The irony of the PM’s rescue mission of Aboriginal Australia hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Here’s a policy of helping a disadvantaged group to overcome a major social ill by using the resources and the personnel of the central government. No wonder Labor is not opposing it. It’s a good socialist policy.

But the Prime Minister, by playing the centralist, socialist, social engineer is giving massive powers to the bureaucrats. And as Noel Pearson observed in the Weekend Australian, “There is a huge implementation challenge. Based on the performance of the federal and provincial bureaucracies up to now, I am not confident they are up to it.”

Pearson acknowledges the need for an expansion of government’s role in the immediate term, but talks of the need for a “retreat by government in the lives of indigenous people”.

Will federal politicians – let alone their pencil-pushers – actually stand for this? It seems to be the only solution. Big government conservatism won’t help Aboriginal Australia.

“Bureaucrats, no matter how well coordinated their programs, will never deliver the solutions,” Pearson says. “[T]here is not the competence within government to locate and develop these reforms. Coordination, while desirable, in itself is not reform.”

Instead, what is needed is the recognition and fostering of leaders within communities themselves, then assistance with teaching and passing on of their skills and insights.

“Governments should vigorously support indigenous organisations that are involved in developing and trialling reform innovations, especially those that have developed partnerships with the private sector,” Pearson says.

“However, only indigenous people can drive this process…”

And the process can’t depend on bureaucratic whim and the funding favours of government.

Instead, it needs to take root in individual communities; to grow from the work of individual communities and spread in individual communities.

Intervention is necessary, programs need to be grown from the ground up, and then we move onto the third phase where, Pearson says, successful innovations developed in the second phase become mainstream programs administered by governments and indigenous organisations. Here, more challenges arise for government.

“Once reform innovations have been proven to work, the task will be to then dismantle the old routine programs and replace them with these routines,” Pearson says.

“This will not take place in a short time frame, but neither should governments hold on to routine programs when proven reforms become available.”

Indigenous people need to be able to take control over their own futures. Government has failed them.

“In this third phase, government should retreat so that it takes responsibility for those things that are appropriate for governments to undertake,” Pearson says.

“At present, government has assumed a jurisdiction that goes beyond its capacity or competence, and their can be no rebuilding of indigenous responsibility without a retreat by government to those matters that are appropriate to its role in a free society.”

Will government and all those who sustain themselves from its flows of money be prepared to let go and let Aboriginal Australians take over?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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