Last week’s
revelations of sexual and physical abuse, gang warfare and severe economic
disadvantage strike at the very heart of Australian society. According to Morgan Poll data, 69% of
Australians consider Aboriginal culture to be “an essential component of our
society”. A similar proportion of American people (70%) consider Native
American culture to be “an essential component of our society”, while fewer New
Zealanders (58%) say Maori culture is “an essential component of our society”.

Peter
Costello asserted last week in The Oz that the basis of Aboriginal disadvantage was
economic: “Some of
these [Indigenous] communities will never have an economic base, so essentially
people will live in places where there will never be a viable industry
sufficient to support them and their families or bring them into the economic
mainstream…That’s why we should try for the younger people to draw them into
places where there is economic industry which will give them jobs and education
and self-respect.”

Henry
agrees with Costello; it is important for Aboriginal people to join in with the
market economy. But it isn’t true that Aboriginal people are simply ignoring
the market economy.

Aboriginal
welfare dependency is often given as an example of their refusal to join the
market economy. Less than 10% of Aboriginal welfare ends up in the hands of
individual Aborigines – most ends up in organisations addressing chronic
problems brought on by decades of poor policy. These organisations are not
expensive; all of ATSIC’s activities cost less than the Diesel Fuel Rebate
Scheme. And Aboriginal people are lower on any socioeconomic measure, so
welfare is well directed.

Also, we
need to maintain balance in our coverage of Aboriginal issues. Economically,
there is a great amount of effective work being done. One of the success
stories is the Indigenous Stock Exchange (BAMA ISX); an organisation whose
objective is to fund new Indigenous businesses. Among their varied achievements
is the creation of farming cooperatives, birthing centres, tourist attractions
and art exhibits. These ventures are great advancements in the economic
wellbeing of Aboriginal people; they are adding something unique, valuable and
profitable. Even as Costello said these words, he was commending the success of
the Kulaluk Mudla Farm, an Indigenous-owned mud crab
farm.

Only when
media coverage is balanced will non-Aboriginal Australians be able to take pride
in the Aboriginal culture that is such an essential part of our
society.

Read more at Henry Thornton.

Peter Fray

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