“Within the indigenous community, violence is a
hugely important issue… I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. It is the
most important issue facing the community…”

“Today I want to focus less
on how we do things and more on what needs to happen in one specific area –
namely, education.”

These are Prime Minister Howard’s own words. The
first statement was made back in July 2003 after the PM’s Summit on Violence in
Indigenous Communities. The second was made three years later – two days ago
at a Reconciliation Australia lunch.

On Tuesday, Mick Dodson shared his “new hope”, founded on the
success of local Indigenous peoples improving local communities. And in reply
Prime Minister Howard declared his new focus on Indigenous affairs. The PM’s new
ambition? To “foster a generation of indigenous Australians who recognise and
reap the benefits of a good education and pass these values on to future
generations.”

Howard is dead serious: “we should not spend undue amounts
of time debating structures and process to the detriment of
outcomes.”

This is a crystal clear directive from the Prime Minister
to achieve real, measurable outcomes. The onus is now on performance. Not
structure, nor debating about process. But a charge to get the job done.
Howard’s priorities – education and life expectancy.

With 40% of
Indigenous peoples under the age of 14, a population bubble fast
approaches. And Howard, rightly so, sees the “promise of education” as an opportunity to get ahead of the
cycle of disadvantage – it’s the “passport to
progress” and a “proven avenue of lasting hope”.

Prime Minister Howard
has decisively set the agenda and staked his credibility in the portfolio. Gone
is the whiteboard crafted “five dot points make a policy” vanity of Philip
Ruddock. Or the immaterial lecturing of Amanda Vanstone. Howard’s latest
appointment, Mal Brough, has clear instructions.

The
PM’s latest speech seems to be accompanied by the same conviction he
demonstrated the last time around – but is he actually willing to do
something to back up his motherhood statements or will it be another
three years before any real action is taken? Time is running out.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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