Indigenous emergency… still an emergency

I had intended to do what I did after the first week of the Indigenous emergency, and put up a comprehensive links post, but time got away from me a little, and there is a lot less to link to now. To its credit in this instance, The Australian continues to report on what’s occurring in the NT, and to cover (some of) the debate. But for most news outlets, in the absence of a political angle, it’s just too difficult, and perhaps too depressing, to report on a daily basis on Indigenous problems and proposed solutions to them. That’s a great pity, as the government was right that these issues ought to be at the forefront of media and public attention, no matter what you think of their motivation. It’s good to see bloggers continuing to write on them – in particular Andrew Bartlett, lauredhel at Hoyden and Gary Sauer-Thompson at his various blogs. I’d be grateful if commenters wanted to publish any links here, and thanks to steve in comments on another post for a link to a very interesting Brisbane Times article on the basis for Noel Pearson’s own welfare experiments, a topic I’m pursuing, as I said last week, for an article I’m writing for New Matilda (which has also been exemplary in its coverage). In the meantime, I wanted to give people the heads up to the fact that Four Corners is discussing the Cape York experience tonight, and the space to discuss the programme, and anything else relevant about the ongoing issues.

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Posted in Authoritarianism, indigenous, media, politics, Poverty, Race, sociology
44 comments on “Indigenous emergency… still an emergency
  1. paul walter says:

    I was in a nasty enough mood ( nicotine withdrawal and Kevin Andrews ) when 4 Cornballs came on tonight. Was looking forward to a hardhitting objective investigation into this preposterous situation Brough and Howard have caused.
    Instead within moments find out “their” ABC CA flagship program foir tonite was to be a eulogy to Christopher(strike) Noel Pearson.
    What a long way to fall from Ticky Fullarton on privatised Sydney tunnels and freeways, Gunns or CSIRO dumbing down.
    No. Sorry. The guy has the same effect on the writer as Ruddock, Howard, Julie Bishop and Kevin Andrews, cant risk telly screen “accident” just now. Like so-called news articles on “teerism” and US sitcoms, will NOT abide the sight of Pearson in my house at this time.
    Just think. If they can jail you for 25 years for losing a phone card, just imagine what would happen for assault occasioning actual screen splintering on a teev!
    Seriously,if it’s any good let us know and will watch repeat tomorrow night, buthave lost faith in ABC as to indigenous affairs coverage, amongst otherthings, of late.

  2. Angharad says:

    I didn’t come away from the 4 Corners thing knowing much more about what ‘welfare reform’ Pearson style actually did on the ground.

    It felt like it had been hastily edited at the end, especially the Aurukun stuff.

  3. Mark says:

    It was a lot less informative than I’d hoped, I must confess.

  4. SJ says:

    Brough is on Lateline at the moment, announcing a new military intervention in WA.

  5. Angharad says:

    It seemed like most of what Pearson was promoting was voluntary – the family income management program for instance. And that’s a good thing! it’s a very useful thing to be doing. But I saw very little, other than some talk, about actually redirecting income.

    Meanwhile, the PM continues to churn out stuff about quarantining payments.

    “Income Management involves Centrelink or other approved non government service providers directing government payments to meet essential expenses such as food, clothing and shelter”

    Hmm – so that will be like the highly successful Financial Case Management program where no-one except Hillsong was prepared to do the business?

  6. SJ says:

    After listening to this for a while, I conclude that Brough is f**king crazy.

    The WA govt has asked for police. We have no police available, so we’ll send in the army. There’s no funding available. Only the army has the capability. The army will fill the role of the police. The WA govt hasn’t told us to shove it yet, so there’s still hope for the children.

  7. SJ says:

    The WA govt has told them to shove it.

  8. Brian says:

    I was horrified at the speech that Pearson made at Hope Vale. It had been clear up to that point that the money Brough was offering was conditional on them privatising home ownership and that the traditional owners had not been consulted. Pearson reminded me of a headmaster I had at a certain Lutheran boarding school. Very authoritarian.

    I guess we’ll have to wait and see where it all ends.

    Mark, if you are writing on Noel Pearson, don’t miss the session Phillip Adams did at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas broadcast last Tuesday on Late Night Live. Unfortunately the ABC only keeps these things a month and a week has already passed. It may be available elsewhere via the Festival.

    All five participants were excellent. Tracey Bunda had no trouble calling Pearson on his approach. She quoted him as saying the social order was more important than land rights. The view was that for aborigines living on country it was a nonsense proposition as individual and social identity was wrapped up in the relationship to land. They didn’t quite say it that way, but I think my words are a reasonable approximation.

    Wilma Mankiller from the Cherokee Nation and the British writer Jay Griffiths were adamant that it had been shown all around the world time and time again that solutions coming from the outside would fail.

    It seemed to me that in the terms they were talking about it Pearson has this very problem himself, most likely also with his own community of Hope Vale.

  9. Mark says:

    Thanks, Brian, I’ll have a listen. That session was the subject of a blog post from Gary Sauer-Thompson:

    On Brough, I think he is just unsuitable to be a Minister. The guy is obviously defined almost solely by his impatience (the other bit is moralising). It appears that his experience with his portfolio has demonstrated that rhetoric alone hasn’t worked and his only solution appears to be to short circuit everything in the hope that there’s an instant fix. He doesn’t seem to have anything much in mind when he talks about long term solutions. He also appears completely unable to accept that anyone else can have a perspective, and to have no idea as to how to go about building trust.

  10. Slightly lighter weight question, Mark – are you going to be consistent on the name of the newspaper you are referring to or is it to be inconsistent? You are referring to it as the Government Gazette (at least I think you are – I believe it is the Australian) when you disagree with it and as the Australian when you agree.
    Either it is the Gazette or it is not.

  11. Mark says:

    Well spotted, Andrew. I’ll try to consistently refer to it as the GG.

    Gandhi’s comment above clearly demonstrates how volunteer subbies can improve the blogosphere! 😉

  12. jo says:


    Talking to a highly regarded child protection professional – in relation to school truancy records & welfare quarantining – in the case of infants/primary aged white children of drug addicted families etc – – often these children have perfect school attendance records!!….they do however turn up un-fed, unwashed clothes etc.

    The provision of breakfast in many schools is now being undertaken in most states either by the schools themselves/the red cross/state or fed sponsored breakfast clubs, but not in any national or systematic fashion etc.

    The children who use ‘breakfast clubs’ – however, may be from range of families with a range of issues, including families where they start work very early etc (and this might be more frequent with single parents having to work etc) or are very poor, as well as families with drug & alcohol problems and other problems etc.

    All so much more complex than Brough will ever admit!

    Annabel Crabb points out just how long they’ve had to get some detail together… but haven’t to date:

    But the Government and Brough have had plenty of time to sort out the details of this proposal.

    The fact is that this is the second time the cabinet has agreed to it. Last November – a full eight months ago- it gave Brough the go-ahead to go forth and start quarantining.

    A search of the public record reveals Brough has been thinking about it since May last year, when he talked enthusiastically about it to Laurie Oakes on Channel Nine’s Sunday program.

    “Do we accept it is OK for family tax benefit money to be spent in a wasteful manner in buying things that are destructive for a family?” he asked back then.

    “If we agree that should not occur, then let’s agree on the principle and then look more deeply at the detail to ensure that we can actually bring this into place and help these families and help these children.”

    All this time, and two cabinet endorsements, and still no detail. The election is now a few short months away.

    Are you thinking what I’m thinking?


  13. Michael says:

    I’d have more confidence in the emergency response if it showed more interest in the recommendations it claims to be responding to.

    It’s 3 weeks and still no clear long-term commitments from the Fed Govt on addressing the well-known infrastructure deficits that it’s own Productivity Commission described,

    inter-relationships between outcomes mean that well targeted actions can lead to improvements across a whole range of indicators. Reducing overcrowding in housing can contribute to improvements in health, school attendance and performance, substance use and misuse, and even family and community violence

  14. paul walter says:

    A nightcap, in which it is observed that, as to Brian’s negative response to Pearson, that Pearson has been tackled over the flaws in what he has been flogging for a decade now, and the song and its presentation remain obdurately the same despite ample refutation offered during the interim.
    What lies behind this excuse for a policy proposal?
    The pollies love it because it eases back on their narrow budgetary responsibilites, although only postponing the reckoning for the next generation to then fork out for, fixing up. And there is the hope of shonky kickbacks for those who might administer or invest in the thing later and will meantime “befriend’ the politicians and those acting as agents for the indigenes.
    On another topic, reckon the elephant in the room is the scope and extent of the co-opting of ABC “Lateline” in peddling the government line of nauseating racist propaganda over considerable time now.
    Although not expanding on Michelle Grattan’s serious ( I would have thought ) Bruff Rort story in the “Age” last week, Latteline and 4 Cornballs have nonetheless had unlimited time and resources to waste on more emotive schlock.( 730 report at least stuck with interviews with artyfarts and sports jocks ), as ABC bosses searched ’round for something that could get their masters back in the polls races.
    BTW Andrew Reynolds, what about something constructive or useful if youre going to bother switching your computer on already?

  15. Helen says:

    Someone sent me this – Jon Altman and John Taylor: a drift towards disaster. Sorry if someone’s already posted the link, since I’m in a hurry and have only scanned the replies to the post.

  16. steve says:

    Thought Pearson lived in Victoria not Hopevale.

  17. su says:

    Philip Martin had an opinion piece in the SMH with some more details of his concerns about the Pearson plan.

  18. Kim says:

    Gary Sauer-Thompson:

    The 4 Corners showed indifference and resistance to the Pearson/Brough plan amongst councillors in Hopevale, strong support amongst councillers in Mossman Creek. The teams were rejected twice in Aurukun. Why this happened was never explored. No indigenous criticism of Pearson’s plan were aired, and there were no alternative indigenous voices.

  19. I’m afraid I didn’t understand what was the point 4 Corners was making.

    The show was only slightly better than what one would expect from something produced for a high school project.

  20. Steve, Pearson was employed briefly by a Melbourne law firm, Arnold Bloch Liebler. However it is not know if he ever actually did a stint there of sufficient length for it to be said that he “lived” in Victoria. He was there in name more than body.

    Except for that, and a stint at uni in Sydney, he has always been a mighty Queenslander.

  21. Kim says:

    It was pretty bad. I don’t think it succeeded in either showing what the implications of Pearson’s plans were (how practical are the prospects of all these people running businesses?) or in showing what the conditions were. It certainly didn’t give you much of a sense of the actual politics/consultation/views in the communities.

  22. su says:

    Philip Martin was interviewed for that 4 corners piece but I don’t recall him being on the programme last night (admittedly I wasn’t paying close attention, it seemed to be a rehash). He does say something about the Aurukun experience in the SMH article.

  23. Kim says:

    I think he was on, but only really quickly.

  24. steve says:

    SATP, I am sure Pearson lives in Melbourne but want to know if he is so convinvinced that this stuff works why doesn’t he run for Mayor of Hopevale or whatever the new amalgamations throw his way and prove his ideas .

  25. Mark says:

    He lives in Cairns, steve.

  26. melaleuca says:

    Brian says:

    “I was horrified at the speech that Pearson made at Hope Vale. It had been clear up to that point that the money Brough was offering was conditional on them privatising home ownership and that the traditional owners had not been consulted. Pearson reminded me of a headmaster I had at a certain Lutheran boarding school. Very authoritarian.”

    Wake up and smell the coffee, Brian.

    In one of the featured communities 14 out of the 17 households went on an alcohol binge from Wednesday until the money ran out on about Sunday. We are dealing with adults who are hopelessly dysfunctional and who are cannibalising their own children. Note for example the periodic teenage suicides.

    The Noel Pearson speech on the footy oval was Martin Luther King like in its passion, eloquence, clarity and raw honesty. It had the desired effect: even the four or five disgruntled traditional owners subsequently came on side. They went from banner waving opponents to back slapping supporters based on that one speech alone!

    Unless these communities get their acts together pronto, their children should all be removed forthwith. No child deserves to be brought up in an environment where suicide and/or abuse and neglect are all they have to look forward to. This should be their last chance.

  27. Peterc says:

    I too was not impressed with Pearson’s tirade in Hopevale. He was dishing out a lot of guilt and not really making a case for why his plan would work. He mentioned the need for consultation during the program, yet is clear that Hopevale traditional owners were not consulted.

    His welfare reforms are actually still a trial, as the withholding of welfare funds has not actually occurred yet (according to the program), only agreement has been achieved for this in Hopevale and Mossman Gorge communities.

    No agreement in Aurukun either, so the model does not appear to be accepted across Cape York unless Pearson shows up to give his pep talk, and maybe not even then.

    Howard and Brough jumping on the band wagon (and sneaking in the land grab title changes) is premature in the extreme. And their lack of consulation with other NT communities is an absolute disgrace. Post election I suspect everything will fizz out quietly.

    There is however quite clearly a need for urgent action to address problems highlighted in the 4 Corners program, but real engagement and consultation with communities is needed, ongoing Federal commitment and funding is required, and all the skunkworks about shifting titles needs to be deleted.

    I got the impression that Brough (and by extension Howard) really don’t listen at all. They think they know the answers, cherry pick some of Pearson’s initiatives, then barge on ahead with their own paternalistic agenda. Ugly stuff this.

  28. John Greenfield says:

    This issue confirms an alarming fact about public debate in Australia. The Australian overwhelmingly leads public debate. The ABC stayed right away from all this until Tony Jones finally gave Nannette Rogers a hearing. And Fairfax is not even the best place to look for a 2nd hand car anymore.

  29. John Greenfield says:


    Wilma Mankiller from the Cherokee Nation and the British writer Jay Griffiths were adamant that it had been shown all around the world time and time again that solutions coming from the outside would fail.

    Do you think that all non-white people are interchangeable? An eskimo is an Australian aborigine is a Red Indian? Is money one of those undesirable “outside solutions?”

  30. Kim says:

    Has it ever occurred to you that Indigenous people in white settler colonies might have something in common?

  31. I’m also not sure what point four corners was making last night, either.

    Nevertheless, Wikipedia’s entry on Noel Pearson is a good reference for those wanting an overview of Pearsons background, and the development of his ideas (through his published writings) over the past seven years.

  32. Brian says:

    JG, yes and no, but what Kim said.

    You should be aware that the term Eskimo is offensive to the Inuit. The Wikipedia article bemoans the lack of another term to cover the Inuit and the Yupik, but is one necessary? Torres Strait Islanders do not identify as Aborigines so we use both terms.

    melaleuca, what Peterc said. My hunch was that the traditional owners in Hope Vale went along with Pearson because they could see there was no alternative to get additional Commonwealth support. You don’t get people’s true support by lecturing them and laying on a guilt trip.

    Nevertheless I do hope it works out for them.

  33. GregM says:

    I too was not impressed with Pearson’s tirade in Hopevale.

    Ah, but that’s the luxury you have of being a white middle class boy, knowing that your opinions, however uninformed, will be listened to and that whatever criticisms you make you won’t be called to account for and whatever solution has to be paid for you won’t have to put your hand in your pockert to pay a cent for.

    You lucky, lucky man.

  34. Kim says:

    Lose the moral self righteousness, please. I’m fed up with this claim that no one can criticise Pearson because we haven’t been where he has, etc. For a start, it’s not one that is ever made about Indigenous leaders who don’t advocate right wing policy. Secondly, how do you know what someone else’s experience is? And thirdly – it’s just a pathetic basis to avoid discussing the merits of policy suggestions and silence critics.

  35. John Tracey says:

    Has anyone seen this Youtube yet?

    “The kidnapping of Breton Gregory”

    My own take on the incident

  36. casey says:

    I dont believe Noel Pearson is beyond criticism at all. Yet I dont read him as left or right, but I do find his motivations coming from a number of sources outside that dichotomy all together. For one, I think his pronouncements suggest a very subjective response to experiences with alcohol abuse within a familial setting. And I think that you can compare his own very comforting, often articulated narrative of origin about himself and his family and his parents and how he was brought up, with the slippages from his brother Gerhardt to see how the need to clean up the Cape might begin and proceed from his own family. Its kind of permissable to explore this I think because he has raised his own family upbringing as proof positive of his theories. He talks about a necessary paternalism, but how much closer does it get than brothers?

    From Australian Story:

    Noel Pearson: “I’m the beneficiary of that privileged moment in Hopevale’s history when you had functional families and functional parents bringing up kids right at the time when education was opening up. My parents never knew what the hell I was doing in Sydney, really, I don’t think – probably didn’t even know what a university degree was – but nevertheless, they encouraged me. And I think their legacy is unravelling in our hands at the moment. My generation and the younger generation are not bringing up strong families. We are riddled with social dysfunction and alcohol and gambling and we’re destroying the potential of our children rather than fulfilling it. ”

    Yet there is a definite conflict here. One the one hand his generation was the beneficiary of functionality – on the other his generation is riddled with social dysfuntion. Here is Pearson’s method as modelled by his parents. If his parents offered the ‘tough love’ he has suggested elsewhere, which he believes is necessary to fix things, why did it go pear shaped in the next generation? I dont believe Pearson is reconciling the conflictual rifts in his own story.

    “GERHARDT PEARSON: Grog has had an impact on my life, on many of my friends life. Within our own family we have brothers who are alcoholics. My own life has been spent most of my time out of working hours. You have a few beers and sometimes a few too many. And you will never make opportunities for yourself if you’re constantly in a drunken state. If we want to tackle the issue of grog in the Cape, well, then grog mustn’t be part of your life. I’ve personally taken it upon myself to try and live up to that, and I’m better for it. ”

    Gerhardt sounds like a walking advertisement for Noel’s agenda really. This story with a fabled imagined past conflicting with the familial dysfunction of the present, in its unreconciled state, riven with its own internal conflicts is interesting for it should suggest to pearson that tough love and paternalism does not work, at least not long term and that people, like situations are complex and many layered. And that alcohol abuse resulted here from a good upbringing where there most definietely was no victimhood mentality. And this tough love produced alcoholics after all.

    I wonder if anybody else picks up the overwhelming urgency in Pearson’s utterance and rhetoric which suggests its all just a little bit personal?

    Anyway, I think that is interesting.

  37. JOhn, with respect, it seems Breton (sic) Gregory breached parole and there was a warrant for his arrest. He himself did not seem to be resisting the officers.

    I would be interested to know what the man’s initial charges were.

    As for the rape allegations made toward the police officer, a viewer with no background can not know whether there is any truth in them, though i guess the complainant could lodge a issue with the CMC if they were stonewalled at DOmadgee level.

    The incident is obviously a snippet of a wider issue/undercurrent, but I guess i’m saying I would be concerned that the video you linked may not be perceived as intended.

  38. John Tracey says:

    Hi Sublime Cowgirl,

    The reason for the arrest is not the point of me posting the link, it is the way in which the arrest occured.

    Similarly the rape allegations indicate a deep sense of conflict with this particular officer, at least in this particular houshold, irrespective of the facts of that matter.

    Even with a breach of parole or any other legitimate reason for arrest, it is not acceptible for police to walk into peoples houses and grab people without telling them why. In the video this information was not offered until after the scuffle.

    As a result of this jackboot style another 4 people were arrested giving a good indication of a major cause of the over representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system. A bit of simple politeness and explaination would have seen this person arrested without incident. But policing of this sort turns minor situations into snowballing conflicts.

    And then these cops are expected to be the frontline in sensitive issues such as dealing with child sexual assault.

  39. John Tracey says:

    Here is the National Indigenous Radio Service information on the incident. I thought I put it in the first post – sorry

  40. Even reading the radio post doesnt really help.

    However, i did a google search on the guy making the videos (his name SM if i got it right, is mentioned in one of his others) shows he has personally experienced a pretty disgraceful situation at the hands of local (and now dismissed?) police in the past, which helps put his ongoing video campaign in context. Thanks to the internet, I understand the Quakers even took up his cause!

    Perhaps sharing some of that history would help the points across better.

  41. John Tracey says:

    As I said before, I do not think the background to this is the point, though there is obviously a big story there.

    I feel this video is importent because it documents the contact between police and murris. The police are the main agency for implementing indigenous policy in state and federal governments. Yet these thugs feel they have free right of access to Aboriginal housholds and have no need to explain their actions. basic question of respect, let alone adherence to proper police protocols, not to mention cultural protocols in an Aboriginal community.

    This is commonplace on the missions, I have experienced it myself. When I was on Palm Island it was a daily occurance in the neighborhood I was in for the police to walk into a house and grab people. There is usually an argument because the police do not explain themselves and barge in with no respect. When there is an argument there are usually a number of people arrested. Chris Hurley arrested Mulrunji because he spoke out about another arrest Hurley was involved in, all Mulrunji was doing was walking down the street.

    My nephew was arrested for DD on Palm Island last year. He went to gaol for it. He and his family thought he would be in gaol for a few weeks but he was in for 8 months. Nobody bothered to tell him what the situation was, the police just grabbed him took him from the Island without explaination.

    Incidents such as Hurley’s treatment of Mulrunji or this home invasion are no freaks or the result of a few bad apples. This kind of Jackbootism is the norm in policing Aboriginal communities.

  42. steve says:

    Brough latest Pearson spin

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