Nicholas Rothwell is certainly a gifted writer. In a front page lead rant in The Australian today, he rails against yesterday’s announcement by Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin that the NT intervention’s erosion of the Aboriginal land permit system will be wound back.
It’s all very colourful stuff from Rothwell. Apparently, Macklin didn’t just decide to unveil the new policy, she did it with “leaden resolve”. And she didn’t just seek the views of Aboriginal people prior to making her announcement. She held “dewy consultations”.
Macklin even got belted for adding during her press conference that she was “not interested in ideology, I’m interested in what works.”
Rothwell fires back: “But the permit system is ideology crystallised to perfection, and it doesn’t work.”
I certainly felt that after almost finishing the article, my command of the English language was in better shape. But sadly, I also felt like I wasn’t actually armed with any new facts. And that’s probably because the story didn’t really contain many.
Rothwell: “The primary effect of permits has long been to cut off remote Aboriginal societies from the outside world: to hinder economic activity, to kill tourist curiosity, to protect the incompetent administrators and local leaders presiding over their dysfunctional little kingdoms.”
There’s some evidence-based research for you. I thought remote Aboriginal communities like Wadeye were “cut off” from the outside world because the main road which services the fifth largest community in the Territory is inaccessible five months of the year during the wet, and complete cr-p for the rest of the year.
And then this: “Permits acted as a coded signal to outsiders, saying: ‘Leave your usual assumptions behind on entry, because things are different in remote Aboriginal Australia, educational standards are lower, social capital is lower, housing is worse, food is poorer – but that’s all OK, because it’s another kind of society.'”
Here’s a shock for you, Nicholas. Things are different in remote Australia. They have trachoma there. And life expectancies are less than 50 years. You’re correct in saying that education is poor, housing is worse, social capital is lower, and the food is cr-p. But that has nothing to do with the permit system. It’s because of decades of official government neglect, preceded by decades of the very same failed policies you’re advocating today (such as the compulsory management of a blackfella’s finances a pearler of an idea created in the 1940s. It didn’t work then. It won’t work today).
The problem with the argument against the permit system is that its proponents can’t actually point to a single moment in the history of the Land Rights Act where the permit system has actually contributed to death, destruction, doom and gloom. They can’t even point to a single occasion when its prevented a story being written.
Their argument instead comes from The Castle school of reasoned debate, as in: “It’s the vibe.”
The Northern Territory government, the federal government, Aboriginal leaders and experts on the ground both black and white, support the NT permit system. Heck, even the Northern Territory police strongly opposed the Howard government’s unpicking of the permit system because it can (and was) used in the battle against carpetbaggers, grog runners, drug peddlers and child abusers.
It also happens to afford Aboriginal people the same legal status that all other Australians enjoy the right to determine who comes onto their “country” and the circumstances under which they come.
Still not convinced? Even the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance – an organisation sworn to protect the freedoms of Australian journalists opposed the abolition or weakening of the permit system in any form (even for media access) in a submission to the Howard government last year.
The facts are overwhelming in support of the permit system. Which leads me to a rather nasty conclusion.
I don’t believe this dummy spit is about ‘practical solutions’, the Indigenous affairs mantra embraced by The Australian. I believe it’s about the defence of a failed ideology, and the protection of media egos and influence. It’s ultimately about putting a minister and a party — who have refused to ‘fall into line’ — on notice.
To attack Macklin as Rothwell did for having the temerity to sit down with Aboriginal people and discuss their future speaks volumes. Macklin and the ALP have determined to do the right thing on this issue to follow calm, reasoned, sensible, evidence-based research. That’s a most welcome development.