Archive for the 'indigenous' Category


The utility of knowledge

The United Nations University (UNU) Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) Centre of Traditional Knowledge is an exciting step for Charles Darwin University.  (Information about the launch can be found here). 

The UNI-IAS has already initiated a number of pilot projects in areas such as climate change, water, international policy making, biological resources and marine management. 

Valuing traditional knowledge for the purpose of education is important for several reasons:

  • it creates employment opportunities that match the skills and knowledge of indigenous peoples (in a socio-economic environment where there is a significant structural deficiency between labour supply and demand);
  • it re-enforces the positive value of indigenous identity and strengthens the inter-dependance between social networks and the sharing of knowledge;
  • it leads to possible break-throughs in key areas such as the application of biological knowledge to better health outcomes and other areas such as land resource management as a response to climate change.

In considering these positive efforts, a principal failure in indigenous affairs is the lack of value of indigenous knowledge and facilitation across a range of critical policy facets: health, justice, education, et cetera. 

Continued over the fold.

Continue reading ‘The utility of knowledge’


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.


Linking land rights frameworks to education

The Australian reports the launch of an endowment fund by the NSW Aboriginal Land Council to the value of $30m that will fund 200 education scholarships in perpetuity.  Described by Chairwoman Bev Manton as ‘our education revolution’, the money comes from a statutory fund established in 1983, diverting 7.5% of land tax accumulated over the course of 15 years.  After that period, the funds were invested and ballooned over a period of around 10 years from $281m to $700m. 

There are a number of important points to make in terms of demonstrating sound policy:

  • The education opportunities are the result of land rights.  Whilst not applying to specific land, the funds are the result of a land tax applied across the State.  It is an example of a right to land derived from Indigenous status that leads to a direct social outcome, and not passive welfarism.  This link should be built on in terms of linking other aspects of land rights frameworks. 
  • The fund will expand the administrative capacity of the Land Council, enabling greater connection to practical outcomes in education.  In part, this is a market-based solution to a significant social problem.  Land Councils have strong links with people on the ground and this will further solidify these links as well as extend the functions of Land Councils to devolving greater responsibility. 
  • It is the result of a long-term commitment on the part of Governments stretching back decades.  Politician’s are often criticised for not planning in the long term, or for making decisions that might not receive an immediate and practical political benefit.  This is quite the opposite.  
  • The long-term commitment used a method where money was invested and once it reached a significant amount the total was able to be used to provide scholarships in perpuity.  It is a model using principles of social entrepreneuralism.

Linking the IK economy to responsibility

In recent years there has been substantial debate regarding the roles of rights and responsibilities in indigenous related policy.  It is said that the nominal left are firm in their standing on rights whilst the nominal right stand with the need for greater responsibility. 

In one part the debate promoting responsibilities concerns the furthering of economic responsibilities: greater home ownership, replacing communal land title with private (mainstream) rental arrangements and ownership, emphasising private investment, removing the perverse use of cash welfare payments.  I support this general direction, but only if the policy architecture across a whole range of areas is adequate. 

One of these areas is employment and active engagement with the labour market.  One area of concern is the structural detachment of the labour market and Indigenous labour supply.  The IK economy assists in addressing this structural deficiency. 

An important opportunity, though, is the possibility of linking the IK economy with greater economic responsibility.  That is, where Governments provide funds on the basis of valuing indigenous knowledge as a resource, it can have greater leverage in determining the flow-on of that income to economically responsible outcomes.  Such outcomes include home ownership, asset accumulation, education investment, business investment, et cetera. 

July 2018
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