Monday, 6 July 2009


This week is NAIDOC week, which stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee. It’s an annual week of celebration of culture, history and achievements of Australia’s indigenous population, or First Australians as they are sometimes referred to.

However, it’s quite amazing to see how little awareness of this week exists in the population as a whole – no mention on TV, in newspapers, in general discussions. The indigenous flag has been raised on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and there are some flags flying in the city centre, but you really need to be looking out for those and there’s really just an overwhelming sense of apathy about the whole thing. Maybe that will change as the week goes by, but I doubt it.

It’s particularly strange (disturbing) as there has been a significant amount of news in the last few weeks about indigenous issues – all of it bad. The Productivity Commission, which is a bit Orwellian sounding, but is actually the Government’s independent research and advisory body, released a report last week showing that despite various policy initiatives and a whole heap of rhetoric, the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is growing rather than shrinking on a whole range of economic, social and health indicators.

There has also been a lot of news and discussion about whether or not the Government’s “Intervention” into indigenous communities in remote Australia has been a success or not. The Intervention was, and still is, a military-led campaign to go into a set of communities identified as needing an “emergency response” to their state of social and economic wellbeing. The Intervention was a response to a report (Little Children are Sacred) revealing widespread and alarming levels of child abuse in remote indigenous communities, linked to high levels of drinking and the breakdown of community norms and traditional culture. Measures included legislation exempting indigenous people from the Racial Discrimination Act (in order to quarantine their welfare payments aka “income management” – purely on the basis of their ethnicity), compulsory acquisitions of land, restrictions on alcohol sales, deployment of police to patrol communities and the promise of increased funds for new housing and community services. It was revealed today that no new houses have actually been built in the 2 years since the Intervention began.

The Intervention is controversial and has been both heavily criticized and strongly welcomed by indigenous community leaders. It only applies to a certain number of communities in very remote areas of Australia so to a large extent, it feels like it’s happening in a very different world to the one that most inhabitants of this island live in. What some people don’t realise is that there is a much higher population of indigenous people in urban centres than there is in remote areas – and they tend to have equally poor life chances compared to their non-indigenous counterparts.

I find it disappointing that NAIDOC week seems to be coming and going under the radar with only a few flags being waved, while there is very little interest in having an informed and intelligent debate about how indigenous and non-indigenous Australia can move forward from the current shocking statistics.

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