Just as many Australians would be prepared to forgive Maxine McKew’s many sins for ousting The Rodent from the Lodge, this morning I’m prepared to forget that Jenny Macklin’s start in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio has been a little, well, inauspicious.
Because this morning, news broke that Macklin yesterday gave the National Indigenous Council, that most odious of hand-picked Indigenous Howard government advisory bodies, its marching orders.
As Snagglepuss might almost have said: “Exit, stage extreme right”.
Personally, the NIC lost me around about the time it advised the Howard government to compulsorily acquire land from traditional owners in the Northern Territory if they refused to provide a sub lease to anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who demanded one.
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There are some this morning suggesting that the NIC’s abolition has left a vacuum. They’ve clearly never actually met the National Indigenous Council.
Either way, focus inevitably turns to what replaces it.
I dare say I’m in the minority in Indigenous affairs on this one, but I don’t support a Labor-created, nationally-elected Indigenous body.
The simple reason? Just as parliament giveth, parliament can taketh away.
Labor created ATSIC in 1992. The Liberals abolished it in 2004. The Liberals, with the help of Labor, created the Northern Territory Land Rights Act in 1974. Both parties conspired to destroy it in 2005, and when that didn’t work both parties voted to gut it in 2007.
If Indigenous Australia has learnt anything from decades of dealing with white politicians, surely it’s that a black body created and controlled by white Australia is doomed not only to abolition, but to become the whipping boy for the never-ending cycle of white government failure.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with black organisations seeking white government funding to provide basic services — that’s a simple fee for service arrangement.
But taking the government shekel in order to fund “black governance”, like the NIC did, is a recipe for the creation of the sort of “rubber stamp – here’s what you want to hear” advice for which the NIC became famous (or more correctly, infamous).
Can you imagine the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), for example, allowing itself to fall under the control of someone like George W. Bush?
The best model on the block, at least at the moment, is the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council. NSWALC (pronounced News-walk) was created in 1983. It’s funding was provided through a 15-year land tax levied on all business throughout NSW.
By 1998, when the land tax ended, the NSWALC fund had grown to around half a billion dollars. Today, it sits at more than $700 million in cash assets, with unimproved land worth several billion dollars.
NSWALC holds elections to choose its board (although turnout could be better) and best of all, the organisation is self-funding and no longer relies on government assistance. Its cash investments fund its operations. It’s a model of self-sustainability.
But it has one great flaw – like ATSIC, it was an act of white legislation, so it too can be abolished any time a white parliament so chooses. Indeed it just barely escaped that fate in late 2006 – $700 million in cash starts to look pretty good to a government struggling to balance the books.
So NSWALC is not perfect. At some point, it needs to become genuinely independent of parliament and Aboriginal people need to be trusted to manage their own affairs.
But it’s the best model we’ve created so far. It¹s the closest we’ve come to “Indigenous self-determination”, a principle that every developed nation on earth save for Australia has come to understand and embrace.
Self-determination — described by people like those who populated the NIC as “symbolic nonsense” — is the only way to a healthy, happy Indigenous population and Macklin et al could do worse than to look at models like NSWALC for a road map to the future.