Attila the Pun
Friday, December 10, 2004
Mulan Rude

The Government strikes a deal with a remote Aboriginal community to provide $172,260 in funding for new petrol bowsers, in return for an agreement that children's faces will be washed twice a day and the rubbish taken out. A new era of cooperation, or a return to the bad old days of colonial paternalism? Depends you ask really:

The Age: Rules unfair, say proud Mulan people

"This is unfair. We are a proud people," she said. "Everyone is well looked after."
Two of the community's elders, Bessie and Bill Doonsday, sat beside her and nodded.
"Look around," Ms Stundi continued, "this is a clean place, a proud place".
In Mulan, she said, kids didn't sniff petrol like they did in Balgo, 44 kilometres east.

Herald-Sun: Desert town hails hygiene deal

ABORIGINAL parents at a tiny outback settlement yesterday said they would gladly wash their children's faces twice a day under a deal with the Federal Government.
"It's not blackmail -- it's our idea," said elder Rebecca Johns.

The Australian: We are just saving our kids

THE Aboriginal parents who struck a deal promising to force their kids to wash in return for community petrol bowsers yesterday delivered a powerful message to political opponents - the plan was literally saving their kids' lives.

How many 'elders' can a community of 160 people have? Did they all get interviewed by media outlets?

Reactions were mixed. Latham at least managed to keep his head:

Mutual responsibility is a left-of-centre agenda," Mr Latham said.
"We believe in the genuine two-way street where governments have got to meet their responsibility to provide the services, and individuals and communities have got to meet their responsibility to make good use of those services."

Whereas Senator Carr goes off the deep end:

Senator Carr said the commonwealth was "washing its hands" of its responsibility, describing the shared responsibility agreements as a potential breach of the law and a human rights abuse.

The editorial of the Australian has this response:

IF Kim Carr really wants to help indigenous Australians living in remote impoverished communities he will shut up until he has a constructive contribution to make to the debate on the Howard Government's mutual obligation plan.

Mick Dodson is also critical of the plan:

"What are the obligations from government, what are they doing? All the obligation seems to be on the community. There's nothing really mutual about this -- I wonder if it is a free informed choice by the people," he said.

It is interesting to note that Mr Dodson does not consider the Government handing over $172,260 to be doing anything.

The chairwoman of the new National Indigenous Council is more reasonable:

"I don't view anything which is going to benefit Aboriginal people -- which Aboriginal people themselves put up -- as being paternalistic, because it's not being imposed (on) Aboriginal people," she said.
"Rather, it's Aboriginal people saying this is what they want to do as a shared responsibility."

Hear hear. Paul Kelly has an excellent article on the issue:

But the core conclusions seem irresistible. Pearson asserts that "passive welfare" has become the main component of the indigenous economy; that passive welfare leds inexorably to social and cultural breakdown; and that it is false to believe a political settlement is a precondition to social and economic recovery.

Anybody who thinks this is just Howard playing wedge politics misses the entire story. The point is that the policies of the progressive Left have collapsed -- and the failure of these policies in relation to Australia's most underprivileged minority is pivotal in its own right and prophetic for the course of politics.

And Andrew Bolts chimes in with his usual approach:

SEE yesterday's headlines, with the Howard Government bribing parents at an Aboriginal settlement in Western Australia with cheap petrol bowsers to make them do what any good parent should do without even being asked -- like wash their children's faces and keep their homes clean.
Where are the black leaders who insist on clean children and tidy homes as a matter of pride, not a bargaining chip for a handout?

It is also interesting to note that Mulan has alcohol bans in place. Presumably, these were also a community initiative. If the Government supported them, would they automatically become paternalistic and racist bans?

The Greens complain predictably:

He said the plan - which has received support from the West Australian Government - set expectations that inducements might be offered for other behavioural changes wanted in the future.

Maybe Greens members aren't as stupid as they appear. Of course inducements are going to offered in return for behavioural changes - thats what Governments do, either through inducements (e.g. baby bonus) or penalties (taxes). This program is just an extension of the philosophy behind work for the dole programs. Unfortunately for the Greens (and Labor if they fight it too hard) that program has broad community support. As will this one I imagine, especially if enough of the locals publicly endorse it.

The Age give an unfortunately long hearing to Aboriginal 'activist' Micheal Mansell:

Mr Mansell said the Government's mutual obligations doctrine in itself might not be unlawful, but each time it was given effect in a discriminatory way - as it had been for the Mulan community - it was unlawful and unenforceable.

"As a person who believes in advancing human rights and the cause of my people I am concerned we seem to be going backwards," he said.

Memo to Michael - Aboriginal people can't go backwards. The state of Aboriginal health, education and employment in Australia is an utter tragedy. Cleary, the current programs are not working. Hopefully, this new approach is at least a step in the right direction.

The Age of course hates the plan, as it is a Howard initiative:

Hopes for a dramatic change in black-white relations have been dashed by a controversial deal linking funding for an indigenous community with behavioural change.

With such a fundamental error in the first sentence, you know this article is going places. These types of agreements are in of themselves a "dramatic change in black-white relations". Whether you agree with them or not is a seperate issue, but you cannot deny their significance.

Quoting Patrick Dodson (referred to as "the father of reconcilliation" when he is saying things the Age agrees with):

He said it was an indication of the Mulan community's desperation that it was prepared to forgo civil liberties to get essential services. Under the deal, the West Australian Government will provide regular testing for the eye disease trachoma, skin infections and worm infestations.

What civil liberties are being given up here exactly? Nowhere has it been said how the agreement will be monitored or enforced (other than health checks), though Vanstone has indicated that a community that failed to meet the requirements would be unlikely to be offered another deal.

Thankfully, the indications are that Mulan was already on the right track, with trachoma ( a disease almost unheard of in the developed world) infections falling significantly over the last twelve months.

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