Tackling the issues that confront the
original Australians is essential to creating a just nation. So why can’t we
do it?

Indigenous issues are suddenly s*xy again,
yet yesterday the Sunday program
took us through almost 25 years of policy failure. Are the problems that
intractable?

Sunday‘s timeline might give us a clue. We
suddenly jumped from Robert Ticker – minister from 1990 to 1996 – to the line
“And so, after a host of other frustrated incumbents at Indigenous Affairs, we
come to Mal Brough”. Have ten years gone without anything?

I know that’s not true, since I’ve worked
on Indigenous initiatives during this time. Yet it’s also clear that matters
have not improved. Indeed, it’s arguable that the greatest emphasis on
Indigenous affairs has been when they have provided a handy tool to hit out at
the states with. And that’s all of our faults.

White Australia lives in denial and
silence. When we do wake up, we talk in stereotypes – sexual abuse and violence
and the other terrible results of substance abuse and hopelessness in
Indigenous communities become inextricably part of their “culture”.

We stay as observers and critics and
blindly follow the latest big story. We demand quick fixes. We allow our
prejudices to be exposed. We accept these as received wisdom – until the
journalist or politician who whipped up the issue decides that there’s a better
yarn to follow and we all move on, leaving the poor b*stards behind in the
dust.

Of course, some keep on trying and trying to
tell this story and get someone to pay attention, anyone. Noel Pearson is
attracting an interesting audience. Peter Garret has some good messages.
Jack Waterford from The Canberra Times continues to plug away.

But the majority of us do nothing. Although
we wring our hands in collective anguish when confronted with the awful truth
of Indigenous Australia, we prefer to just make it go away, fast. Just as we do
with all the hard questions. Yet at the same time we believe that
government can do something about violence towards women and children, about
water supply and the basics of life, about the environment.

We believe that we can make an impact on
all these things if we insist that our representatives listen and act and stay
listening and keep acting until the problems are fixed. This is the very essence of our political
system – so why can’t we tackle this issue?

Are we stopped by our shame? How shameful is that?

Peter Fray

Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey.

This extraordinary year is almost at an end. But we know that time waits for no one, and we won’t either. This is the time to get on board with Crikey.

For a limited time only, choose what you pay for a year of Crikey.

Save up to 50% or dig deeper so we can dig deeper.

See you in 2021.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

SAVE 50%