed that those who identify as Aboriginal are disadvantaged. Some truly are disadvantaged but many are not, even though some like to pretend that everyone is suffering.
The second gap is that which exists between what is reported in sensationalised news stories and what actually happens. I am referring to many stories I read, typically on SBS, NITV, and other left-leaning outlets that delight in promoting the myth that Aboriginal people suffer endless racism. Such promoters of hate are cancer to race relations. Sadly, I have seen this nonsense promoted by some academics, some of whom have built nice little empires for themselves as cultural gatekeepers. I am not suggesting that racism does not exist—as some of my critics suggest—but only that it is not the main cause making Aboriginal people suffer.
Far too often, an unscrupulous media outlet publishes a story featuring a 30 second clip of an Aboriginal person apparently being victimised by a non-Aboriginal shopkeeper, security, police or whoever. Of course, the first crucial moments of the clip that would provide important context are missing.
Stories of apparent racism satisfy those who thrive on seeing it around every corner and delight in publicly voicing their opposition to it as a way of satisfying their own egos. But this comes at a huge cost: it is diverting attention from the real and more serious issues facing Aboriginal people like the shockingly high rates of violence, poor health, unemployment, and limited access to quality education.
Australians’ goodwill towards Aboriginal people is strong, but it has its limits. Tell ordinary good white citizens enough times that they are racist for singing an anthem, or part of an ‘institutionally racist system’ or that they should feel guilty about colonisation, then don’t be surprised if this dampens whitefellas’ enthusiasm to build relations.
The final gap that needs closing is the one between reality and the rhetoric churned out in Aboriginal affairs. Slogans and catch cries like “Treaty now” or “We need a voice” or perhaps the worst: “Stop stealing our children”, are the plaque in the arteries of Aboriginal advancement. I’ll be crass but direct: if you want to close the gap, cut out the crap!
Contrast the ever-popular rhetoric with the reality of people needing good safe homes, real jobs, a good education, and access to the sorts or modern services most of us take for granted, and we can easily see why closing gap is a slow process, as successive Closing the Gap reports have shown.
We will not make quantum leaps toward closing the gap if we avoid addressing the other gaps I spoke of. We must identify those Aboriginal people who are truly suffering, and intervene, enabling them to have what other Aboriginal people and most other Australians take for granted.