How to help Aborigine communities

Anthony Dillon is an academic with some Aboriginal ancestry. He makes reasonable suggestions below but offers no pathway to achieving most of them. Specificity about what should be done is needed.

I believe token reinforcement studies point to one strategy that is highly likely to work: Pay for results. One specific application of that would start from the fact that school attendance is usually very poor among children in Aboriginal settlements. But education is essential for one to get anywhere in the modern world. So PAY childfren to turn up to class. A small amount could be paid at the end of each schoolday. If need be, the benefits paid to Aboriginal adults could be reduced to pay for it

The extreme problems facing too many Aboriginal Australians were recently highlighted in the news cycle again. This time the focus was on Alice Springs. While news stories raised public awareness of the violence and neglect of children, so much so that it attracted the attention of the PM, it is important to recognise that similar dysfunction happens in many other towns and communities. Nor are such stories new, as Chris Kenny has stated: ‘This blight of violent crimes, substance addiction, abused women and children and wasted lives is nothing new.’ Responsible media outlets, like The Spectator Australia, Quadrant, and the Australian have been reporting on these problems for many years. We hear the same stories and the same tragedies, just different locations.

Among those who care about Aboriginal people, of whom there are many, there is a growing frustration because so many Aboriginal lives do not seem to be improving. While we see successes with more and more Aboriginal Australians completing university, occupying leadership roles and starting businesses, far too many still suffer needlessly, particularly in less urbanised settings. This is despite considerable government spending, dedicated departments in both the public and private sector and a huge amount of goodwill from the Australian public.

We know the problems; however, there is less certainty about the underlying causes, and hence, less certainty about effective solutions. Clearly, a new approach is needed.

Albert Einstein has been credited with saying that, ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.’ He was simply saying that the problems we face require a deeper level of thinking. A deeper level of thinking about the seemingly intractable problems facing Aboriginal Australians and the contributors to these problems is needed, if we are to develop effective solutions.

Recently, action was taken in Alice Springs to restrict the amount of alcohol available to residents. This response has some merit, but must be part of a broader solution. By itself, an alcohol restriction is like a band-aid on a broken limb. A deeper level of thinking is needed for an effective solution. Alcohol management is one part of the solution, but not the complete solution. Alcohol misuse, is not only a cause of the problems we read about, but is also a symptom of deeper, underlying problems. Allow me to briefly discuss elements of what an effective solution would look like.

First, those leaders responsible for implementing solutions, must examine their ideologies and lay their egos aside. This is perhaps the biggest challenge. Doing this allows difficult conversations to openly occur. Alice Springs Mayor Matt Paterson was reported as saying, ‘We are all too scared to have the difficult conversations.’ Without difficult conversations, we will continue to see band-aids applied to broken limbs.

We must be free to openly discuss the problems facing Aboriginal people without the wild accusations of racism. Highlighting problems that disproportionately affect one racial group over another is not racism; it is simply truth-telling (cue for the proponents of the Voice in their quest for truth-telling).

Second, while alcoholic restrictions are sometimes a necessary circuit breaker, they are generally ineffective at promoting intrinsic motivation and agency within a person struggling with alcohol. A more effective solution that results in long-term benefits is one that motivates a person to want to stop drinking or to at least drink responsibly, because they want to live a healthy life. Incidentally, when an individual wants to take control of their life, this is true self-determination.

Sadly, the politics of Aboriginal affairs have cast self-determination as Aboriginal people seeking help only from other Aboriginal people. This is actually separatism, and has only ever failed. And will always fail.

Third, people are more likely to want to live a healthy life when they can see purpose in their lives. One way of achieving purpose is by helping and caring for others; this promotes connection with others. A multitude of ways can facilitate this, such as by having a paid job, volunteer work, helping a neighbour or engaging in community service. Paid employment, of course, has economic benefits. This is why Warren Mundine, when talking specifically about the recent crisis in Alice Springs, stated, ‘Any policy which does not increase economic participation and independence is a waste of time and money.’

Fourth, working adults are great role models for children. Children seeing working adults will learn that regular school attendance is a requirement for one day getting their dream job; it fosters hope. On this matter, Helen Morton has stated in the Australian that, ‘Unemployment is associated with poorer physical and mental health. The bright eyes of children’s early hopes and dreams quickly fade without opportunities.’ Further, working adults are more likely to ensure their children go to school and that home life is conducive to study.

Finally, dangerous ideologies, such as the idea that racism is the big culprit holding Aboriginal people back, or the belief that addressing the problems facing Aboriginal people requires a cultural solution that can only be delivered by other Aboriginal people, are huge barriers to empowering Aborigines. Other dangerous ideologies such as claiming Australia Day or an anthem are causes of pain to Aborigines must also be thrown in the bin.

These points are only some of the elements necessary for an effective solution, but they are all too often neglected. A total solution must also include access to jobs, access to good schools with dedicated staff, provision of affordable fresh food and modern services, and abandoning aspects of traditional Aboriginal culture that are no longer applicable in modern-day Australia.

I believe if we adopt the ideas in this article, next year on 26 January, instead of seeing stories about Australia Day protests, we’ll see positive stories about transformed Aboriginal communities where the people are living their potential, and making us a better Australia.

Whether you’re on the front line or the sideline, we all have a part to play. Let’s step up and let our voices be heard.


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