MUNGO MacCALLUM. Closing the gap.

The biggest gap that needs closing is the lack of an acknowledgement of the past by non-indigenous Australia and a determination that not only will the ignorance and denial not be repeated, but there will be genuine collaboration at every level in future.

Morrison has talked the talk; now he needs to walk the walk, and he had better get on with it if he is not to be part of the unhappy legacy of so many previous leaders.  

As usual, this year’s Closing the Gap report was a pretty depressing document – some progress in some areas, but not much, and no sign of a real turn around.

So in anticipation of the next one, Scott Morrison has moved the goalposts – we will have to be less aspirational. Not much optimism there. But the prime minister has signalled another possible change – less top-down policy from the government, and more of a partnership with Indigenous Australia.

Obviously this would be a good idea, although hardly a new one. Politicians have been promising it for decades, without any tangible result: if their Indigenous partners get too uppity, they are simply ignored.

And Morrison should know it: his contemptuous dismissal of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and its misrepresentation of its proposal for an indigenous voice as a third chamber of parliament, which it self-evidently was not, is a perfect example.

As is his current schedule for reform: it turns out that this was not developed in consultation and discussion with Aboriginals, but only with his own selected envoy, Tony Abbott. And while Abbott may often mean well, he is an unashamed paternalist: he knows better than any of the proposed partners what is to be done.

Thus the priority – his priority – is education. This is undoubtedly hugely important, but is it more important than health, housing, or the rate of imprisonment – a report on which has been mothballed by the government for more than a year??

And more crucially, is this the priority of the communities affected? We don’t know because they were not asked and while Morrison suggests that they may be in future, the signs are not promising.

His immediate response to Closing the Gap was a unilateral announcement to exempt HEC fees for graduating teachers willing to work in remote communities for four years. This lacks, as Morrison might say, nuance.

Teaching in such communities is a specialized and onerous job – it is not one that can be turned into a success with a bribe. Even those teachers motivated to take on the task seldom last for four years.

There will also be more money for scholarships and support – always welcome, but they will be far more likely to produce results if Morrison’s actually involves his putative partners rather than simply treating them as his clients or customers.

This is about respect, and that is why the big gestures – Paul Keating’s Redfern Statement, Kevin Rudd’s apology, and the movement for an indigenous voice and constitutional recognition are vital. The practical approach to reform is clearly crucial, but to make it work there needs to be the cultural, emotional, inclusive commitment to a real partnership.

The biggest gap that needs closing is the lack of an acknowledgement of the past by non-indigenous Australia and a determination that not only will the ignorance and denial not be repeated, but there will be genuine collaboration at every level in future.

Morrison has talked the talk; now he needs to walk the walk, and he had better get on with it if he is not to be part of the unhappy legacy of so many previous leaders.

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1 Response to MUNGO MacCALLUM. Closing the gap.

  1. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    This morning (Tuesday 19.February, 2019) it so happens that I spent some time re-reading, and notating, an article which appeared in The Age (15.August 1992). It was under the byline of Martin Flanagan, but it mentioned as an authoritative source, Mungo MacCallum, who had made positive comments/references to the subject of the article: former Catholic priest Pat Dodson. The article was headed something about ‘Bridging the Gap”. I offer some thoughts in consequence.
    The article was misleading.
    Particularly it misled readers who would not have been aware that ‘the Kimberley land claim’ which it mentioned was not a suit originating with the Kimberley Land Council, which did not stop the KLC from trying to muscle-in and takeover the action. Pat Dodson, an alleged advisor to the Kimberley Land Council,had no part to play in it. It was the action of northern Kimberley plaintiffs mounting a common law claim (P18/1991) entirely absent the Kimberley Land Council, which the Plaintiffs had co-founded at Noonkanbah in 1978-1980, and, like most of the Law-Men and women present at that time, had abandoned for having done things ‘the wrong way’. The Kimberley Land Council was later ‘warned-off’ Noonkanbah Station – something they fought, in an ugly way, not least because of the iconic value of the name of the place. Gerry Hand, the easily-forgettable Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, had told Flanagan that Dodson ‘is not a publicist’, a bristling insight which was about all he had to offer. As they say in the Kimberley:’D’you b’lieve that?’
    August 1992 was the return-date (High Court, at Perth) for this recently-served claim.Pat Dodson appeared in media at the time distancing himself from it. According to the Flanagan piece, Dodson had spent time (I think about 1980) travelling, at the behest of ‘his’ ‘elders’ in Broome(?), in the eastern states (Australia) and New Zealand – to explain to people about the Noonkanbah story.
    It’s not their story.
    He had no right to do that. Dickey Cox, recently-deceased, was the man to talk about Noonkanbah. He – to put it at its most polite, distanced himself from Dodson, Yu, and all the activist wannabes of the past Indigenous half-century. The People want to be – on the land.
    The Flanagan piece – carrying all the authority of a Fairfax imprimatur- says that Dodson is a traditional owner of land south of Broome. Not, according to my clients – the true traditional owners of about half a million square miles of land and sea north of the Fitzroy River. Bunuba LawMan Banjo Wooroonmurra, also, advised me that Dodson’s animosity to my clients’ case, which Banjo, also, approved, was because neither he, nor Yu, nor Junie Oscar, ….et al… had any entitlements to Land in Aboriginal Law.
    This was not the first time Flanagan had written in glowing terms of Pat Dodson, warning readers that if they / we failed to lend strength to his chairmanship of the initiative: Reconciliation Australia, then, soon, ‘reconciliation’ would be as dead a word as ‘treaty’ had, by 1992, become.
    Such fundamental misdirections help explain why, 27 years later, Mungo is still writing about the politics – the Canberra politics – of indigenous society in Australia, and why so many of us, citizens, are still none the wiser.

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