Archive for November, 2007


The politics of saying sorry

There are widespread media reports suggesting that Senator Nick Minchin swung a number of votes from Western Australia to secure (by a slight margin) Brendan Nelson as opposition leader.  It appears Malcolm Turnbull had the numbers but lost them when Senator Minchin was dismayed at his comments in support of saying ‘sorry’ to the stolen generations.  Turnbull’s statements distancing his position from Workchoices was another reason stated, and perhaps supported the swing of numbers from WA. 

In relation to saying sorry, speculation in the media is supported by Nelson’s comments on 7:30 report:

KERRY O’BRIEN: And on Aboriginal issues, are you prepared like Malcolm Turnbull was, to say sorry, to join with Mr Rudd in saying sorry to the stolen generations?

BRENDAN NELSON: Look Kerry, we are very proud of what our forebears did at Gallipoli and other campaigns. That doesn’t mean that we own them. Similarly, we feel a sense of shame in some ways of what was done in the past, where with good intentions, but not always with good outcomes, Aboriginal people were removed from what were often appalling conditions.

We, in my view, we have no responsibility to apologise or take ownership for what was done by earlier generations.

KERRY O’BRIEN: So you would repudiate any attempt to say sorry to the stolen generations?

BRENDAN NELSON: Kerry, again that’s a matter that needs to be discussed in some detail with my colleagues, but I think it’s not a simple issue, and it’s a very sensitive one. It’s a very complex one. Symbolism is extraordinarily important. But I think we need to remember, and I think most people know that I have the greatest sympathy and respect for Aboriginal people. I have a portrait of Neville Bonner in my office on the wall opposite me, twice the size of a standard door, the first Aboriginal Australian in the Federal Parliament, but I believe that our generation cannot take personal or generational responsibility for the actions of earlier ones which in most, but not all cases, were done with the best of intentions.

Nelson is arguing that the stolen generations was done with good intentions and that was to remove children from circumstances of ‘appalling conditions’.  

This is contrary to Robert Manne’s analysis set out in In Denial: the Stolen Generations and the Right.  Broadly, the analysis is that the stolen generation issue is a blend of policies motivated by an object of social engineering and an object of welfarism for the child (the object touted by Nelson).  Manne finds that the second object is more prominent in the later years of such policies.

More over the fold.

Continue reading ‘The politics of saying sorry’


A current of vibrant and healthy debate

The Australian Parliament consists of 76 Senators and 150 House of Representative members.  Aboriginal people comprise 2.6% of the overall population.  If this figure was translated to our Parliament it would account for 2 Senators and 4 MHRs. 

The recent election resulted in 0 Aboriginal Parliamentarians in both houses.

My views over the fold.

Continue reading ‘A current of vibrant and healthy debate’


Funding Indigenous affairs in a federalist structure

The Australian reports that NSW Premier Morris Iemma has written to the Prime Minister saying that the Federal government is investing 85% of funding to remote and regional areas in other States (particularly Northern Territory), and that this is ‘largely excluding Aboriginal people in NSW, the bulk of whom reside in urban and regional centres’.  

Could it be that Aboriginal people in regional and remote areas require more investment in terms of achieving equitable services to that of urban Aboriginal people? 

Further, could it be that the capacity of smaller jurisdictions with larger Aboriginal populations to invest in solutions be lessor than larger jurisdictions with smaller Aboriginal populations as a ratio to the total population?

I understand that the mechanisms for distributing the GST revenue takes into account factors relating to the questions above, but the challenges now confronting Indigenous affairs requires investment across the board.  The problems are socio-catalystic and, if left untreated, manifest into larger problems.  I would argue that there is a clear cost-benefit ratio for increased funds across Federal and State/Territory jurisdictions, and that this needs to be explored (the Territory and Federal government are doing this, I am yet to see other jurisdictions and their commitment).   

What is dissapointing in this debate is the absence of discussion points around the relationship between Indigenous policy funds as income for Indigenous peoples and the opportunity to integrate greater economic responsibility, particularly for those structurally detached from labour market supply. 


Boyd Hunter and the Federal intervention

Boyd Hunter has written an argumentative in relation to the Federal intervention, located here.  It is necessary reading for those interested in Indigenous related politics, especially at this crucial stage some months after the initial announcement.

In my view Hunter conceptualises the dilemma and politics of Indigenous affairs really well.  He outlines some considerations of the current intervention, offers comparisons with current policy thought and focuses, importantly, with a view to improving the quality of evaluation and monitoring.  

An interesting excerpt:

Indigenous policy is one of most complex areas facing governments, as it involves many issues that do not exist for other Australians: a dynamic cultural life; a need to change social norms; unique forms of property rights, such as native title; and the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage, sometimes arising from problematic historical government interventions (such as, the ‘stolen generation’).

The concept of ‘wicked problems’ was originally proposed by Rittel andWebber (1973). Ill-defined design and planning problems were called ‘wicked’because they are often messy, circular, aggressive and intrinsically complex.Rittel and Webber contrast such problems to the relatively ‘tame’ problems ofmathematics, chess or puzzle-solving. Wicked problems have incomplete,contradictory and changing requirements; and solutions to them are oftendifficult to recognise as such because of complex interdependencies. The solution of one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create another, even more complex, problem. A wicked problem is likely to be one whose solution requires large groups of individuals to change their mindsets and behaviours.

Conklin (2003) argues that there are four defining characteristics of wickedproblems:

1. The problem is not understood until after a solution has been formulated.

2. Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem.

3. Constraints and resources for solving the problem change over time.

4. The problem is never solved (completely).

Indigenous policy is easily characterised as a wicked problem.


Memorable moments #5

Memorable moments #5 over the fold.

Continue reading ‘Memorable moments #5’


Hans Blix interview with Fran Kelly

Here you can locate a fascinating interview with Hans Blix and Fran Kelly.

If there is one important political evolution of our time it is the management of globalisation, not just in market economic terms but in political nation-State and ethnic relationships.  And if we look at the periods that span time, we are at the end of colonisation (at least as a rule) and moving towards a more interdependant and cohesive framework (when looking through an optimistic lens).  And in this context we are by no means stable, but at least there is an opportunity to create a progressive move that might strengthen the interdependance. 

Hans Blix talks briefly about this and the idea of strengthening interdependance needs to be promoted more as a national interest.  His speech will be interesting and if I can locate a copy I will edit this post.


The politics of absolutism

Whilst observing the play of politics there is one theme that consistently arises.  And that is that conservatism generally manages themes and messages around ‘absolutes’.   

Dealing in ‘absolutes’ is designed to polarise an issue across the media to person divide in a way that attaches to the broadest segment of electors as possible.  It deals with the assumption that a certain segment of the population is ‘fixed’ to each side of politics according to their individual circumstances (a rule with exceptions).  There is a variable in between largely consisting of people who adopt a casual interest in politics and public debate.  Dealing with ‘absolutes’ appears to be able to tap into the ’emotive’ strands of ‘decisiveness’ and a clear distinctions in terms of ‘tolerance’.  

In the closing of this electoral cycle there have been two ‘absolutes’ that have been fundamentally challenged.

Continue reading ‘The politics of absolutism’

November 2007
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