Friday, August 20, 2010

Elections, Aborigines & the need for change

Bear with me if I express a purely personal view that is nothing but opinions, no evidence or real argument.

I have just finished a post on my personal blog, End of the Nats? This followed an earlier post on this blog, Coalition wipe-out in the North? 

Now I know that many readers are not National Party supporters. I am not saying that you should be. However, I hope that you will bear with me when I say that the Nats decline makes me sad.

As an historian but also someone who campaigns for Northern development, I find the old Country Party a good thing. They had a focus and they delivered. So I find the Nats decline sad.

I also find the betrayal of Northern interests by the ALP sad.

Now my Country Party background means that I spent a fair bit of time fighting against the ALP, but I never doubted the Party's support for the working man, however much I might have complained about their approach. Nor, as I studied history, did I doubt the validity of the things that they fought for. You only have to look at the history of coal mining in the lower Hunter to see what I mean.

When the ALP fought against a yes vote in our new state referendum, I thought that the Party was betraying the interests of the people it claimed to serve in the interests of power, but I could still understand their position because I saw it in a historical context. I had no real idea that those who voted no at the Party's request would fail to gain any of the promised return, that once the referendum had been lost the need to meet local needs could be put aside in the interests of holding power elsewhere.

I have a lot of sympathy for the New England independents. Their rhetoric captures many of the things that I believe in at a purely personal level. Yet they have failed, at least as I see it, to develop any coherent view outside a very narrow range of issues. Certainly, they have failed to develop any coherent view of the North as a whole.

The same thing applies to the Greens. There I read with interest from Chris Parker's Facebook page that the Green's had released an NSW indigenous policy. When I looked, this contained the following elements:              

  • Amending the Constitution to formally recognise Indigenous Australians
  • Ending the Northern Territory intervention and put in place measures that genuinely help people to overcome disadvantage
  • Ensuring that Indigenous Australians are partners in the development and implementation of public policies to advance their rights and aspirations.

Do you know, even if every one of these bullet points was delivered, it would not do a damn thing to address the core needs of New England's indigenous peoples.

This is an area that I am quite passionate about. If you look at  Reflections on the end of the Housing NSW/AHO Aboriginal mentoring program you will get a little bit of the feeling as to why.

In Sydney outside certain narrow localities, Aboriginal development is an abstract issue because the proportion of the Aboriginal people is so small. This is not true of New England. It's not just that the overall proportion of the Aboriginal population is growing, but that in some areas it is so high (Moree Plains is an example) that local development is inextricably dependant upon Aboriginal development. You cannot have one without the other.

This is a very different world. It all comes back to jobs, education, development and suAborigines Home the Island Urungapport. But no-one sees it.

This photo is of an Aboriginal family of an island in the Bellinger near Urunga. I could give many such photos.

Maybe saying that no-one sees it is unfair. Many do. But no-one comes up with solutions because they cannot recognise that solutions must be geographic specific.

My interests are definitely geographically specific. While I agree that we must have advancement for Aborigines in the Kimberly's, I want to know what is happening to the Aborigines in Moree or Kempsey. That is my country.

Did you know, I think that it's true from a simple analysis, that Aborigines in inner Sydney have access to far more services than those in Moree or Tamworth or Kempsey? Why? They are simply closer to the current levers of power. A riot in Redfern creates a Minister for Redfern, while far larger numbers elsewhere are ignored.

There are no easy answers in current structures. Those of us who care have no choice but to dig away, trying to bring change.                   


Greg said...

A thought provoking piece, Jim

Peter Firminger said...

Hi Jim,

There's a lot of heart in that post. I think the loss of the Country Party was a bigger shame than the demise of the Nationals, even if it was a name change. At least you knew what it was for.

I still feel the sadness of losing the Australian Democrats to an ego-driven internal meltdown (and they still do themselves great damage preselecting a person with child-stalking related charges in SA).

On the New England Aboriginal side of the post (and I can't see the link between the two topics) you are absolutely right. But it's not just New England. All areas with these indigenous populations need to be looked after much more carefully.

I wondered at the time of posting the link to the Greens Policy, why it was the NSW branch putting it out, but that may just be because Lee Rhiannon is NSW based.

Did the Country Party have a policy on this?

On the other post... It's interesting to note that a Liberal Councillor in Cessnock believes that they should run a Liberal rather than a Nationals candidate in the (State) Cessnock Electorate. Further internal erosion by the coalition.

You're right about Barnaby. I love to watch him and he is a great spectacle for Australian politics, and I must admit a great fighter for the bush, but unfortunately the message gets eaten up by the power base when it comes to policy in Canberra.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi both. Thanks. Greg.

Peter, I too miss the Democrats. I probably voted for them as much as anybody else. I also miss parties that I knew what they stood for. Of them all today, the Greens are closest. I just disagree with some of their stands.

The linkage between the Aborigines and the rest of the post lies in Abroigianl demography, something I have written on a fair bit.

The Aboriginal proportion of the Australian population is about 2.6%. To most Australians, the Aborignes are an abstract cause.

In regional NSW in general, New England in particular, the combination of non-Aboriginal emigration with faster Aboriginal population growth means that the Aboriginal proportion of the population has been increasing. In Moree Plains, a substantial local Government area, it is now about 23%.

The Aboriginal population shares the problems of the broader population. You cannot address the question of Aboriginal disadvantage without also addressing the problems that are shared.

In historical terms, New England had the highest Aboriginal population in NSW. This was also a diverse population. A Sydney Government can talk in generalities because it doesn't need to worry. A New England Government would be under much greater pressure to recognise both Aboriginal needs and Aboriginal diversity.

I really should spell this out in a new post. I have done so in multiple past posts, but I need something that is very punchy and to the point.

Greg said...

As an aside, the Awabakal name for Newcastle was Muloobinba meaning "place of the sea ferns". I personally find it a shame that these names are not widely known. It might be seen as tokenism, but it would at least be some recognition of aboriginal history if many European place names also carried signs with the aboriginal place names and meanings.

Jim Belshaw said...

Agreed, Greg.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jim
Im wonderingIf you know who this family is in the photo? And if you have many other photo's with names as I was born in Belligen and lived in Urunga and found out that we are Aborigines. But our Great grand father married Our grandmother she was from England so it was not to be talked about in our family.Which is great loss.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi MC. I am sorry for the slow response. I don't know. I will run another post to see is I can get something.