The content of the Closing the Gap report, 2011, has been called ‘underwhelming’…and it seems SOME insightful thinking on this issue just never sees the light of day, either in political circles it seems, or in mainstream media.
The idea of supporting/steering local knowledge and action is an
’emerging model of co-ordination and control in the management of public services …at the local level in UK and Germany’.
QUESTION: Is the traditional hierarchical way the bureaucracy manages public services appropriate/effective in today’s complex world?
“the closing the gap initiative was another top-down ‘solution’ dreamed up in Canberra.
We need investment in Aboriginal programs which work from the bottom up..
A lot of money has been spent, bureaucrats and the media come and go, but Aboriginal people are sitting on the sidelines watching a passing parade, which rarely stops to talk to them.”
Indigenous leader Lowitjia O’Donoghue says she does not believe the government will close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage with its current policy settings.
Victor Hunter, a person who is interested in change for the better, has been working on creating an environment where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can work together on community projects. He works closely with Indigenous people in the Kimberley.
The big difference between Vic’s approach and that of Government agencies, is that he ensures Indigenous people develop a sense of pride and ownership in every project that they are going to be involved with…in direct contrast to the delivery of programs and policies of Government agencies, who use ‘outside expertise’ to achieve ‘outcomes’.
There are approximately 4000 Indigenous residents in the Fitzroy Valley region and Government is spending around $40 million on a wide range of programs/projects for these people. An ‘Aboriginal Industry’, in essence, has been created, and unfortunately, having this amount of money expended for small numbers of Indigenous people has attracted a lot of people who are there for the money rather than improving the quality of life of Indigenous people.
Vic comments that it’s important to remember ‘in business, it’s not how much money one turns over, it’s what sticks to you’, and history shows that when these macro projects are completed it’s the outsiders who take the greatest portion of dollars with them and the locals are ‘left with the scraps’.
In Vic’s experience the majority of Government programs are developed without any involvement of the people who are going to be the recipient of the end product, an approach that has been going on for decades and has lead to the ‘cargo cult’ mentality in many remote Indigenous communities.
The current approach ensures that Indigenous people will continue to be the receivers of goods and services. How can they ever be ‘givers’ when they have no chance to develop pride and/or ownership of anything?
Young Indigenous people are the focus of training and employment programs, but these programs do not allow for the different levels of sophistication that exist between an Indigenous youth from Sydney or Melbourne and one from a remote Indigenous community in the Kimberly region. There is major factor of difference here of approximately 100 years in terms of white contact.
How can a youth who has grown up in a remote dysfunctional community, where his/her parents are dysfunctional and have never been taught the basics about where the boundaries of right and wrong are, be expected to demonstrate these values in their daily lives? Yet one often hears a magistrate telling someone in his/her court of petty session, “Don’t you know that’s wrong?”
Vic believes this sorry situation with Indigenous youth will continue until there are policies and programs that lead to Indigenous parents and grand parents developing ownership and pride in their community, their children and themselves. He also believes we need to include adults in a broad approach to our long term problems and not just focus on the children.
Margaret Wheatley, respected exponent of the Art of Hosting ‘a leadership practice focused on creating organisational learning that unleashes the power of collective intelligence’, says ‘Whatever the problem, community is the answer’ and Vic, in the same vein, says:
“What we need to do always, is take things back to a single unit, then build everything back up again, knowing that responsibilities need to be shared by all stakeholders.”
Instead of just focussing on getting Indigenous people into ‘real’ jobs, preserving Indigenous languages and culture should be a prime consideration, as this, like the internationally acclaimed Hawaiian Distance Learning Program (KDSL), (and possibly Dr Chris Sarra’s fledgling Stronger Smarter Schools program), can establish a ‘real’ cornerstone for a worthwhile life, as well as for work, bringing self respect and dignity.
White people came to the Kimberley around 50 years after the rest of Australia so there is a greater chance here of preserving some of the languages and culture.
“Too many people providing services to the ‘troops’ in remote localities are unaware that the young people they’re dealing with have never been taught the boundaries of right and wrong. It is questionable whether we grow up ‘just knowing these things’ and, with parents struggling to look after themselves, who will teach the children?
Frequently, from age 3 upwards, children have their older siblings looking after them or they survive best they can. The chances of parents or grand parents (in a dysfunctional community) preparing these children for kindergarten with nursery rhymes, counting or having someone getting them to expand their vocab would be zero.
When the kids eventually have to attend school, they are well below whatever the benchmark is. Added to all this, is the possibility of parents having a minimum level of education which generally means that these parents are sympathetic towards children who prefer not to go to school and the further they get behind in the race, the slower they run.
Children will start achieving at school when their parents start having a positive attitude towards education and that we should allow parents to go to school with children.
We can make certain all adults have police clearances, give them their own home room at the school, their own coordinator to work with them and tutors to assist them with their studies and assignments.
If we continue to concentrate on children, without working with the parents also, nothing is going to change.”
Ted Egan is asking Julia Gillard to intervene to stop wasting billions of dollars on ‘stupid..demeaning’ programs that can end up financing people ‘to act like criminals in the town camps of Alice Springs’ and help people stay in remote communities.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin and NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson’s $4.1 million Alice Springs Transformation Plan aims to combat alcohol-fuelled problems with initiatives such as extra street lighting in problem areas and more support for young people and families.
NT Independent MP Alison Anderson says the Alice Springs Plan will do little to change Aboriginal people’s lives. Bolder solutions are needed rather than continuing policies that are failing.
“The money is welcome but the (Community Development Employment Projects) jobs – putting up letterboxes and painting graffiti – is just undermining the capacity of Aboriginal people..
We should be directing these people into real jobs. You’ve got trade shortages in the Northern Territory; why aren’t we putting these kids through TAFE schools instead of getting them to put up letterboxes? It is just degrading and patronising.
These are just knee-jerk reactions of all the people who don’t understand Aboriginal people.”
Dr Sue Gordon former chief of John Howard’s National Indigenous Council and the Intervention, thinks governments need to accept that Alice Springs has grown and many Indigenous people are moving there from WA and SA as well as remote communities. New permanent housing has to be built. She says:
“[The money] will have a short-term impact but its still the communities that have to be part of the solution. Youth centres and CDEPs spots can only help for a limited period of time, but if people want to be permanent in Alice Springs the government needs to figure out what happens to them.
They can’t continue to overload town camps. There needs to be more housing for people that don’t want to go back to communities. I’m talking about rental housing in suburbs.
Alice Springs has become the talking point but it’s really about the Aboriginal people sitting down and coming up with solutions in the communities.”
WHY do bureaucrats and politicians ‘not hear’ people who DO have insight into the problems our leaders are attempting to address?
WHY is there NO ongoing conversation that includes representation from ALL groups involved?
We CAN do this sort of thing online and our leaders might finally see a way of using available resources more effectively and achieve a worthy, dignified and culturally sensitive result for all.