The Lancing of Howard

A guest post by Bernice Balconey

Lancet Editorial Volume 369, Number 9570, 21 April 2007
Australia: the politics of fear and neglect

Australian clinical and public-health research is an emblem of excellence across the Asia-Pacific region. That enviable position is being put at risk by Prime Minister John Howard’s indifference to the academic medical community and his profound intolerance to those less secure than himself and his administration. The latest example of his complacency was a comment he made on a Melbourne radio station last week. He said that people living with HIV should not be allowed to enter and live in Australia—“prima facie, noâ€?, he asserted. Australia already has tough immigration rules for those with HIV. All hopeful migrants aged over 15 years are tested for the virus. Their applications stumble if they are found to be positive.

To any visitor, Australian culture feels progressive and inclusive. This attractive exterior belies a strong undercurrent of political conservatism, which Howard is ruthlessly tapping into. As the Australian columnist Janet Albrechtson wrote recently, “the Australian polity is inherently conservative…a conservative coalition has ruled for 42 of 58 yearsâ€?. 2007 is an election year for Australia. How the country interprets its past and sees its hopes for the future will be critical not only for the health of its people but also for the contribution Australia makes to world health. At present, Australian politicians are scoring well below their potential.

Take Aboriginal health. The current health minister, Tony Abbott, recently insulted Aboriginal peoples by claiming that those who spoke up for indigenous health were simply “establishing politically and morally correct credentialsâ€?. On climate change, environment minister Malcolm Turnball apparently sees little new in the latest alarming assessments by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Reviewing the effect of successive Howard administrations on Australia’s academic community since 1996, the respected scientist Ian Lowe has written that “the present government has gone to extraordinary lengths to silence independent opinion within the research communityâ€?. This year provides an opportunity at the ballot box to bring a new enlightenment to Australian health and medical science.

This is the full text of a just published editorial in The Lancet, a British-based medical journal, the second most cited medical journal in the world. The Lancet has not been shy to criticise governments, NGOs or international bodies such as the WHO when it deems it necessary. This was reported in Australian papers with little comment, though The Australian saw it as a direct call to vote for Labor at the upcoming Federal election, as did The Age & SMH.

Abbot was reported in The Age in the following manner:

Health Minister Tony Abbott said through a spokeswoman yesterday that the editorial was “just a slag-and-bag job, not backed up by evidence”.

“British doctors know a lot about medicine, but not much about Australian politics.

“Australia’s health system is universally renowned as being world-leading and, in particular, our record on indigenous health and medical research is unparalleled by any other previous government,” he said.

I suspect they do know enough about Australian politics to be alarmed. Abbott’s comment about world-leading practice are at best disingenuous and at worst outright lying. Indigenous health could only be said to be an improvement on previous efforts, given that Aboriginal health issues have been appallingly handled for decades, by both federal and state governments. An audit of funding some years ago found that over 60% of directly allocated funding for indigenous health programmes disappeared into bureaucratic structures of both state and federal governments, faling to benefit the communities it was aimed at.

A political climate that has seen ATSIC destroyed, however imperfect that model of some degree of self-determination was, has also had an effect upon the development of indigenous health services. Models of service delivery and clinical practice that may work satisfactorily in suburban Melbourne or regional centres are less than successful when applied to remote communities battling epidemics of diabetes, coronary disease, glaucoma, STDs.

And Abbott has continued to paint the picture of indigenous health as being solved. There are programmes in place that are fantastic but there are many gaps. And one of the most glaring is the failure of both state and federal governments to provide communities, remote or otherwise, with infrastructure that you and I take for granted.

Brough & his predecessors’ bullying tactics of withholding benefits or using vouchers etc etc conveniently overlooks the shirked responsibility to provide culturally & climatically appropriate housing, sanitation, reliable running water of drinking standard, and indigenous staffed and managed medical services on the scale required.

Instead they have pursued bodies such as ASTIC, bodies that may have been critical of government performance, a pursuit that also appeared driven by an ideological need to eliminate models of self-determination as viable.

But Abbott’s response is also yet another act of sophistry from a government who seems to keep a copy of Goebbels’ handbook of misinformation and propaganda under its collective bed.
Ian Lowe is correct to say that the ten years of control of research funding and tertiary education has been disastrous for Australian scientific research. The current assessment body for ARCs has political appointees from Howard’s political elite, who bring no scientific training or rigour to their deliberations, but instead so much conservative baggage with which to trawl the applications looking for projects to reject that fail some god-given morality test of their own making.

Researchers and academics are worried. And have been leaving the country in droves to pursue research overseas without the concern about poor or uncertain funding, and a political climate where their work is judged not by scientific standards but ideological ones. The last annual conference of the AAAS in the States, reported to members (pdf) that:

“AAAS expressed strong concerns about a Congressional inquiry that sought to intimidate climate-change scientists”

A familiar climate of intimidation and restriction of research deemed apposite to the requirements of government, which in the US has also seen federal funding of intelligent design (sic) propaganda, restrictions upon environment & epidemiological research, and even pressure from conservative groups upon NGO research funding bodies such as the Getty Foundation for bio-technological research.

As is often the case, it would appear Howard has learnt his lessons well from his American conservative compatriots. And Abbott is as always the Happy Parrot. But my major concern is the failure of any media outlet to investigate the substance of The Lancet’s editorial. To provide us with the necessary information to answer the question for ourselves – has the Howard government become so toxic for our society, our culture and our environment, that the very values & material prosperity that Howard uses to bolster his reign, will be undermined and threatened by allowing his apparently incompetent government another three or four years of reckless governance?

Cross-posted at Bernice Balconey’s Baloney

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Posted in Federal Elections, health, Howardia, indigenous, media, politics, science
75 comments on “The Lancing of Howard
  1. professor rat says:

    Hey I’ve got a good idea!

    Lets start up a huge brand new department of Homeland Security…oh wait.

  2. Captain Wacky says:

    I’m sorry, but Tony Abbott is spot on. The left should have the presence of mind to appreciate that Richard Horton’s self-indulgent use of a medical journal as a platform for his political opinions is creepy and contemptible, regardless of whether they agree with what he’s saying.

  3. Gadget says:

    Wow, a full text.

    Must be approved by the board of directors of the Left i spose.

  4. I don’t know Lancet well enough to know whether it is the best place for the above piece.
    Nonetheless, it is disingenuous in the extreme to purport that matters of politics and public policy have no relation to health issues. To that end, criticism of these issues by the medical profession is entirely legitimate, irrespective of whether the government in question is ‘left’ or not..

  5. Published by Anna Winter on 22 April 2007 at 12:26 pm

    The Australian saw it as a direct call to vote for Labor at the upcoming Federal election, as did The Age & SMH.

    I dont expect mcuh sense to come from the Larva Prodeers on political culture. But I am distressed to see the Lancet sullying itself with this sort of rubbish. The Lancet is doing its reputation for straightforward science research no end of harm by re-gurgitating Howard-hating talking points. Reports like this only give grist to the mill of the Iraq-casualty deniers.

    Ms Balconey’s post does not even cover the bit where she might be right but contains plenty that is flat wrong. Howard’s sci-tech research policies worst policy lacunae is his the failure to promote stem cell cures. This is the most promising area of medical research but Howard likes to play footsy with the established Churches on bio-medical policy. The result is a bio-medical brain drain.

    The Lancet report is right on one score. Howard did initially drag his feet on climate change science. But he has made substantial amends recently. So this part of the critique was once true but is now out-dated.

    Howard’s reluctance to admit HIV-carrying immigrants is a bit stony-hearted. But it cant be faulted from a public-health perspective, given the reckless sexual tendencies amongst some of the sub-cultures and multi-cultures of the world.

    Bernice Balconey says:

    A political climate that has seen ATSIC destroyed, however imperfect that model of some degree of self-determination was, has also had an effect upon the development of indigenous health services.

    I love the delicate euphemism (“however imperfect”) for the gangsterism prevalent in ATSIC’s instutiional culture. Aboriginal health is in a disgraceful state. There is plenty of blame to go all round for this lamentable state of affairs. Some of it can and should be layed at the feet of Aboriginals themselves, who are citizens and are expected to behave responsibly.

    Much of it rests with state governments as health delivery is mainly a state matter. And no prizes for guessing which party has had control of the states for most of the Howard decade.

    The study into Indigenous Health was done based on 1998 figures. This would seem to indicate that the problem pre-dates Howard.

    At a deeper level Aboriginal health has been a political football in the Culture Wars. The Wets trying to build a model of political self-determination for minority groups. “Self-determination” is at odds with ministerial accountability. It has been a resounding flop, as proven by the disgrace of the ATSIC board.

    Mutual obligation and personal responsibility are the right way to go. But Left wing sociologists tend to ignore traditional wisdom at their clients peril. Fortunately some indigenous activists have woken up the fraud of the Cultural Left.

    Bernice Balconey says:

    The current assessment body for ARCs has political appointees from Howard’s political elite, who bring no scientific training or rigour to their deliberations, but instead so much conservative baggage with which to trawl the applications looking for projects to reject that fail some god-given morality test of their own making.

    The stacking of cultural studies grants councils with conservatives should nonetheless be to the credit of the Howard government, as it redresses an awful imbalance. Over the past generation the bulk of official support for the study of culture has been the province of cultural constructivists, rather than cultural conservatives. This has led to the term “wanker” now being easily interchanged for humanities student. Stove pointed out that these days, in the soft sciences, even the “rankest amateur” could do better than the pros :

    Physicists and chemists rightly try, therefore, to maintain a professional organisation, and a nut-screen, designed to exclude the teeming would-be Columbuses whose letters begin, “1 do not have a science-degree, but…â€?

    In less-advanced sciences, of course, the situation is proportionately different. And by the time you come to the festering slums, such as sociology and anthropology have become since the defeat in Vietnam, the situation is quite reversed. There, now, almost any innovation would be for the better, and the rankest amateur, if he could get his foot in the door, would be sure to raise the tone of the place out of sight, morally of course, but even intellectually.

    [WHY YOU SHOULD BE A CONSERVATIVE (Proceedings of the Russellian Society 13 1988)]

    I grant you that conservatives should be able to put up better candidates than Paddy McGuiness. There just arent that many conservatives out there in academia since it does not pay to profess right wing views if you want to get tenure.

  6. snakeface says:

    I love Tony Abbott’s continual use of “No, they’re completely wrong” as a skillful riposte to any contrary opinion.

  7. amused says:

    Ah I see now. Paddy and Jack and all their right thinking and ohh sooo sensible mates, should be the ones to select ARC grantees, because, well, because their views are so reliable. On the other hand, anyone who has studied or researched since oh about 1967 is a no hoper and an academic fraud. Right, that’s it then! NO MORE RESEARCH OR INQUIRY TILL JACK AND PADDY SAY SO, DO YOU ALL HEAR!

  8. Chris says:

    This has led to the term “wankerâ€? now being easily interchanged for humanities student

    Rather a broard brush your weilding there isn’t it Mr Strocchi. Also I wouldn’t exactly call 1988 these days.

  9. Aren’t you a former Humanities student Jack? You certainly sound like one a lot of the time.

  10. Katz says:

    Lots of folks have expressed their deep concerns for the reputation of the Lancet.

    1. Do these detractors know how the Lancet established that reputation?

    2. Have these detractors demonstrated how this article runs counter to the Lancet’s long-standing editorial policy which has made it the pre-eminent medical journal in the world?

    *cue crickets*

    I thought not.

    Save your crocodile tears shed on behalf of your pretended concerns for the reptuation of the Lancet.

  11. Bernice says:

    “I grant you that conservatives should be able to put up better candidates than Paddy McGuiness.”
    Couldn’t have put it better myself, JS. Thank you.

  12. pre-dawn leftist says:

    The Lancet is not the second most cited medical journal in the world for nothing. It publishes only research of the highest quality. It also has something of an activist stance in areas of its editorial interest (which is, of course – medicine). Thats why the right wing hates it – its activist and its evidence based. Evidence, of course, often seems to have a left-wing bias – or at least that what the conservatives will have you believe. Many of them would prefer you to rely on their version of faith.

    Its comments about indigenous health in Australia are accurate and justified. Indigenous health in this country is not third world – its 4th world. It is to our eternal shame that in these so called booming economic times, we have allowed this situation to develop.

  13. Katz says:

    To any visitor, Australian culture feels progressive and inclusive. This attractive exterior belies a strong undercurrent of political conservatism, which Howard is ruthlessly tapping into. As the Australian columnist Janet Albrechtson wrote recently, “the Australian polity is inherently conservative…a conservative coalition has ruled for 42 of 58 yearsâ€?. 2007 is an election year for Australia. How the country interprets its past and sees its hopes for the future will be critical not only for the health of its people but also for the contribution Australia makes to world health. At present, Australian politicians are scoring well below their potential.

    Of course, the most salient point in the Lancet editorial is that Australians have the government they deserve.

    Neither those “cyultural conservatives” who peer obsessively under their beds for PoMo, multi-culti, latte-slurping, lefty liberal elites, nor sensible people, can possibly take exception to that observation.

    The editorial simply serves as a reminder that those who applaud the Howard government aren’t normal.

    I recall well Southern segregationists in the last days of Jim Crow obsessively asserting that they were the normal ones. According to them, all those yankee nigger-lovers bussing down from the North trying to upset long-established tradition were equal parts evil and insane. Of course, these segregationists were sincere. They didn’t know any better.

    The Lancet article serves as a reminder that there is a larger reality that Howard lovers hate.

  14. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Howard’s reluctance to admit HIV-carrying immigrants is a bit stony-hearted. But it cant be faulted from a public-health perspective, given the reckless sexual tendencies amongst some of the sub-cultures and multi-cultures of the world.”

    This is odd on a number of levels:

    Howard’s response to a radio interviewer about a supposed problem posed by HIV positive migration (itself generated by the Victorian Health Minister’s attempt to blame “migrants” for her state’s current level of HIV notifications) was addressing a problem that doesn’t exist. All he needed to say was “Australia, like most other countries, has always screened applicants for permanent residency and we routinely decline applications in situations where chronic health conditions indicate a significant ongoing cost burden to the health system. We look at situations on a case by case basis – and humanitarian considerations also apply (to be fair, he did make this particular point), but in the vast majority of cases, such applications aren’t successful.”

    Instead, he allowed a perception to develop of a nation threatened by a supposed wave of HIV positive migration upon which he would have to magisterially ponder – although his inclination was to “stop it.” Stop what, exactly?

    The most charitable interpretation I can think of for Howard’s ill-advised musing was that he was confused about the current regulatory situation. There are obviously less charitable interpretations.

    However, the Lancet might have actually checked the facts before they rushed in to accuse him of “banning HIV positive migration.” The Australian practice in regard to migration health screens is pretty similar to that which prevails everywhere. If the Lancet knows of jurisdictions where this is not the case, then presumably they’ll be able to tell us.

    It’s surely a bit bizarre – even hypocritical – for the Lancet to be excoriating Australia – exceptionally – for employing the selfsame migration health regulations that also apply throughout the EU and North America. Come to think of it, much the same editorial could have been written in respect of Canada.

  15. J F Beck says:

    pre-dawn leftist:

    The Lancet is not the second most cited medical journal in the world for nothing. It publishes only research of the highest quality.

    As if:

  16. Chris says:

    Fact is old P.P isn’t even a conservative, by his own admission he is a contrarian. There is, of course, nothing conservative about thinking that the majority is always wrong.

  17. Katz says:

    The latest example of his complacency was a comment he made on a Melbourne radio station last week. He said that people living with HIV should not be allowed to enter and live in Australia—“prima facie, noâ€?, he asserted. Australia already has tough immigration rules for those with HIV. All hopeful migrants aged over 15 years are tested for the virus. Their applications stumble if they are found to be positive.

    GH,

    As you can see the Lancet never:

    excoriat[ed] Australia – exceptionally – for employing the selfsame migration health regulations that also apply throughout the EU and North America.

    The editorial neither stated nor implied that the Australian regime on HIV-positive would-be immigrants was different from the regime of any other country.

    The charge made by the editorial was one of “complacency” which is the opposite of exclusionary fanaticism.

    This accusation of “complacency” must be read in the context of the larger charge that Howard is allowing the erosion of excellent “clinical and public-health research” in Australia.

    Whether Howard’s purported “complacency” about HIV immigration restrictions is evidence of his unproductive attitude to clinical and public-health research is another question.

    Speaking for myself, I doubt the connection.

  18. Sir Henry Casingbroke says:

    The Lancet piece is an editorial. Eye ee, it’s an opinion. Tony Abbott gives a contrary opinion: “Australia’s health system is universally renowned as being world-leading” being one example.

    Lancet, contrary to reactionary coomentators on this thread, has no motive except to call the situation as it sees it.

    Whereas Tony Abbott’s comments are self-serving – he is partly responsible and this commentary on how well he is (NOT) doing his job. Is he lying? Well, according to the Volische Beobachter and The Sydney Mealymouth Herald he is, see…

    LINK and
    LINK .

  19. Steve says:

    I’m still not convinced that that was anything more than Howard once again trying to side step around the news that HIV has increased 41% under his watch. Rather than take responsibility for the increase, Howard has decided to deflect the blame to others.

  20. There is, of course, nothing conservative about thinking that the majority is always wrong.

    Which majority would that be? The majority of the out of touch inner city latte belt elite, or the majority of Howard’s continually dwindling mainstream Australia (which dwindles mainly because Howard and his supporters are continually shoving people out of it for their own political convenience).

  21. pre-dawn leftist says:

    JF Beck,

    Have you ever read the Lancet? You should have a look some time. As to the link you sent, 1 minute on Wikipedia produced this:

    “The Lancet was severely criticized after it published a paper in 1998, in which the authors raised the possibility of a link between MMR vaccine and autism, a matter of continuing controversy. In February 2004 The Lancet published a partial retraction of the paper (Lancet 2004;363:750). Dr Horton went on the record to say the paper had “fatal conflicts of interest” because one of the authors had a serious conflict of interest that he had not declared to The Lancet.”

    Note the failure of the authors of the original study to disclose the conflict of interest. Not even the worlds oldest peer reviewed medical journal can prevent inappropriate publishing resulting from individual malfescience.

  22. THis discussion, like the Lancet article it is based on, is very much fact-free forum for commenters to air their Howard-hatred. Stupid from and ideological point of view. Pathetic from a moral point of view.

    Lancet is trying to make the case that Howard govt policies are bad for the Australia’s health. I have already indicated the one area, Howard’s restrictions on stem cell research, where the Lancet has a point. Although characteristicly, they did not make it. Stem cells lacked ideological punch so not on the radar.

    The reality is that Howard’s health & medical expenditure policies are very much in line with good OECD practice. They are certainly more generous than the H & M policies of the beloved Keating govt, which was always stronger on ideology than evidence-based policy. The indispensable Andrew Norton has done the hard yards on hard facts of Howard:

    For a government often criticised from the left for spending too little, these spending increases are very large. To put them in comparative context … figure 2 tracks spending increases in the Keating government’s last three financial years and the three Howard government years ending 30 June 2005…

    As can be seen, even in the traditional areas of social democratic spending emphasis such as education, health and social security, the Howard government has increased real per capita expenditure at a higher rate than the Keating government did during its last three years.

    The Howard government’s spending record is strikingly at odds with the way it started, and how many people still perceive it. In a survey conducted for the government’s tenth anniversary in March 2006, 50% of respondents thought that Australia had become a ‘meaner’ society under Howard.[4] In various surveys rating political parties on education, health and welfare the Coalition is behind Labor in every one.

    I made much the same point over four years ago. The Larva Prodders and Lancet are still trapped in the ideological past of Howard’s first year as PM (and perhaps still further mired in the seventies when Howard was Treasurer).

    The results are fair and reasonable, neither abysmal nor wonderful. Overall health and life expectancy has improved under Howard at rates comparable to previous governments.

    In the case of indigenous health, contrary to the Lancet’s article, there have been some notable improvements under Howard. An Oxfam study on improvements NT idigenous health reflects well on the evil one:

    LIFE expectancy of Aborigines in the Northern Territory has risen by eight years for men and 14 years for women over the past four decades, signalling a dramatic improvement in the nation’s biggest health crisis.

    The Howard Government has seized on a study, to be released later this week, that argues indigenous life expectancy has improved significantly, particularly for women in the Northern Territory, who are closing the gap between themselves and other Australian women.

    The problems with health service delivery are mostly as I pointed out, due to mostly ALP state goverments. These seem to be run by careerist Leftists – ex-student politicians and union officials – seeking a fast track to lucrative private sector jobs. Not exactly good advertisements for social democracy.

    Also, health and well being very much depend on the attitudes and behaviour of the responsible individual, including those in minority groups. When career women leave their run too late to have kids the natural way, when gays openly seek unsafe anal sex, when indigenes get on the grog, when ethnic crime gangs import hard drugs these are all things that harm health and life expectancy.

    But not much ideological mileage in those stories, is there?

  23. hannah says:

    When I was a kid in my hometown I played footy and that entailed playing with and against a lot of Aboriginal kids.
    My contemporaries.
    Well I left home as a teenager and lost track of the people I used to know.
    Recently I met and shared a few drinks with, well actually more than a few, someone from my hometown who has lived there since I left.
    And in the course of giving me gossip, as I played catch up, she informed me that all the Aboriginal fellas I played with are dead.
    All of them.
    “What happened to so-and-so?”
    He’s dead.
    “Really? Shit. What about his brother…”
    Him too.
    “And their cousins, the guys who used to play for Wests ….and…..?”
    Dead.
    “And…..and…..and….?”
    All dead.

    Disgraceful.

    There is more to reality and awareness than statistics.

  24. Cressida says:

    Condolence letters from senior management to family members about Aboriginal staff who have died suddenly or after serious illness are a depressingly reliable part of the professional writing which is part of my day job. Typically, their relatively youthful age at death mirrors the national life expectancy statistics for indigenous people. They might have been living more recently in Newtown, Balmain, Marrickville, Leichhardt, but they grew up in Broken Hill, Moree, Walgett, Coonabarabran – townships home still to peers and younger relatives.

  25. melaleuca says:

    A sad tale Hannah but there is a limit to what Government can do about it since Aboriginal morbidity and mortality is more a cultural matter than a matter of the provision of health services.

    Aborigines overwhelmingly die young because of black-on-black violence, suicide, risk-taking behaviour, poor diet, substance abuse and so on. Ultimately they kill themselves. For this reason plenty of third world citizens with manifestly inferior access to health services enjoy much better health and longer lives than Aboriginals.

  26. grace pettigrew says:

    Oh stop it Melaleuca or you’ll go blind.

  27. Peterc says:

    We are like the proverbial frog in the pot of hotwater, not noticing how the temperature rises. Australia has not addressed indigenous health and social issues at all well – epidemiological studies have demonstrated we are no better than third world countries on key indicator such as life expectancy and infant mortality.

    This is largely swept under the carpet in Australia. The average Gubba really doesn’t have a clue about it. The government holds the odd enquiry or summit and keeps saying everything is fine or good progress is being made.

    Overseas, the stark reality of atrocious conditions and treatment of indigenous Australias is obious – as is the Government spin from Howard and Abbott et al. Australia’s record on this is a disgrace internationally.

    Good on the Lancet for saying the emperor has no clothes. The Howard government should cut down the rhetoric and spin and actually DO something rather than neutering native title and pontificating about law and order issues in indigenous communities. Sure this is an issue, but it is better to address the causes rather than the symptoms.

    But do they even really care about it? I think not.

  28. Kim says:

    A sad tale Hannah but there is a limit to what Government can do about it since Aboriginal morbidity and mortality is more a cultural matter than a matter of the provision of health services.

    Yes, nothing to do with the facts of dispossession and poverty!

  29. Guise says:

    I believe I heard the Great Leader dismiss The Lancet as merely ‘foreign media’. Yes, John, and heaven knows we can’t trust foreigners. I mean, The Lancet isn’t even American.

    Never mind the source, or its relative standing. EWith the benefit of ten years’ experience in research policy I can tell you that everything The Lancet says about the state of research in Australia is factually true. It’s another shining example of how the current Government has wasted the Long Boom: instead of investing in ideas and technologies that would boost the economy &c when the (inevitable) downturn comes, they have – in spite of repeated studies showing the benefits of increasing public investment in research – frozen funding to the extent that it has been going backwards in real terms for more than ten years.

    Meanwhile, whenever the PM or his Ministers deign to comment on Australian education, science and research outside a ‘headland’ speech, it is only to denigrate the efforts of academics, teachers, educators, thinkers. The Minister for Health, no less, feels free to dismiss a carefully-researched academic report as ‘no substitute for common sense.’ And yes, there have been many good people in our universities and research sectors who, sick of trying to make any kind headway against this criticism, go overseas. The Government calls it churn, and tells us that the Australian lifestyle will lure them back. Wrong.

    And for every Australian researcher who heads overseas there are ten who have got the message: who are making their work just a little bit tamer, who are avoiding some issues altogether, because they know that if they do get funding it won’t be enough to do the job properly, and if they’re too challenging they won’t get funded at all. And it’s not just the funding councils who are part of this process: the universities are now so cautious in the research they choose to support that they are becoming a more effective brake on creative thinking than any Ministry of Truth. The Long March through Australian institutions is Long Over, John, and your Cultural Revolution is well under way. You dismiss The Lancet as foreign media, but it’s one of those foreign media that will be rated very highly by those implementing the research quality assessment exercise you’re about to impose on the Australian research community. You know: the one that is about to strangle the last originality and diversity out of the Australian research system.

    And all the while the average professional footballer can attract a salary that would keep a whole research centre running for a year or two.

    The Lancet, true to its name, has hit some very tender nerves: there is not an Australian alive, the PM included, who should not feel some guilt over the state or Aboriginal health. But its the health of the whole country – land, water and people – that’s really at risk. The answers to almost every challenge we face will have to come from strong public institutions; credible and independent research; an educated populace; and the will to ask – and try to answer – difficult questions. Like: how much longer are we going to wear this crap?

  30. THe editor of Lancet is obviously waging a political campaign to get back at Howard for Iraq-attack. Unfortunately for him there is very little evidence that the ADF’s miniscule comabt deployment in Iraq has harmed anyone at all.

    Meanwhile a recognised member of the reality-based community advises us that Howard’s gun control laws had an immensely beneficial effect on Australian public health. Andrew Leigh reports on the success of the gun buy back in saving lives:

    our paper estimates that 128-282 lives have been saved every year by the gun buyback. In other words, 1000-2500 Australians who are alive today would not be here if it hadn’t been for the buyback.

    In other reality-based commentary Barry Marshall, co-winner of the 2005 Nobel prize “said the editorial was inappropriate”.

    Really Howard-hatred should be classified as a bona-fide pyschiatric syndrome, such is the disconnect between the hysteria of the plaintiffs relative to the innocuous defendant.

  31. Sorry to come back to this late. I agree with the general sentiments of both the Lancet editorial and Bernice’s post.

    However, comparisons to Nazis, unless they’re very carefully aimed, set my teeth on edge a bit.

  32. It’s not hatred, Jack, it’s well-earned contempt.

  33. Katz says:

    Even Strocchi should recognise the difference between “inappropriate” and “incorrect”.

    There are many topics that would be inappropiate to mention in a eulogy, but which would be factually correct.

    So Barry Marshall is accusing the Lancet of bad manners.

    So what?

  34. patrickg says:

    LIFE expectancy of Aborigines in the Northern Territory has risen by eight years for men and 14 years for women over the past four decades, signalling a dramatic improvement in the nation’s biggest health crisis.

    lol, Jack. Two points:

    1. Improvement or no, life expectancy is still totally and utterly shit.

    2. Even though it feels like Howard has been in for forty years, he has in fact been there for just over a quarter of that amount; crediting his government with this improvement is stupid, and ignores the facts that:
    The gap between life expectancies actually increased between 1997 and 2001, from 20.6 to 20.7 years for men and 18.8 to 19.6 for women.

    And that it’s now hovering somewhere in the 18 year mark for both genders, a pretty shit improvement in over ten years of government, imho, and virtually no improvement at all for women.

  35. steve says:

    Jack, if you want to bitch about the lack of Conservatives in academia, tell us how the Indigenous Academics fare in comparison to the Conservative academics.

  36. Bernice says:

    “However, comparisons to Nazis, unless they’re very carefully aimed, set my teeth on edge a bit.”
    Point taken Robert – heavy-handed – but I was trying to make the point that the tactics of denial and repeating that which is not true until it becomes true by sheer weight of being repeated has a very clearly delineated aetiology. & it is a tactic that Howard’s government has resorted to again and again, from Children Overboard to the ill-conceived and ill-planned $10 billion “plan” to ‘save’ the Murray-Darling.
    As other comments show, Abbott would do much better to direct his efforts concerning Aboriginal health at actually doing something rather than defending that which has not been done. And in response to JS’s comments that its the fault of underspending state authorities – the NT is still a territory. As we were reminded when the Feds saw fit to overturn its Voluntary Euthansia legislation. Presumably a failure to address health, housing, infrastructure and educational requirements for a third of its population who happen to be indigenous Australians, is not worthy of intervention?

  37. steve says:

    Whatever happened to the Practical reconciliation where the army was going to go in and rebuild communities etc. Seemed to last about six months or so and never heard of again.

    Just like the proceeds of T1 Telstra sale were going to be spent on fixing the problems of the Murray Darling Basin and the drought and this too went overboard very quickly with no observable benefit to anyone.

  38. steve says:

    I know nothing of the Aboriginal Health situation but the comments about political effects on research are spot-on (Ian Lowe is spot-on).
    Working in laboratory instrumentation is a great way to find out about overseas pay scales and working conditions – literally from those who are or have already moved overseas.
    As for political influence some of my customers have avoided certain projects just because the associated “baggage” would effect their careers. Unfortunately this means “easy” (politically) research is preferred, difficult research is avoided (even if it is necessary). I always find it annoying when political commentators (with zero knowledge of science) talk about removing “useless” research, or how “efficient” the current situation is – from the private-sector viewpoint it is distinctly un-funny. These might be my own views (not of my employer) but they are based on a lot of observation.

  39. glen says:

    Lancet is trying to make the case that Howard govt policies are bad for the Australia’s health.

    Well, neo-liberal public health policies shared by state Labor (Qld and NSW) and federal Liberal governments are extremely bad for the governance of hospitals and larger public health issues. A friend of mine is writing a book on the “Health Systems that Kill” about how the complex issue of ‘error’ reportage within medical systems should be incorporated into good practice, but we have a medical system run by peanuts where ‘error’ only becomes visible in seemingly random and always spectacular cases driven by the interests of the media or legal apparatus.

    It reminds me a bit of when I worked on a mine construction site that had a million man hours or something without a LTI. This was because whenever there was an injury the injured party went on ‘holiday’.

  40. Karen says:

    The Lancet also famously published in 2000 the review performed under the auspices of the Cochrane Collaboration which brought a great deal of public scrutiny to the question of the value of mammographic screening for breast cancer.

    The conclusion from a meta-analysis of a selection of valid randomised trials of mammography was that there was no benefit and significant drawbacks to mass screening for breast cancer. This was not the first or last time the efficacy of mass screening has been raised by clinicians. Of course, breast cancer screening and treatment is too hot a political issue now and of material benefit to too many mouths at the trough, for it to be seriously undermined as a public health practice, as persuasive as contrary evidence may be.

    And the attitude of the public health deliverers? Women should be grateful for a free medical service and cut the whinging about false positives, unnecessary adjuvant therapies, diagnostic errors and mistreatment.

  41. melaleuca says:

    KIm says:

    “Yes, nothing to do with the facts of dispossession and poverty!”

    Keep your hair on, Kim. Aboriginals with land rights fare no better than the “dispossessed” (aren’t we all dispossessed, being a nation of convicts)?.

    Aboriginal poverty is in large part a cultural problem. Many Aboriginals wouldn’t work in an iron lung and Aboriginal parents overwhelmingly don’t push their children to get an education. This is an objective fact and it is the only explanation for why we have “unemployed” Aboriginal welfare recipients in Western Australia, which has full employment.

  42. John Greenfield says:

    This was extremely unwise of The Lancet. It has already suffered credibility issues for weighing into areas far beyond those appropraite for a scientific journal.

    The Editor is a well known leftist advocate and agitator. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it is very difficult to take seriously the “objectivity” of any “research” that such a person has a hand in.

    Given his bizarre spray against a country’s extremely successfuil public health policies by make ill-educated ad hominems is more than merely crass: it is reckless.

    He would be more suited to writing for “Green Left Weekly” or leftwrites or “New Internationalist.” He has no place at a scientific journal.

  43. melaleuca says:

    I should add to the above lest I be accused of racism that the problem of Aboriginal cultural dysfunction isn’t a matter of race or genetics: it is a sociological fact that is shared by other hunter-gatherer societies that have colonised by more advanced powers.

    My point is that any attempt to alleviate Aboriginal disadvanatge that doesn’t address cultural dysfunction is doomed to failure.

    There is no point spend millions of dollars building a bright and shiny new school in Wadeye if the parents refuse to ensure their children attend and almost no teacher is prepared to work in that community because of the violence.

  44. Gummo Trotsky on 23 April 2007 at 11:00 am

    It’s not hatred, Jack, it’s well-earned contempt.

    On the topic of this thread (political attitude to public health science) its hard to see why Howard deserves such withering contempt. His performance in public health has been fair and reasonable. The federal govts health spending increases are in line with other OECD nations of comparable circumstances.

    His major error has been politicised religous hinderance of stem cell research. This has been strangely ignored by the Lancet and most Larva Prodders.

    Regarding the evils he has supposedly responsible for: Howard has finally come around on climate change science. He has bolstered inidigenous health spending which has made some progress on inidigenous health. He has introduced gun laws that have saved lives. He has overseen and assisted an improved birth rate for career women.

    The major insitutional public health problem is poor service design and delivery and incompetent hospital administration. These are primarily state govt responsibilities. But health departments are overwhelmingly run by ALP govts. These departments are often sinecures for ALP staff placemen, union hacks or ABC journos et al.

    The other side of the public health problem is individual irrepsonsibility by citizens who continue to engage in self-harmful behaviours. Aboriginals are the worst offenders here. ATSIC should have been a role model for troubled indigenous youth. Instead it became a leader in the race to the bottom.

    But women who leave off conception until the very last minute, ethnic criminal gangs importing hard drugs from Eurasia and barebacking gays who seem hell-bent on contracting AIDS are not much help.

    But we can’t criticise them, since this would be off ideological message.

  45. Katz on 23 April 2007 at 11:09 am

    So Barry Marshall is accusing the Lancet of bad manners.

    So what?

    No. Marshall is suggesting that medical scientists should not engage in partisan hackery since it discredits the reputation of the journal. The same could be said about some bloggers.

    So you guys dont have a problem when the worlds most esteemed medical journal reviews Howard’s health policies and neglects to mention that Howard, in the face of opposition from his own political base, introduced public health gun laws that have saved up to five hundred lives a year. This is meant to be an approapriate standard of scientific balance and honesty?

    This editorial is pretty clearly an egregious example of ideological polemics, playing to the Left wing grandstand. It is a reflection of the partisan committments and contempt for intellectual values and on the Cultural Left that blatant bias of this kind gets a free pass. That an a chronic and apparently incurable case of Howard-hatred.

    You dont convince anyone to change their minds if you just trot out partisan talking points or air ideological shibboleths. So you waste your own time, and in fact make your own cause look bad, by failing to be intellectually honest.

    And you give me an easy target in down-time from my day job.

  46. Katz says:

    No. Marshall is suggesting that medical scientists should not engage in partisan hackery since it discredits the reputation of the journal.

    Where does it say that?

    Jack, I get worried when you start making things up.

    Come back to the reality-based community.

    We love you here.

  47. melaleuca on 23 April 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Aboriginals with land rights fare no better than the “dispossessedâ€? (aren’t we all dispossessed, being a nation of convicts)?.

    This is not quite true. Some Aboriginal communities are doing quite well out of the mineral royalties.

    The Aborginal health problem has, like most public issues, personal and political causes: bottom-up individual autonomy and top-down institutional authority.

    On the individual side: Aboriginals have to take responsibility for substance abuse. Also Aboriginal parents have to clamp down on child abuse. These are indicators of cultural collapse and demoralisation. They explain why Aboriginal health is worse than Third World nations with lower socio-economic resource access.

    On the institutional side: Aboriginals do not get health and education allocations to comparable non-Aboriginals. Also, Aboriginal’s need to get responsible and accountable leaders. The ATSIC model is discredited.

    There is also a problem with depressed Aboriginal IQ. IQ is important if people are going to make it in a complex and fast-changing society. Edward Miller summarises the data:

    De Lacey (1971, 1972) has reported Peabody Picture Vocabulary test scores for high-contact aboriginals (urban, not speaking a native dialect) and for low-soci-economic status whites. The 40 Northern territory aboriginals averaged 64, and the 80 Wollongong low-socio-economic white children averaged 94, a difference well beyond the .01 level of probability.

    Interestingly, on Piagetian classificatory ability tests the aborigines were in the same range as the low-socioeconomic status whites (i.e, below the white average) (De Lacey, 1970, 1971). De Lacey (1972) also reports Peabody results for Bourke Island part aborigines (63 IQ) and Bourke Island low socio-economic status whites (87 IQ).

    Of course, it is hard to know from test results whether the poor performance is due completely to environmental effects, or partially to genetics.

    The relatively low Aboriginal IQ may not be fully explained by Aboriginal’s low socio-economic status. Nonetheless environmental measures can increase Aborginal IQ, such as iodine supplements in their diet. Plus early intervention education.

    Aboriginal poverty is in large part a cultural problem. Many Aboriginals wouldn’t work in an iron lung and Aboriginal parents overwhelmingly don’t push their children to get an education. This is an objective fact and it is the only explanation for why we have “unemployedâ€? Aboriginal welfare recipients in Western Australia, which has full employment.

    This is an unhelpful racial stereotype. There is a cultural problem with Aboriginal work motivation. No doubt the Left’s tendency to pay “sit down” money to institutionalised welfare clients has not helped. We cannot willy nilly apply the social welfare principals developed to Swedish Protestants on to Aboriginal animists.

    Abbot is actually putting alot of effort into indigenous health, with precious little recognition from the chattering classes. He suggests its two steps forward one step backward:

    Australian society is far from prejudice-free (and still has a strong tendency to typecast people) but the problems of Aboriginal communities owe at least as much to welfarism as racism.

    The 2001 ABS figures put Aboriginal unemployment at 24 per cent, or nearly four times the national average. This suggests significant improvement since 1994 (when measured Indigenous unemployment was 28 per cent) but significant deterioration since 2000 (when measured Indigenous unemployment was 18 per cent).

    Even so, without the Community Development Employment Programme (an Aboriginal work for the dole scheme started by the Fraser Government), the unemployment rate in many remote Aboriginal communities would approach 90 per cent.

    However most Aboriginals can and do put in a hard days work in a highly structured environment. Aboriginals seem to do okay when missionaries and military officers supervised work. But this authoritarian conservative solution is probably not what the “self determination” crowd want to hear.

  48. Bernice says:

    Oh dear -Edward M Miller – Professor Edward M. Miller: The Newest Member of the “Academy of Academic Affront to Black People” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 14 (Winter, 1996-1997), pp. 18-19

    Not the most reliable source regarding IQ – an economist with a straight A right wing pedigree.

    For a more insightful account of IQ & indigenous Australians, try Michael Ross’s article from Comparative Education Volume 20 No 3 1984 – 2.0.CO;2-#”>Intelligence Testing in Australian Aboriginals – its opening para reading:
    “There has been a great deal of debate regarding the fairness of ‘culture-fair’ intelligence (IQ) tests, although this debate has until recently rested in the need to provide culture-fair tests as evidence for the innate superiority or inferiority of racial groups. While that debate will not be entered into in this paper, it must be noted that there is some doubt regarding the possibility of creating a culture-fair IQ test: Berry(1970) has gone so far as to suggest that the concept of IQ is meaningless across cultures.”

    Or this:
    “In an attempt to meet these criteria, our hypothesis develops the argument for a putative mechanism of change that directly impacts the area of the brain most directly associated with fluid test taking skills, the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Aspects of experience that exercise prefrontally based fluid skills would be
    likely to lead to gains in IQ test performance over time. Specifically, we suggest that two widespread environmental mechanisms led to an increase in measured intelligence across the population: (1) access to formal schooling expanded for successively larger proportions of cohorts of young children early in the 20th century; and, (2) the fluid cognitive demand of mathematics curricula for young students increased from mid-century onward. It is likely that these mechanisms in combination contributed to mean increases in measured intelligence over the past 100 years.”
    From Rising mean IQ: Cognitive demand of mathematics education
    for young children, population exposure to formal schooling,
    and the neurobiology of the prefrontal cortex
    Clancy Blair, David Gamson, Steven Thorne, David Baker
    Intelligence 33 (2005) 93–106

  49. Rob says:

    Tracing the current problems with dysfunctional Aboriginal culture back to disposession by the Europeans is unhelpful, IMHO — mainly because it’s a counsel of despair. If we blame it all on the European ‘invasion’, we have no way forward, we can’t put it right, because the pre-European Australia was doomed the day the First Fleet heaved anchor in Sydney Cove. There is no way of reversing that fact. If that is taken to be the cause, then there can be no answer, and we may as well all walk away from the issue.

  50. Kim says:

    Conversely, Rob, no one is actually counselling despair in that way – all people are in fact asking for is recognition. Under any other government, that wouldn’t have been too difficult. But Howard’s “One Nation-ism” rules it out, as does the nature of his desire to avoid following Keating’s lead (except apparently for his latest “Australia rising” speech). Linda Burney was very good in the press today on how rights and pragmatism just aren’t incompatible – the former work to bolster positive outcomes.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21602949-601,00.html

  51. Kim on 23 April 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Linda Burney was very good in the press today on how rights and pragmatism just aren’t incompatible – the former work to bolster positive outcomes.

    Another unacknowledged partial victory for Howard’s mutual obligation approach.

    The Left’s one-sided push for symbolic rights and self-determination led a focus on airy-fairy policies and pie-in-the-sky outcomes. The new rights-pragmatism approach represents a considerable back-flip from the ALP’s formerly symbolic-strong approach to Aboriginal issues.

    Land rights are not much use to the majority of indigenous Australians who live in urban areas. What these Aboriginal’s need is jobs for the men and responsibly managed housing for the women-folk. Excellence in sport and art also give black Australians something to be proud of.

  52. Katz says:

    Tracing the current problems with dysfunctional Aboriginal culture back to disposession by the Europeans is unhelpful, IMHO — mainly because it’s a counsel of despair.

    That sentence is loaded with dodgy baggage.

    1. When did Aboriginal culture become “dysfunctional”? Was Aboriginal culture “dysfunctional” before the arrival of Europeans?

    2. Were there different “problems” before the “current” epoch? When did the “current” epoch begin?

    3. Is dispossession not a cause at all?

    4. If it is one of several causes, what are the other causes?

    5. How is dispossession irrelevant to all those other causes?

    6. How much of Aboriginal culture must be relinquished before Aboriginal persons stop being “dysfunctional”?

  53. melaleuca says:

    Bernice appears to be falling over backwards in an attempt to appease the Gods of Political Correctness.

    It is a wet fart of an argument to suggest “the concept of IQ is meaningless across cultures” as per one of Bernice’s quotes.

    Australians from diverse backgrounds, such as Asians and Jews, show no disadvanatage in spite of the alleged cultural prejudice inherent in our Anglo-Celtic IQ tests. The fact that a boy who grew up riding buffalo in a Vietnamese rice paddy generally scores as well in IQ tests as his white counterpart destroys the cultural prejudice argument.

    If Aboriginal IQ is indeed low I suspect it is most likely a result of maternal alcohol abuse, poor diet and a psychologically destructive upbringing rather than some genetic factor.

    Ironically, part of the solution may be a new “stolen generation”. Why do we allow Aboriginal children to be raised in circumstances the RSPCA would condemn if the child were a dog?

  54. melaleuca says:

    Katz says:

    “When did Aboriginal culture become “dysfunctionalâ€?? Was Aboriginal culture “dysfunctionalâ€? before the arrival of Europeans?”

    Yes it was.

    Aboriginal women have always been punching bags. We know this from the accounts of the early white settlers.

  55. Bernice on 23 April 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Oh dear -Edward M Miller – Professor Edward M. Miller: The Newest Member of the “Academy of Academic Affront to Black Peopleâ€? Not the most reliable source regarding IQ – an economist with a straight A right wing pedigree.

    Miller has an intellectual background that covers all facets of science, physical, sociological and biological. A short bio of Pr Miller appears on the Stalking Wild Taboo website:

    Professor Miller earned bachelors degrees in mechanical engineering and economics from MIT (both in three years) where he got a strong basic science training, and he went on to earn a Ph.D. (economics), also from MIT.

    He then held a series of governmental jobs including service with OMB and the White House where he worked on energy policy. Professor Miller was Tsanoff Professor of Public Affairs at Rice University before coming to the University of New Orleans, where he is Research Professor of Economics and Finance. There he teaches in their Ph.D. program in Financial Economics and conducts research on a variety of topics including finance, capital theory, investments, and ethnic differences.

    He is married to a lady from Shanghai, China, and enjoys reading, hiking, and traveling the world.

    Edward M. Miller is the author of over a hundred articles in professional journals. While most are in economics and finance journals, he has recently being writing on topics related to psychology, anthropology, and genetics as part of an effort to understand why some groups are more economically successful than others. We emphasize here his work on IQ, evolutionary development, and racial differences, although it is only a small part of his intellectual output.

    His work is often controversial, and as with all professors, represents his own (expert) opinions rather than those of his university. He welcomes serious comments of his work and can be reached at emmef@uno.edu.

    Instead of relying on a hatchet job by the “Black Studies” academy you might try a serious critique of this scholar’s work.

    Regarding IQ: It would also be silly to dismiss the notion of “g”, or innate general intelligence. This is something that is grounded in nature and, for the most part, transcends culture.

    If we want to improve Aboriginal status we have to improve Aboriginal intellectual performance. How far this is possible and in what direction is an interesting question in its own right and one that needs to be answered if we want to do good.

    Human health is expressed in the physiological and pyschological embodiment of the person. A persons nurtural embodiment (phenotype) is a function of the interaction of his natural endowments (genotype) and cultural environment (memotype).

    There is no scientific dispute to the fact that IQ is in part inherited as a biological endowment and in part imprinted by the sociological environment.
    Nor is there any scietific dispute to the fact that IQ is a very good predictor of socio-economic status. Likewise SES is a good predictor of health.

    So on public health grounds Miller is quite within his scientific rights to make an assessment of native Aboriginal IQ.

  56. John Greenfield says:

    Katz

    What does “dispossession” have to do with Cathy Freeman’s IQ? What about the librarian at the Holocaust Museum’s IQ? Or Yu Heng Lau’s IQ?

  57. Katz says:

    Katz

    What does “dispossessionâ€? have to do with Cathy Freeman’s IQ? What about the librarian at the Holocaust Museum’s IQ? Or Yu Heng Lau’s IQ?

    JG, your argument is with Strocchi, not me.

    The relatively low Aboriginal IQ may not be fully explained by Aboriginal’s low socio-economic status. Nonetheless environmental measures can increase Aborginal IQ, such as iodine supplements in their diet. Plus early intervention education.

    To spell it out: Strocchi asserts that low socio-economic status is one predictor of IQ. Socio-economic status is largely determined by possessions and wealth. Dispossession is the confiscation of wealth.

    Talk to Strocchi.

  58. Rob says:

    “That sentence is loaded with dodgy baggage.”

    I don’t think so, Katz

    1. When did Aboriginal culture become “dysfunctionalâ€?? Was Aboriginal culture “dysfunctionalâ€? before the arrival of Europeans?

    Probably not. It was very violent, as recorded by the earliest settlers, and women in particular were the victims of it. But the initiation rites for young men were also akin to prolonged sessions of physical torture. That notwithstanding, the culture had survived for thousands of years, and I’m still enough of a functional anthropologist to think (assume?) that those cultural behaviours served a purpose in the specfic environment of a hunter-collector economy.

    2. Were there different “problemsâ€? before the “currentâ€? epoch? When did the “currentâ€? epoch begin?

    We can’t define pre-colonisation problems with any exactitude because anthropology was not around to help us then. We can deduce from observations by outsiders, but that’s of finite value.

    The current epoch began with the settlement of Australia by Europeans and the commencement of an inexorable process of the convergence of cultures. From the beginning, Australians (Inga Clendinning’s term, and I love it) and colonists confronted each other in a state of mutual incomprehension which was fraught with the potential for tragedy on both sides — which potential was realised all to often (on both sides)

    3. Is dispossession not a cause at all?

    Two hundred years later one can only say that it doesn’t matter if it was. Dispossession is a fact; it cannot be put right. European Australia is not about to pack up and go home. From the 1970’s on, there was a bi-partisan consensus that the the fact of dispossession could be mitigated (not reversed) by recognition of land rights and the accordance of self-determination to the remote communities under the Coombs prescription. Later, a forum for a kind of participatory democracy was established in the institution of ATSIC. It is hard to contend but what neither have done the indigenous communities concerned any good.

    4. If it is one of several causes, what are the other causes?

    Noel Pearson has identified them clearly. The welfare dependency culture that followed the Coombsian model is largely to blame, together with the dismantlement, since the 1970’s, of a support network of carers and enforcers who, for all their ‘paternalism’, may well have been the last generation of Europeans to actually care about Aborigines as people, rather than as political pawns (I realise that’s a provocative statement).

    Alongside that has occurred the erosion and legitimacy — and hence the cultural and societal force — of traditional authority structures. In Central Australia, as early as the 1930’s, a bare half-century after first contact, tribal elders were despairing of the ability of the younger people to carry on the traditions of the Arunte people.

    Added to that, from the 1960’s, you had the introduction of alcohol into the indigenous communities, and later, other forms of substance abuse and pornography. These were as morally corrosive as they were socially so in a cultural environment that had no experience of dealing with invasive cultural contaminants and no defence mechanisms against them

    5. How is dispossession irrelevant to all those other causes?

    It is only tangentially relevant. AFAIK, all the indicators of indigenous social and personal morbidity — infant mortality, life expectancy, obesity, substance abuse, preventable disease — have accelerated in the past 30 years. (As recorded by Rosemary Neil, many older Aborigines recall the distant days of the mission schools with great affection as times preferable to the present. Perhaps that’s nostalgia, perhaps not). Therefore it seems prudent look to more recent phenomena for the cause of the current malaise.

    6. How much of Aboriginal culture must be relinquished before Aboriginal persons stop being “dysfunctionalâ€??

    Very little. Memories and traditions can continue. The lifestyle cannot; but then, the Coombs vision of an indigenous return to pre-European lifestyles never eventuated in the remote communities, thanks not least to the untied disbursement of ‘sit down money’. There was never a realistic chance — easy to say now, of course — that that pathway would be successful.

    But there is no reason why the incomplete convergence of the two cultures (which I would argue was suspended in the mid-1970’s under the idealisiic but cruelly ill-fated rubric of ‘self-determination’) could not be continued on terms acceptable to the Aborigines.

  59. Katz says:

    Still dodgy Rob.

    1. When did Aboriginal culture become “dysfunctionalâ€?? Was Aboriginal culture “dysfunctionalâ€? before the arrival of Europeans?

    Probably not. It was very violent, as recorded by the earliest settlers, and women in particular were the victims of it. But the initiation rites for young men were also akin to prolonged sessions of physical torture. That notwithstanding, the culture had survived for thousands of years, and I’m still enough of a functional anthropologist to think (assume?) that those cultural behaviours served a purpose in the specfic environment of a hunter-collector economy.

    I’ll give you a pass on this one. This is the only sensible response.

    2. Were there different “problemsâ€? before the “currentâ€? epoch? When did the “currentâ€? epoch begin?

    The current epoch began with the settlement of Australia by Europeans and the commencement of an inexorable process of the convergence of cultures.

    Mealy-mouthed nonsense. Contact began with dispossession. Most ofthe efforts of whites were directed not toward “convergence” but toward exclusion of Aborigines. They could not own property. They could not testify in courts of law. Their own hierarchies were not recognised at all (cf. Native Americans and Maoris, among many others.)

    3. Is dispossession not a cause at all?

    Two hundred years later one can only say that it doesn’t matter if it was. Dispossession is a fact; it cannot be put right. European Australia is not about to pack up and go home. From the 1970’s on, there was a bi-partisan consensus that the the fact of dispossession could be mitigated (not reversed) by recognition of land rights and the accordance of self-determination to the remote communities under the Coombs prescription. Later, a forum for a kind of participatory democracy was established in the institution of ATSIC. It is hard to contend but what neither have done the indigenous communities concerned any good.

    Despairing defeatism. Just because one form of restitution failed doesn’t mean that all others will. (I thought you opposed despair.)

    4. If it is one of several causes, what are the other causes?

    Noel Pearson has identified them clearly. The welfare dependency culture that followed the Coombsian model is largely to blame, together with the dismantlement, since the 1970’s, of a support network of carers and enforcers who, for all their ‘paternalism’, may well have been the last generation of Europeans to actually care about Aborigines as people, rather than as political pawns (I realise that’s a provocative statement).

    Alongside that has occurred the erosion and legitimacy — and hence the cultural and societal force — of traditional authority structures. In Central Australia, as early as the 1930’s, a bare half-century after first contact, tribal elders were despairing of the ability of the younger people to carry on the traditions of the Arunte people.

    Added to that, from the 1960’s, you had the introduction of alcohol into the indigenous communities, and later, other forms of substance abuse and pornography. These were as morally corrosive as they were socially so in a cultural environment that had no experience of dealing with invasive cultural contaminants and no defence mechanisms against them

    I’ll give you a pass on this one. You describe a characteristic Australian pattern of patternalism, exploitation and neglect.

    5. How is dispossession irrelevant to all those other causes?

    It is only tangentially relevant. AFAIK, all the indicators of indigenous social and personal morbidity — infant mortality, life expectancy, obesity, substance abuse, preventable disease — have accelerated in the past 30 years. (As recorded by Rosemary Neil, many older Aborigines recall the distant days of the mission schools with great affection as times preferable to the present. Perhaps that’s nostalgia, perhaps not). Therefore it seems prudent look to more recent phenomena for the cause of the current malaise.

    Can it be you are recommending a return of missionaries? Dodgy, dodgy, dodgy.

    6. How much of Aboriginal culture must be relinquished before Aboriginal persons stop being “dysfunctionalâ€??

    Very little. Memories and traditions can continue. The lifestyle cannot; but then, the Coombs vision of an indigenous return to pre-European lifestyles never eventuated in the remote communities, thanks not least to the untied disbursement of ’sit down money’. There was never a realistic chance — easy to say now, of course — that that pathway would be successful.

    But there is no reason why the incomplete convergence of the two cultures (which I would argue was suspended in the mid-1970’s under the idealisiic but cruelly ill-fated rubric of ’self-determination’) could not be continued on terms acceptable to the Aborigines.

    It would appear that in fact you are saying that rather a lot must be relinquished. (BTW sit down money is an aspect of White, not Aboriginal, culture).

  60. Rob says:

    I don’t think you have bothered to actually engage with the arguments at all, Katz, which is disappointing.

  61. John Greenfield says:

    1. When did Aboriginal culture become “dysfunctionalâ€?? Was Aboriginal culture “dysfunctionalâ€? before the arrival of Europeans?

    You betcha it was. Any culture that collapses like a pack on cards on contact with any other culture was never much chop to start with.

    All this romanticizing of the noble savage is nothing more than bourgeouis Rousseauist racism. Keeping these people in perpetual dissolution and despair by Newtown, St. Kilda, and New Farm luvvies getting their jollies through Dreamtime masturbation is not only pathetic, it is cruel.

  62. Rob says:

    I don’t know, John. I’m not sure if history records the collision of two more divergent cultures than the Australian indigenous with the European of the 18th century. And by Inga Clendinning’s account (“Dancing with Strangers”), the initial interactions at least were not destructive.

  63. Kim says:

    I don’t know how you’d measure this comparatively but I’d have thought that the French, Spanish and Portuguese encounters in America with indigenous cultures were between vastly different cultures.

  64. Rob says:

    Kim, I was thinking more of the first interaction an isolated paleolithic (stone age) culture and a modern European one. I may be wrong but I don’t think the North or South American cultures fitted the former designation. Perhaps there were some comparable interactions in Africa.

  65. Rob says:

    Hmm, I see I’ve been disappeared as well.

  66. melaleuca says:

    Could I pls have my last comment moderated. Ta.

  67. Katz says:

    I don’t think you have bothered to actually engage with the arguments at all, Katz, which is disappointing.

    Are you a grade grubber?

    I gave you a pass on two out of six.

    You’re making progress.

  68. Rob says:

    Unhappily, I could only rate you “Must try harder — much harder” on each of the six, Katz.

  69. Anna Winter says:

    I’m sorry Steve – there’s nothing there. Try again, or if that doesn’t work, email it to me.

  70. Katz says:

    I don’t think you have bothered to actually engage with the arguments at all, Katz, which is disappointing.

    Show. Don’t tell.

  71. John Greenfield says:

    Kim

    The contact of Australian aborigines with the British would have involved a far greater culture/civilizational clash than that between the Spanish/Portugese and Aztecs/Inca. The latter consisted of civilization as sophisticated as the Romans and Persians circa 50 AD.

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