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Jul 2, 2009

We jail black men five times more than apartheid South Africa

In the Northern Territory, 83 per cent of the prison population is Indigenous, while Western Australia jails black males at more than eight times the rate of South Africa during Apartheid.



Last week, the federal government helped launch a paper entitled Bridges and Barriers: Addressing Indigenous Incarceration and Health . It was prepared by the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee (NIDAC) and calls for new efforts to improve Indigenous health, and thereby reduce Indigenous incarceration.

The report had some startling findings, and in the context of the ongoing Mulrunji Doomadgee outrage, and the horrendous death in custody in Western Australia of Mr Ward — a respected young Aboriginal leader who was cooked in the back of a prison van during a four hour trip through the Central Desert — I had expected media to get at least half as ‘excited’ about the issue as they do when reports emerge of Aboriginal children being sexually abused.

How naïve. Perhaps it’s because ‘black on black violence’ is more palatable to the Australian public. Or maybe it’s just because our media (and by inference the Australian public) gets its rocks off on child s-xual abuse. Whatever the reason, black men and women being jailed at astronomical rates apparently doesn’t pique our interest.

The story got a sparing run across the nation, and was restricted in most cases to a breaking news story on websites, courtesy of an AAP yarn.

It included some startling statistics like: “One in four prisoners in Australia is Indigenous and their over-representation in the jail system is only getting worse.” One in four is no mean feat given that in the general population, Indigenous Australians make up one in 40.

And there was this: “The situation is worst in the Northern Territory, where 83 per cent of the prison population is Indigenous.” That’s 83 per cent in a jurisdiction where Aboriginal people constitute less than 30 per cent of the total population.

“In Western Australia, the figure is 41 per cent . Victoria has the lowest proportion of Aboriginal prisoners — 6 per cent of that state’s inmates are black.”

All pretty alarming stuff, but not enough to really capture our attention. So I thought I should try and ‘s-x’ it all up a little bit. All I can do is put the figures in some sort of context that might resonate a little better…. Which of course required me to read more than the government press release hand out.

In the first half of 2008, there were 8,411 Indigenous people enrolled in tertiary education . At the same time, there were 6,605 Indigenous people in prison.

By comparison, for the same period there were about 696,279 non-Indigenous Australians enrolled in tertiary education, while there were 20,072 non-Indigenous Australians in prison.

You can do the math … or I can do it for you. If you applied the same principle to white Australia — ie. the number of people in jail is only about 22 percent lower than the number at university — our total prison population would expand to over 546,000 people. That’s a population larger than Newcastle, Australia’s seventh largest city.

Nowhere else on earth would you see figures where the Indigenous population in jail almost matches the Indigenous population in university. Indeed, Australia’s Indigenous jailing rate is the highest on earth. But that’s not the most startling ‘figure in context’. This one is:

The jailing rate of black males in South Africa at the end of the Apartheid era (1993) was 851 per 100,000 population. In Australia today, we jail black males at a national rate of 4,364 per 100,000.

That’s over five times higher.

In the Northern Territory, the rate is almost six times higher. In fact, no state or territory of Australia — not even the ACT — jails black males at a rate less than South Africa under apartheid. The closest is Tasmania, at 1,169 per 100,000 population.

So Australia’s ‘best performer’ is still almost 30 percent worse than the regime considered the most racist on earth.

Our worst performer — Western Australia — jails black males at more than eight times the rate of South Africa during Apartheid.



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59 thoughts on “We jail black men five times more than apartheid South Africa

  1. Brett Gaskin

    There is no doubt the many issues impacting the Aboriginal community are a massive cause for concern, and something that any intelligent Australian should be determined to resolve.

    So what’s the answer. We seem to have tried many approaches – from throwing large amounts of cash at the problems, to acting like concerned parents with naughty kids.

    The incarceration statistics couldn’t be clearer in confirming the absolute tragedy that is life for the majority of indigenous Australians. There would be uproar if another section of the community was incarcerated at such a rate – Chinese, Lebanese, Italians.

    Most people would agree that aborigines face life hurdles that whites can’t even imagine. The extreme difficulties of employment, alcoholism, sexual and domestic abuse, and a general ostracism from “regular” Australia culture and life.

    So what is the answer? Should the law not apply to aborigines? Surely not. Are all incarcerated aborigines victims of false confessions and police brutality? Surely not. While the mindset and actions of many police towards aborigines are disgraceful (Hurley and subsequent trials, results, treatment etc the perfect example) , at what point do aborigines need to take some responsibility for themselves.

    The white man won’t give an aborigine a job as they consider them drunks, and the aborigine drinks because the white man won’t give him a a job and so has no future. It’s a vicious circle that will continue until one side or the other changes something. Based on history it’s unlikely to be the white man that changes.

    Unfortunately the reality is that our grandkids will be discussing the same issues and proposed solutions that we are. There is simply no political or public will in this country to resolve the various issues destroying aboriginal communities.

  2. Nadia David

    Why is there this constant lamenting of the rate of Indigenous incarceration but no useful suggestions as to how that rate can be reduced? Is it ok to simply not gaol someone even if they fit the criteria for a term of imprisonment only because they are black? No. The same way it isn’t ok to spare a white person of a gaol term for the same reason.

    With the exception of the NT, which has the most racist of mandatory sentencing laws – hence the appalling incarceration rate of Indigenous people – there is little to suggest that Aboriginal people are gaoled because of skin colour. In fact, where black on black violence occurs, the sentence is likely to be more lenient than any other racial mix of defendant and victim (check out the Aus Institute of Criminology figures on this).

    Where are the suggestions about diverting Aboriginal people away from criminal actions in the first place? Where are the hand-wringers when talk turns to banning alcohol, to putting some responsibility on Aboriginal parents for their children, to policies aimed at turning around the welfare-dependancy so many Indigenous people grow up with and adopt readily? When people have hope for the future and a sense of self-worth they’re less likely to screw up their lives and go to gaol.

    It’s all very well the write an article condemning us all for not jumping up and down about the huge over-representation of Aboriginal people in gaols, but I really don’t think it’s surprising enough to warrant the jumping. It’s awful, abhorrent and shameful. But the stats aren’t helping….people go to gaol for breaking the law. Let’s start with why they’re doing that instead of blaming the courts for doing what they’re supposed to.

  3. George Dudek

    It appears that black males in Australia are eight times more likely to engage in criminal behaviour than black males in South Africa under Apartheid. I have a solution, let’s decriminalize theft, malicious damage and assaults of any kind as long as the perpetrator is black and the statistics could be easily reversed.

  4. Pamela

    Hang on a bit Nadia. Which bit about Mr Ward’ death in the back of an unairconditioned van was deserved. When John Elliott was drunk and stroppy outside the Carlton Football club AND driving a car AND insulting a police officer- he was not put in a van and cooked to death while being carted off to prison. He went home that night. You see white men do things and go home – black men do things and get locked up or killed.
    It is time when really owned up to the dicrimination in this country instead of breast beating and blaming the victims. Indigenous Australians like asylum seekers get a lower tier of justice to the rest of us.

  5. Altakoi

    I would be interested in how many victims of the crimes for which aboriginal people were incarceratd were themselves aboriginal. In which case, would not incarcerating the person actually be doing aboriginal people in general a favour. I don’t think incarceration rates mean anything unless the sentencing is discriminatory, which it would be if aboriginal people were being locked up for things other sections of the community were let free for. Is there any widespread evidence for this?

  6. Chris Graham

    Surprise surprise – a story based entirely on government data, refuted by two rednecks who provide absolutely no evidence to back up any of their right-wing, mean-hearted drivel.

    For the record George, and I’ll write slowly so you can follow it, it’s not the case that black males in Australia are eight times more likely to engage in crime. Only an ignorant redneck and, as it turns out, you, would try and argue that. As numerous studies have shown, black males are far more likely to come to the attention of police, and be jailed, regardless of the actual crime rate.

    To believe otherwise means you believe that Aboriginal people are genetically predisposed to crime. While I don’t doubt for a second George does actually believes, but which any Australian who is not the product of a union between brother and sister wouldn’t. It’s clearly a stupid belief.

    So something else must be at play… ie horrendous health, housing, education, equality.

    As for Nadia’s comments… why don’t you try reading the 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that we paid $40 million for… or would you like me to go over them again? The story was not about preventing it, it was about reporting it.

  7. Nadia David

    There’s not too much proof of that, Pamela. Non-indigenous Victorians still make up 94% of the prison population, and I don’t think the NSW figure is much lower. The treatment of people in custody is a totally different issue and one that really does bear some looking into, especially in WA and NT who’ve never had a ‘Black Deaths in Custody’ Royal Commission. Mr Ward’s death is one of the most shocking displays of inhumanity I’ve heard of and I’m sure changes will be made as a result.

    You’re still not asking WHY black people are locked up more than whites. If anything, my experience of the criminal justice system shows an inherent desire NOT to lock up Aboriginal defendants if it can be helped, but then again, that is just my experience in NSW.

    As for Chris, ouch. I have actually read the Royal Commission and a lot of changes were made as a result. Just because someone doesn’t agree with everything you say doesn’t make them racist. It just makes us discerning. Your article didn’t have much to say other than regurgitating stats so don’t blow your top when we question the stats. Stats have to have context to have meaning….otherwise they can be used by anyone to support anything.

  8. stephen martin

    It may be much worse than these figures show.Are aboriginals lumped together with “indigenous persons”? Many indigenous persons in say Darwin, live a “normal” Australian lifestyle, have good jobs, and they and their families are respected members of society.There are university students and graduates among them.
    For example how many of the indigenous university students come from aboriginal communities – not many I would suggest?
    Another factor maybe that magistrates feel that a fine is not feasible for those who have no income other than the dole and a prison term is the only option. Of course I may be totally wrong in this suggestion.
    More importantly the cause of the offending should be addressed rather than the symptom. People who see no hope for their future can hardly be expected to take kindly to the society that regards them as a bloody nuisance. Put in their position I dare say I wouldn’t have much respect for the law.
    How would you feel at the bottom of the social scale with people driving around in flash cars, with stores bulging with goodies that you could only dream of, but never obtain – particularly as only a very few generations ago it was your country.

  9. stephen martin

    Incidentally Nadia David the following is incorrect –
    “With the exception of the NT, which has the most racist of mandatory sentencing laws”
    Mandatory sentencing was abolished in the NT when Labor came to power eight years ago.It was not racist anyway, it applied to all and sun dry, although as the article might suggest it may have affected indigenous people more than others. People, “white”, were affected and were facing jail time for ridiculous offences. One was facing jail because a neighbor complained about minor damage to a fence.
    Mandatory life imprisonment for murder is the only provision still applyig, and even then you can apply for parole after 20 years. Suddenly it appears mueder is rare in the NT, but manslaughter is common.

  10. Ungulate

    “Stats have to have context to have meaning….otherwise they can be used by anyone to support anything.”

    Thankyou, Nadia.

    This sort of irresponsible comparison of Australia to apartheid South Africa only serves to further prevent ordinary people from feeling outraged about the terrible disadvantages Aboriginal people face, by branding them as racists and the law as discriminatory. If there are any similarities between Australian legislation and South African legislation regarding people with black skin, Chris, then please publish it. Otherwise, understand that your hysterical headline is doing nothing for your cause.

  11. Colin Cowell


    Aboriginal males make historic Banatjarl Statement about health

    We the Aboriginal males from Katherine East Region gathered at Banatjarl on July 2 2009, make the following statement:

    We are proud Aboriginal men, proud of our culture and to achieve our vision we call on the Australian Government and the Northern Territory Government to reform the intervention, reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act and reduce the barrage of complex and contradictory changes that are disempowering Aboriginal males, resulting in “widening the gap” in Aboriginal male health and severely impacting on the lives of our children, families and the communities in which we live.

    We resent that the Government has allowed the media to portray all Aboriginal men as paedophiles, and subjected us to unwarranted suspicion – we love our children and our families – we are human. We call on the Australian and Northern Territory Government to join us in the outright rejection of this practice

    We feel fearful that we are misunderstood in our natural loving actions, and this stops us fulfilling our roles as fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers and carers.

    We have developed strategies, networks and recommendations to ensure our future roles as men in caring for children in a safe family environment that will lead to a happier, longer and healthier life that reflects opportunities experienced by the wider community.

    Contact Sunrise Male Health Summit

  12. Chris Graham

    Actually, mandatory sentencing was introduced first in WA (in the early 1990s) by Carmen Lawrence…. a so called icon of the Labor left. And Stephen is correct – it was abolished in the NT over a decade ago. But IT WAS racially discriminatory – it was introduced specifically to target Aboriginal people. Any law which has the affect of jailing one race disproportionately to the other is discriminatory. Period.

    As for it being irresponsible to use statistics to highlight the rate in Australia as opposed to South Africa, please Ungulate, enlighten us all – defend our rate of incarceration of black people. Explain to us how a non-racist nation with non discriminatory laws could jail black people at a rate eight times higher than the most racist nation with the most discriminatory laws… the fact is you don’t need Apartheid in legislation to have it in practice.

    Methinks those seeking to diminish the statistics might do well to look-up the phrase ‘denial’.

  13. Chris Graham

    PS. Brett Gaskin hit the nail on the head – the problem is a lack of political will.

  14. Liz45

    I’ve listened to and read accounts of how aboriginal people can be subjected to racism from the time they leave their home to when they return – whether it’s at school, being rejected for a job, housing etc. I also understand, that just by walking around a major retail store ‘wearing’ your black skin is sufficient reason for the ‘security people’ to be concerned, and follow you? How would people like to live their life like this. Then, there’s the horrific realities already referred to here, but not the young boy from Redfern who was impaled on a fence – he died! It was alleged that the police were chasing, harrassing, insulting his mother/ his sister, using revolting language etc and that’s how the incdent? happened! They got off! Allegedly lied for each other? How would the racists(George) live with that lifestyle?

    In NSW the situation re young offenders is in crisis. Due to each major political party trying to outdo each other re ‘toughening up on crime’ we now have a situation, where juveniles are locked up for alleged crimes that before warranted bail. Coupled with this is the recent stupid act of closing a local detention centre, requiring families to travel for maybe 4-6 hours to see their young child/adult – some of the alleged offenders are released after their court appearance, which obviously means, that they were wrongly arrested and jailed for ?? how long prior to court appearance, or they were given a non-custodial sentence. There is a strong racist element when the offender is aboriginal. In NSW, aboriginal women far outweigh non-aboriginal women in jail.

    I’ve also read, that too many police officers still have 1960’s views re domestic violence. (A Chamber Magistrate in the 60’s told me to go home and ‘cook your husband’s favourite meal, and be a good wife’? I’ve read of women being held in a cell overnight in their night attire, and having to go to court in the same clothes. Also, if the man(usually) has any bruising or accuses the woman of assault (even though there are trained people who can tell the difference between defensive and offensive wounds/bruises, too often, the woman is dragged off? (SMH articles) – and is released by the judge down the line, as the perpetrators evidence is not sustainable by the evidence. Too many women’s lives have been destroyed by such injustice/s.

    I’ve also read, that when the police do a check re the woman’s allegations, if she has unpaid fines etc she will be detained and treated as the criminal – regardless of it being obvious, that she has been severely assaulted. This is another reality I suggest happens to too many women, and I have no problem with believing, that aboriginal women suffer more than other women. Imagine what impressionable young people learn about our wonderful justice system.

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics clearly states, that in every area of this country, in the cities, regions or remote areas, aboriginal peoples’ income is lower than non-aboriginal people. Look it up yourself George! You might like to read the Bringing Them Home Report, or the report into the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody. It should be noted, that as far as I’m aware, not one of the recommendations of that royal commission have been implemented.
    There’s also a saying, that you get the justice that you can afford to pay for. That’s probably why there’s not many rich peoples’ kids in court? They don’t ‘misbehave’ take drugs and speed? Oh please! I recall seeing an end of school group of high school students, smashing up the street, knocking over garbage bins etc – all from a private school? Didn’t hear of them being held in detention pending their court appearance! Actually, I don’t know whether they were even arrested.

    If the situation re Mr Ward had’ve been a reverse event, I can just imagine what would’ve happened to the aboriginal male and female who were employed by GSL. They were suspended, only after the Coronors report; they were only dismissed after the public outcry, and those in charge used them as scapegoats, when they, and the relevant WA Minister should’ve been charged with serious offences; at least manslaughter! I won’t hold my breath waiting for justice there. I’ve not been so angry, disgusted and ashamed for a long time – probably not since the last disgraceful event!

    I understand, that only 15% of aboriginal people drink alcohol, as apposed to 85% of non-aboriginal people – it just seems more, as the media aren’t as interested in showing their own ‘skin’ in such a poor light, and the shock jocks turn a blind eye – in fact, make up excuses etc; look at the NRL and AFL and currently, Rugby Union players! I’ve also noticed, that when anything is on the news re aboriginal people, you can almost bet, that the ‘pictures’ will be the same place with the same aboriginal people, usually not in a favourable situation, and not necessarily in context with the news item. Take note in future George!

    Incidently, I’m not an aboriginal person. I’m just sick to death at the level of racism, disadvantage and injustice that’s rife in this country. If non-aboriginal kids were getting rheumatic fever in Sydney or Melbourne in 2009 there’d be outrage – and rightly so. It was eliminated after WW2, when the solution was realized – improved housing, eliminating overcrowding; improved sanitation via sewerage and clean running water etc. If non-aboriginal kids with severe ear infections were not passed on to the relevant specialist for urgent treatment, we’d be screaming loudly! Why do we allow the disgusting stats re indigenous kids’ health then? Do you know George?

    The annual budget for all aboriginal spending is about $3 billion – that’s for about 500,000 people. When Howard & Costello removed the superannuation surcharge for high income people(over $150,000)the cost to us was about $2.3 billion – that was for about 600,000 people! This coupled with tax cuts for high income people amounted to $38 billion over 4 years – do the maths people!$38 billion as opposed to about $12 billion over the same period for all aboriginal people! The Howard govt also used to give $10 billion a yr to the fossil fuel industry; not to mention all the lerks and perks for business and other well off people? Probably hasn’t changed with the Rudd govt. (The latest tax cuts – nobody under $45,000 per year gets an extra cent? Why are people surprised that all the horrific stats are either the same or worse than 5-6 years ago?

    When NON-aboriginal people are SUSPECTED of abusing their kids, do they lose their homes and have at least half of their incomes quarantined? Is there a military invasion? Does this mean that only aboriginal kids are in danger of physical/sexual abuse. No, of course not! When the last lot of paedophiles (about 16 from memory)were rounded up around the country, how many were indigenous? I suggest not one! They were, allegedly ‘respectable’ white people – teachers, public servants, and even a police officer from memory? I don’t make any apology for charging, castigating these low life, but the mainstream media needs to start doing its job; more questioning and taking the rednecks to task, instead of continuing the racist behaviour of over 200 years! No wonder aboriginal people die much earlier than the rest of the community – it’s called ‘heart sick’?

  15. James Bennett

    Hey Chris,

    Can we maybe swap some of our criminal abo’s for some of those good law-abiding black fellas from South Africa.

    Let’s face it – our blokes would be statistically a lot safer over there.

    And Liz45 – The poor buggers are dying from heart-sickness ? Doesn’t that also happen in Fairy Tales?

  16. Ungulate

    Hi Chris,

    It’s irresponsible because the situation and context of South Africa was so vastly different from the current situation here in Australia. For starters, why don’t you compare the amount of money and initiatives the Australian Government has put towards trying to improve the plight of our Indigenous people to any that the South African government spent on black welfare. Clearly money hasn’t solved our problems, and I daresay it may have even worsened them in some aspects (creating welfare dependency, for example), but this is just one fundamental difference between ours and “the most racist regime on earth” that seems to have slipped past you.

    I’m not “defending” our rate of incarceration of black people, nor am I “seeking to diminish the statistics”: I’m trying to point out that your suggestion that these figures show that we’re a racist nation with discriminatory laws is juvenile, insulting, and frankly, a steaming pile of B.S.

    Altakoi made a good point which I’d be interested in seeing your response to:

    “I don’t think incarceration rates mean anything unless the sentencing is discriminatory, which it would be if aboriginal people were being locked up for things other sections of the community were let free for. Is there any widespread evidence for this?”

    If you can’t provide any evidence to back up your claims, then please join the rest of us in trying to find a solution to this tragedy – one that addresses the underlying social dysfunction that is the root cause (a problem that is due in no small part to our government’s huge mistakes in Indigenous policy all throughout our history). As Nadia said, “people go to gaol for breaking the law”. I don’t deny your claim that “black males are far more likely to come to the attention of police, and be jailed, regardless of the actual crime rate”, but I doubt that rate accounts for anywhere near the figures we’re seeing. And if it does, again, please provide evidence that shows black males are 5 times more likely to be arrested than white people committing the same offences.

    These figures are indeed outrageous and alarming, but they don’t stem from South African-style apartheid. As someone with South African heritage, I feel somewhat confident in saying so. In fact I’m still not sure you are seriously attempting to draw that analogy. I suspect you have made the comparison for shock value, but as I said earlier, understand that it will have the reverse effect upon a great number of reasonable people who will take umbrage at being unfairly labelled as the worst racists on the planet.

    Excuse the pun, but this issue is far too complex to be treated as “black or white”. Your energy would be better spent tackling it rationally than showering your keyboard with angry spittle as you denigrate anyone who disagrees with your analysis as being racist and redneck.

    I hope this has been enlightening.

  17. Jon Hunt

    Dear oh dear, what sort of a storm has been created here?

    If I could put in my two bob’s worth, as someone who has something to do with Aboriginal people in custody.

    It is quite rare to find an Aboriginal person in prison where alcohol intoxication was not involved in the offence. At least I can’t remember the last who wasn’t drunk at the time.

    They are usually quite young men.

    The over representation of Aboriginal people incarcerated has been well known for quite some time.

    The problem is not actually the incarceration itself, it is why they wish to commit these offences. As I said almost invariably it involves alcohol. The alcohol like many such things is as a result of, basically, having a shit life. They didn’t have (at least there isn’t any evidence I am aware of) shit lives 200 years ago so I find it a wee bit difficult to blame them for their current woes.

    So essentially this is a social and cultural problem. What to do about it, well, the consensus from those who should know is collaboratively engage with these people to address these issues. A novel ideal. You won’t get far if you keep on telling these people how to live their lives, that you know how to solve their problems. Because both the past and present tells you that you’ve got absolutely no idea. So too does most of the stuff I continue to read on blogs, this included.

  18. stephen martin

    Earlier I made the point referring to incarceration rates -“Another factor maybe that magistrates feel that a fine is not feasible for those who have no income other than the dole and a prison term is the only option.”
    Perhaps someone might like to comment?

  19. Ungulate

    Thanks Jon, you’ve expressed the issue far better than I could.

    That’s what I was trying to get at – that the problem is social and cultural and that criticising the incarceration itself on the grounds that it’s the result of racism (on par with South African apartheid, no less) does nothing but p!ss reasonable people off and discourage the “collaborative engagement” that you rightly point out is how we should be addressing these issues.

  20. Jon Hunt

    Yeah, I’m wondering if he was trying to be deliberately provocative. I can see why the paper he mentioned implied that health and incarceration is intimately related, because they are. Same goes for all of their problems really, if you take the holistic viewpoint.

  21. Liz45

    Ungulate – Stop trying to weazel out of your original attitude! Your response was pure racism mate, don’t try to be a moderate now! What a pathetic whimp?

    “I’m not “defending” our rate of incarceration of black people, nor am I “seeking to diminish the statistics”: I’m trying to point out that your suggestion that these figures show that we’re a racist nation with discriminatory laws is juvenile, insulting, and frankly, a steaming pile of B.S.”

    Why don’t you go and educate yourself. Did you watch First Australians? Have you read ‘Demons at Dusk’? Anything written by Henry Reynolds? Anything? No, thought so! – the attitude of many, including you has not changed over the years. What have you read about Native Title etc? Nothing? Have you ever thought about the politics of racism? Or is that beyond your mental capacity? There’s been surveys etc over the years. I certainly recall back to the anti-Vietnamese days of the 1970’s, and guess what? Attitudes to aboriginal people were worse – and trust me, the attitude to Vietnamese people was pretty gross. If you take the attitude today to the people from the Middle East? Guess what? The attitude in many quarters to aboriginal people is worse. I often worry/think about that and wonder why? It’s ingrained. It’s been ingrained and passed down for generations – right down to you! You’re a huge part of the problem, and you can use your offensive and disgusting language, and hopefully, people can see you for who and what you are. While ever there are people like you, spewing out your revolting attitude, nothing will change – unless, somehow, from somewhere, aboriginal people rise up and take charge! I’ll be with them!

    JAMES BENNETT – “And Liz45 – The poor buggers are dying from heart-sickness ? Doesn’t that also happen in Fairy Tales?” As I said before, gross!
    What do you know about Chris Graham? From what perspective does he portray? You really are an ignorant person aren’t you? Go and educate yourself, you’re only causing yourself unnecessary embarrassment!

  22. Jon Hunt

    Err… perhaps take a couple of breaths and relax?

    I don’t believe Ungulate is intentionally being racist, he was only referring to “these figures’ not to history, past or present. These figures actually don’t show we are racist, all they show is the obvious, that more Aboriginal people are in jail relative to others. Whether non-Aboriginal Australians are racist or not is a moot point, and we can all see what your opinion is. Don’t forget that there are people like Fiona Stanley, Maggie Brady et al who are championing the cause of Aboriginal people but who aren’t Aboriginal (that I know!) so are we truly racist, or just some of us? Are you suggesting I also am racist because I am a white Australian? Isn’t this racism?

    We have already spoken about why the incarceration rate is higher. It is not I believe related to discriminatory treatment by the justice system (as far as I am aware). This was the thrust of his comments and on this point he is correct.

  23. Edward Thompson

    Hey Chris what’s the aboriginal term for straw man?

  24. Ungulate


    I am absolutely shocked at your response. It is so beyond the pale, so incoherent and unfounded that I find most of it undeserving of any further debate, but I must ask how, exactly, has any comment I have made been “pure racism”? Or racism on any level, for that matter? On exactly what grounds can you accuse me of the following:

    “You’re a huge part of the problem, and you can use your offensive and disgusting language, and hopefully, people can see you for who and what you are. While ever there are people like you, sp ewing out your revolting attitude”

    Please, try to calm down and go back and read over everything I have written with a reasonable eye. My original post in relation to this argument was to protest at the completely ludicrous comparison of modern-day Australia to South Africa under apartheid. What do you seriously hope to gain by attacking people like me, who completely acknowledge that so many of the problems facing Aboriginal society today are very largely due to poor government (past and present) policy and genuinely want to see Aboriginal people lifted out of their current problems and to be help find real solutions? Don’t you understand that by levelling these sorts of hysterical accusations in the direction of anyone who doesn’t agree with you 100% is completely counterproductive?

    Just for the record, funny you should mention “The First Australians” – I was overseas when it aired, so made a point of hiring it from my local video store and had literally just finished watching it this morning before heading in to work. I can also assure you I’m well-educated and well-read on most things I take the time to comment on. How about you, read any Noel Pearson?

    Might I suggest you refrain from questioning people’s level of education and “mental capacity” next time you find yourself having a difference of opinion as – in my case, at least – it’s simply caused me to question yours.

  25. Altakoi

    You bloggers have kept me up all night with the pinging my blackberry. Do you never sleep?

    Most of these comments have been about whether another blogger, or Australia in general is racist. I think the problem is that this article has simply presented the fact that Aboriginal Australians are jailed at a high rate – higher than in South Africa under apatheid – without offering any insight into why this is, or how it might be changed. So charged is this issue that the default mode of any discussion in Australia is name calling. Its not racism thats our problem, its dumbness.

    The assumption by some commenters is that the only reason which could exist for this high rate of incarceration in general racisim of Australia. I think it would acutally have to be racism in the police and judiciary in remote areas to have any effect on incarceration rates. Sitting down here in urban SE Australia I can pick banjo all I like and it will have zero effect on the judicial prospects of an Aboriginal youth in the NT. No actual evidence for judicial bias has been presented, and the simple fact of a high incarceration rate is not sufficient because there could be many reasons for this.

    The title of the article implies that there is an apartheid in Australia rather than an apatheild-like incareration rate. This is sensationalist rubbish. Whatever the reason for high Aboriginal incaceration rates it is not because mixed marriages, legislated discrimination in employment, legislated restrictions on travel by black people, or legislated use of separate amenities – all of which are features of apatheid – have been implemented in Australia. No amount of personal cultural bias equals the wholesale co-opting of state power seen in South Africa.

    Which brings us to solutions. There is a nice warm middle class kind of outrage which asserts that if someone else is racist, then you actually would not want the person in jail. Thats not enlightened social policy, its just hypocrisy. If the remote indiginous populations in which much of this excess incarceration is occurred want all these people released from jail today then I for one will happily vote for it. I don’t think its a good idea, but if thats what they reall want then I am happy for them to find their own solutions. However, I think you would find that the people who are actually going to be assaulted, or robbed, or sold drugs etc by not enforcing criminal justice in Aboriginal communities are themselves Aboriginal. Once again, down here in urban SE Australia with most of the other pundits, these people are no threat to my safety whether they are in jail or not.

    I think the problem is that there is a high rate of unemployment, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and violence in many remote Aboriginal communities. This is detailed in excruciating detail in every major report into Aboriginal social disadvantage for 30 years. All of these have a clear association with criminal action and it would therefore actually be suprising if there was not a higher rate of incarceration among Aboriginal people. Its would only be racist to conclude that this is because Aboriginal people are racially flawed, which is not the case. But to pretend that social problems on this scale will have no intersection with the crimimal justice system is just naive and no part of a solution to the root causes.

  26. Jon Hunt

    Yes we know, we’ve already said this!

  27. Altakoi

    Damn. If originality is required I will have to surrender my subscription right away.

  28. James Bennett

    Hey Liz45,

    ‘nothing will change – unless, somehow, from somewhere, aboriginal people rise up and take charge! I’ll be with them! ‘

    That’s pretty funny, good luck with the revolution!


    I think you might do better inciting some other more passionate race (Those asians and arabs can get pretty determined.)
    Let’s face it , if this mob didn’t have people like you thinking for them for all these years they’d probably still be living in poverty and squalor.

    Oh !

  29. Liz45

    Altakoi – “The title of the article implies that there is an apartheid in Australia rather than an apatheild-like incareration rate. This is sensationalist rubbish. Whatever the reason for high Aboriginal incaceration rates it is not because mixed marriages, legislated discrimination in employment, legislated restrictions on travel by black people, or legislated use of separate amenities – all of which are features of apatheid – have been implemented in Australia. No amount of personal cultural bias equals the wholesale co-opting of state power seen in South Africa.”

    Are you serious?You and Ungulate seem to believe, that even though you’re familiar with “First Australians” or with racism in general, you think that because apartheid is not actively legislated in the country in 2009, that not only does it not exist, but you don’t appear to understand the ramifications of how it was certainly practiced only 30-40 year ago. Ask the well known aboriginal women from Reconciliation Australia and another woman with a high profile(Dr Eleanor? And Jackie? -sorry) how a taxi driver refused to take them in Sydney only a couple of years ago – they were dressed up for an important and public function. Those who were children then are parents now – they’ve not had the benefits of a supportive and co-hesive family life(in many cases)and the anger, bitterness and deep seated resentments are still there – who can blame them?

    I went to a school in central west of NSW – there were many aboriginal people there but they didn’t come to my state school?Why? I’ve read how women weren’t allowed to sit in the same waiting room as white women when going to public hospitals during pregnancy; they weren’t allowed to give birth in the same area as white women. On the east coast where I live now, aboriginal women weren’t allowed to try on clothes; weren’t allowed to stay in hotels etc – they had to rely on their white friends to assist in buying clothes and sleep in railway waiting rooms etc. A parent of a white child could object to an aboriginal child at school, and that aboriginal child would be removed. Aboriginal people had to get permission to marry, to travel intra and interstate, to even visit family. Why was Palm Island created in the first place? Read Professor Mick Dodson’s speech at the Opera House in 2000? His father was jailed for loving his mother. His grandmother was denied recognition as a ‘citizen’ as she didn’t exhibit the traits of blah blah? He was classified as a state ward, even though his aunt and uncle wanted him and his siblings after their parents died – they had to fight for that right in Court. Mick Dodson is only 54. It’s on line! Read the other reports that I mentioned – nothing’s changed re the detention of aboriginal people.

    The biggest handicap is peoples’ attitudes. You can legislate all you like, but that doesn’t necessarily change peoples’ racist or ill conceived attitudes. I only have to read accounts of aboriginal peoples’ dealings with the judiciary – there are exceptions of course, but it can’t be denied or glossed over, that ingrained racism drives too many peoples’ (police, judges,magistrates, lawyers – even those representing aboriginal people) attitudes. This attitude is not only present in this country of course. Around the world, the ‘lot’ of the original inhabitants has a similar history, with the same outcomes. Colonise and kill off the original inhabitants – in 2009, it’s just taking on a different ‘look’? Look at the percentage of African Americans in jails? It’s probably almost as bad as here, if not worse.

    Twenty five years ago, I started a support group for women with occupational work injuries – injuries that are preventable. I did this as I was confounded and distraught by the way I was treated – as a liar, a malingerer and out for money etc. We were reviled by much of the media. What never ceased to floor me was the racist way women from non-english speaking countries were treated. Women were physically, verbally, sexually harrassed and sexually assaulted by insurance company ‘doctors’ barristers etc. (they were clever though, they didn’t have witnesses – until we bought a tape recorder and/or sat outside the door?) These women were predominantly from Europe, Asia etc – one indigenous woman who I knew of, who died a couple of years ago – an amazing and gutsy woman for her people and the general community. I know by keeping in contact with one woman in particular, that nothing’s changed. I know by inquiring about women wearing splints etc, that employers aren’t making workplaces worker friendly – it’s easier to demean those who are suffering! 26 years later, I’m still in chronic and constant pain. There’s been heaps of articles written about RSI. There’s heaps of articles about ergonomic furniture etc – but employers won’t spend the money, and aren’t forced to. Go and watch how the workers (mainly women) have to lift and carry heavy bags in the supermarkets. Just stand and watch their movements! Imagine doing that a few thousand times a day? Howard’s WorstChoices penalised people who either wished to participate in O.H&S courses, or outlawed courses run by the Unions. Ingrained, legal and non-caring attitudes to people! It’s still there!

    I say this to explain, that while aboriginal kids can’t be refused entry to a school; or there’s anti-bullying programs in the curriculum, that doesn’t change ingrained attitudes and prejudices – only education does that. If it was working, the disgraceful actions that led to the death of Mr Ward and others wouldn’t still exist in 2009. Not only that, but the male sacked driver was allegedly known to have racist attitudes towards asylum seekers when he worked at a detention centre. He should’ve been ‘re-educated’ or if he didn’t alter his mindset – sacked! I’ve yet to see any anti-racial educational programs on TV. That’s one area that the Rudd govt could start! It’s time to remove the bullshit info from the community. The shock jocks or the corporate media aren’t going to do that. They protect those who gain the most from demoralising and removing aboriginal rights and protests. Remember the Native Title hysteria propagated by Howard/Fisher?

    You don’t change behaviour by repeating the same actions, attitudes of past decades. In the Little Chidlren Are Sacred Report, one of the main, if not the first recommendation was to involve aboriginal people in the solution – this is not happening! We’re still being patronising and patriarchal – we must know best as we’re white – blah blah. It’s obscene! Then, there’s the question of removing the Racial Discrimination Act – for 5 years? Funny how that’s the same number of years in the Howard Amendments to Native Title Act of 97-98? Co-incidence? I don’t think so. How many applications are in the pipeline for mining leases in remote or other areas occupied by aboriginal people? Does the Rudd govt intend going ahead with the nuclear storage site in the NT? Could these proposals be a factor in the proposed policy of removing indigenous people from some or all remote areas? No, of course not! The latest whisperings about broadening the Intervention into WA. Wouldn’t have anything to do with the $$billions of gas in that state would it?

    Treating all indigenous people as drunken layabouts or worse still, child abusers, only causes resentment and anger. How many wonderful men have been branded, or are made to feel like criminals, just because they’re aboriginal men? What steps have been taken to track those truck drivers who are allegedly using teenage aboriginal girls as ‘sex companions/slaves’? How many perpetrators (black or white)have been arrested and charged? Very few from what I’ve read. Who took the grog to the settlements, town camps and towns in the first place? I understand, that in the past, some small businesses had to sell grog to get a licence; some local communities were actively encouraged to carry grog. Why aren’t people involved in the solutions? Many people are finding alternate ways of drinking alcohol in ‘dry areas’? Why was CDEP stopped, when it was one way in many areas of employing people to grow fresh food for their community? Why do people have to travel hundreds of miles to buy food at the large retail outlets – at several hundred dollars in taxi fares? Why are senior citizens, who don’t have the care or control of young people lumped in with all others re income quarantine? These practices only produce resentment, and who knows they’ve had good reason over the decades for this emotion.

    There are amazing aboriginal women who’ve been tirelessly working in their communities – in too many cases, they’ve been overlooked or indeed shunned. It’s hard to send kids to school when they’re taking it in turns to sleep; who are living in ‘houses’ that were shabbily built while the ‘builders’ pocketed govt funds. (that report(text) after 7 yrs investigation is probably still on World Today)It’s not possible when the schools don’t exist, or kids can’t hear due to chronic ear problems. The argument against remote communities is not used against non-indigenous families – farming, mining etc. It would be unthinkable not to have adequate teaching facilities for non-indigenous kids under these circumstances – there’d be community outrage, and rightly so.

    If I hear one more person from the Opposition speak out against what the Rudd govt is doing, I’ll scream(not that I blindly support their actions to date – I don’t). The Howard govt had countless reports in 13 years; they did nothing. I recall the big meetings with aboriginal women in Canberra and the NT re Domestic Violence – what happened? Nothing! Good photos though! TV cameras got some good footage – and then, nothing! I recall the carry on re the ads for the general community – the first one was pulled for making young adults aware about Domestic Violence, date rape etc, as it differed with Howard’s misogynist views?

    Even today, the language from Jenny Macklin and Kevin Rudd is the same. You can’t talk down to people; remove them from the decision making processes and then expect different results – it doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked anywhere else in the world – it won’t happen here. I get so angry at the paternalism as I know how I’d feel if it was used against me – I know how I DID feel!

    What about alcohol, sexual abuse and domestic violence in the general community? Look at the stats for the health costs, the cost re misery of crimes of violence, inside and outside the home? The horrific deaths of kids, that could’ve been prevented if attitudes to DV by police had been different? Why have rape crisis centres and women’s health centres had to fight for years to get the homicides of women and kids looked at as possible/probable DV homicides? Some states have promised the review, others are still talking about it? Why? Amazing! It’s predicted, that DV next year will cost the community $13 billion dollars! How many grog shops have been closed? What restrictions have been placed on sales of alcohol? None! How many incomes have been quarantined in non-indigenous communities? How many can even request it?In my personal experience; the people who abused me as a child and then my ex-husband as an adult were white!

    How many on this site who’ve responded are aboriginal people? I’m not! We’re probably guilty of doing the same thing as successive govts – myself included! I do have vast experience re the paternalistic, patronising and beaurecratic attitudes of politicians – how they know best blah blah. The millions going to beaurecracies would be funny if not pathetic – millions of dollars to date just to do with the Intervention!

    As for Noel Pearson? I don’t know him, but it would appear that he has an important imput to make, but not more important than those in the different communities. Just because he was raised on a mission station, has had a good education, doesn’t make his opinion more relevant than those who have ‘hands on’ community experience. There’s been too much of that, and that’s my whole point. The only way to change this, is to change the practices. Doing the same thing won’t bring about different results. Listen to the tone of voice Kevin Rudd and others use – the same quiet patronising and paternalistic rubbish of decades – or the ‘redneck’ language of Julie Bishop and Barnaby Joyce today! I’m always annoyed by the louder voices people use when speaking to people with english as a second language or who are ill or whatever? They’re not deaf! Oh yes, the NT has or is contemplating stopping the teaching of reading in the local language/s first – even though it’s recognised as the best way to teach kids who speak their own language at home to read! It was beaten out of their ancestors after they were stolen- this is just another method for the same result – destroy their culture! It goes on and on! It hasn’t worked before and it won’t work now.

  30. Altakoi

    Thats quite a post.

    To be clear, I don’t think apatheid exists in Australia because it is not legislated. That is because apatheid was a system of legislated discrimination.

    I am no saying that indiginous social disadvantage, or exclusion do not exist, or that racism doesn’t exist, and you have given many good examples of this. The reason to distinguish between apatheid and other forms of racism is that the solutions are different.

    If it is, as you say, apatheid, they you can help by changing the law and/or the governmemt. Thats what the South African’s did. But, as you have said, legislating is not much help with our problems here.

    The issue in the article was incarceration. You clearly have a view on how communities should be engaged in solutions to their problems, and I totally agree. But the question remains – is not incarcerating Aboriginal people at the current rate a solution to these problems. And whether every man and his dog in Australia is racist or not does not provide an answer to that question.

  31. Jon Hunt

    Hi, I’m just wondering if anyone can tell me of a country which does not have elements of racism?

    If not, why are we getting so upset about what appears to be part of human nature?

  32. Pamela

    HOO-WEE arent we a sensitive lot! Just try inferring that Australians are racist and watch the conflagration begin.
    Never call an Australia a racist state – no matter what evidence is presented.

    Until recently children were locked up by the Government in conditions so appalling, brutal and cruel that if Australian children were found in such conditions our Family law courts would authorise their removal from such abuse. How is it that we have laws protecting children but not all children.
    A 78 year old blind Indigenous man was found dead 800m from the airstrip at Kalkaringi, a small indigenous community 450km west of Katherine.He had been flown back to the community from Katherine Hospital without an escort and left in the searing heat while suffering pneumonia and with little water. No one was waiting at the airstrip to meet him because the local clinic was not told he was arriving.
    The Australian Medical Association blamed “institutionalised racism” for the mix-up, which prompted changes by the Territory’s Health Department to ensure patients were not left alone again at remote airstrips. Can you imagine this happening to your Grandad? Can you imagine the hullabuloo if it did happen-everyone would know about it- how many do know or remember this tragedy.
    Australia- a place with great human rights for some – but not all.

  33. Altakoi

    I don’t think you can defend racism as acceptable because it does cause problems in discrimatory behaviour such as hiring practices and choice of housing. I do think, however, that discrimination has very little to do with the current massive social and health problems which people are getting upset about. Focusing on the wrong problem is a pretty good recipe for never finding a solution.

  34. Altakoi

    Pamela, people been left to die in hospital carparks, in hospital corridors, and in bungled hospital transports. The elderly have been doused in petrochemicals, in tobasco sauce and nibbled on by rodents in recent media history. Consult google for the tales of woe from the health system of this country. This case, at least, led to some change in the system.

  35. Jon Hunt

    What I am clumsily trying to say is that racism is expected to exist, but there is no point as I see it in going on and on for 2000 words stating this. The more serious racism is as altakoi describes the institutionalised racism which is inexcusable in supposedly competent people. It is I agree hard to believe some of the things Coroners point out. Worst of all this appears to extend to politicians, as far as I can see the PM included, by his failure to take much interest in what they say. The Close the Gap, but leave it to us attitude.

  36. Ungulate

    Ahhh Liz45, I’m not sure if you intended the irony in your last line: “It goes on and on!” – but I did appreciate it!

    Pamela – the incidents you describe are nothing short of appalling. I don’t think any decent person would suggest otherwise. So are the horror lives of the several thousand non-Indigenous children being abused (sexually, physically and emotionally), neglected, starved, denied an education, etc, on a daily basis by their own families. I have a very close friend who works for DOCS. Some of the stories she tells me literally turn my stomach. Trust me, there is no special attention paid to these kids just because they are white. The policy is failing them as much as it fails our Indigenous people. Race doesn’t come into it, but using your logic I could cite a few specific instances in detail to argue that white people are being discriminated against. I’m sure you can see how ridiculous that is.

    Address the misdirected policy and underlying socioeconomic and cultural factors that lead to this sort of abuse (and subsequent disproportionate incarceration rates). Fighting racist attitudes where they do exist within society and individuals is another matter altogether, and a cause I heartily embrace.

    If you seriously think Australia is a “racist state”, I’d encourage you to take a world tour to put that into context.

  37. Liz45

    Pamela – I recall that horrific incident. Then there’s the account of an aboriginal woman in Queensland – a highly educated and capable woman as I recall(not that it should make a difference – it just shows the level/ingrained racism). She suffered a stroke and was left lying on the ground in or near a bus shelter – she was going home. Several people stepped over her, around her, and it was an Asian person( ayoung man as I recall?) her first bothered to find out what the problem was? This person saved her life! There are heaps of horrific examples.

    I agree with you re the treatment of asylum seekers. I sent emails, made phone calls, rang talkback etc over the years in absolute horrified anger by the racist and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers – who I must add, didn’t break any laws by arriving her seeking asylum. I have a wonderful woman friend who has taken in several young men on TPV’s. I’ve been priviledged to meet some of them, advocate on their behalf, and always disgusted by their treatment. Too many times, their appalling treatment/attitudes by our compatriots was done – just because they could? Whether they worked at the Detention Centre, or were part of the beaurecracy of DIMIA. Just one quick example? A young man in Villawood Sydney was sent for psychiatric treatment to Brisbane (as though there’s no suitable places in Sydney – perhaps run by someone known to a Howard govt minister at the time?). They flew her to Brisbane to collect him – paid for her return trip and his, plus his week/s long in an expensive private clinic! Amazing! And we paid for that abuse of our monies – not to mention what this young man had suffered!

    ALTAKOI – The positon is, that racism and apartheid policies are intermingled. We may not have the legislation anymore(it did exist – read some of the reports of those responsible for aboriginal people?)but that doesn’t mean it’s not still part of the system. I think you’ll find, that the same thing applies in South Africa, only now it’s due to poverty etc, and those making the rules are black not white – in the main. Poverty is still rife; corruption is common place still; the poor are still the majority, and in fact many are worse off now re housing than they were under apartheid. Then the World Bank and the IMF become involved and the poor can’t even use rain water – unless they pay for it! I don’t think a lot has changed. Look at the last President’s attitude to HIV and AIDS!

    Jon Hunt
    Posted Friday, 3 July 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
    Hi, I’m just wondering if anyone can tell me of a country which does not have elements of racism?

    If not, why are we getting so upset about what appears to be part of human nature?

    You’re not serious are you? There’s a good reason why we should be upset – it’s unjust and revolting that’s why, and we purport to be an enlightened, civilized, democratic and just country, with the highest ideals of blah! blah! I get upset because it’s horrific to me, to treat human beings worse than we’d treat animals over something out of their control – simply the colour of their skin! There’s a wonderful american woman called Jane Elliot – retired school teacher. She is in her 60’s now, but after the assassination of Martin Luther King, she started an exercise with her 3rd grade kids about racism. She divided her class by their eye colour, and on day 1 she put a ‘collar’ around the neck of one group, and the other kids had to treat them differently – they were classed as inferior, they couldn’t drink from the bubblers, they couldn’t associate with them at recess or lunch time, and in essence, were treated like black kids. The next day she reversed the process, and at the end of each day there was a de-briefing – the kids knew that it was an experiment; that it would only last for the day. She took photos of the kids when they were “on top” and “on the bottom” and you could tell the difference. When they were “on the bottom” they were depressed, sullen, miserable and apathetic; when they were “on the top” they were happy, smiling, their paintings were bright etc. What was really chilling though, was how those on top adopted the same ugly behaviour as all racists do – it left an impression on me since.

    She’s been doing this same experiment for over 40 yrs with adults now. She does workshops and all day seminars in different places. She’s been to Australia, New Zealand and Canada at least. When her documentary, ‘Blue Eyed, Brown Eyed’ was on SBS, it drew the largest amount of comments ever – they repeated it! I taped it, and watch it from time to time, just to remind me of the horrific injustice that racism is. She starts from the perspective, that if you’re not black, went to school etc, that the first thing to do is accept, that possibly, probably, you’re racist – it’s ingrained in history/geography lessons etc. I’d never thought about it from that perspective before, but I believe it to be true.
    She’s received death threats; her kids were spat upon etc; her parents had a small sandwich/general store and they were forced out of business – by her work. However, she continued! You can watch this documentary online. It’s awe inspiring and shows better than I can explain how unjust, ludicrous, unintelligent and just plain destructive racism is. I watch Mick Dodson’s great speech at the Opera House a couple of times a year, for the same reason. I don’t want to be a racist, and am aware of my upbringing etc – diligence is the answer!

    I recall going to an Nuclear Free Pacific Forum in the late 70’s or early 80’s. My friend and I were representing our State Politician – we were in the minority – fair skin and blue eyes. During the usual breaks, what we heard was just awful. Young aboriginal girls of 14 sterilized after giving birth – no permission, nothing! We just sat there stunned while horrible racist stories were being told – we did not question that they might not be true – we could tell by the manner in which they were told. Suffice to say, we learnt more about our compatriots and other peoples with black skin around the Pacific. You don’t forget those things – I’m determined, that while I may not stop it on my own, I’m damned sure I won’t remain silent! Whether they’re indigenous to this country or Bangladesh, matters not!

    Of course discrimination has to do with aboriginal incarceration – it’s all connected! If Mr Ward was a white man, would the so-called Justice of the Peace been so dismissive of his rights? What is an inexperienced and racist JP doing, deciding on the bail conditions of another – or not? Would a white man have been transported in an inadequate vehicle, with no care or concern for his well being? Why did the WA govt not make sure, that this type of vehicle was not used again after the horrific situation of the asylum seekers several years before, particularly when the inquiry made definite recommendations after that disgrace? They weren’t white either, as the 4 Corners program showed very vividly.

    Racism is like a pandemic – it permeates through the community. Governments and individuals demonise people just because of their race. That’s what Hitler did before he went on his campaign of killing Jews; Howard demeaned people from the Middle East to justify invading sovereign countries for oil, or oil and gas. He and a willing media continued the propaganda of those we were killing to demean those who fled from our invasion – Afghanistan & Iraq! Governments have been doing the same thing to the indigenous peoples in order to steal the minerals etc on their lands. Isn’t it ironic, that in the areas of this country that have provided the biggest sums of money for the greedy capitalists(NT, Queensland & WA) people are living in horrific poverty and desolation? How much of the wealth from hidden treasures goes back to the people who were denied so much in order for the mining companies to be given free access to their lands? Very little I suggest!

  38. Jon Hunt

    I probably shouldn’t be adding anything further, but, yes, I was serious. Getting upset is not a way forward.

  39. Ungulate

    Excuse me for going on a bit of a tangent here (hey, it’s not like this thread hasn’t already) but I’ve been thinking a lot about all this and have come to wonder whether part of the way forward is to reconsider our use of the word “racist”, and to understand the difference between “racism” and “indifference”.

    It might just be semantics, but it might also be a significant step towards Closing The Gap.

    Found the following at http://nmt-engl-112-newmark.blogspot.com/2008/11/alans-group.html :

    “In Paul Wachtel’s essay, “Talking About Racism,”
    he addresses the problem of our inability to effectively
    communicate on the subject of race because of the
    over-use of the word “racist,” which has led to
    a lack of understanding and indifference towards the
    word. Wachtel’s proposal is that we should understand
    the difference between racism and indifference…

    …Wachtel says that by using the word “racism,” we
    shut down all forms of communication regarding the issue
    because it no longer has inherent meaning to anyone,
    therefore everyone is indifferent to the issue. Instead,
    the issue can be broken down into several and more
    meaningful subcategories that give rise to the issue.
    Issues like prejudice, bias, discrimination, stereotyping. etc
    all lead to racism. Unlike “racism,” the issues above
    are tangible, because, according to Wachtel, people know
    they exist as problems and can actually deal with such problems

    ‘Racist’ is such a loaded word. Accusing people of it when they see themselves in no way as being such is does not help matters. Accusing people – or at least bringing to their attention – of their ‘indifference’ is less inflammatory and harder to deny.

    I promise this will be my last word here. I’ll take these thoughts to a more appropriate forum – just wanted to throw it into the mix.

  40. Altakoi

    I should take Jon’s advice and leave well enough alone, but my BS detectors just need one more chance.

    So Liz, according to your last post

    a) The situation mny in South Africa are now worse than it was under apatheid.
    b) Apatheid is still part of the system, although its now blacks oppressing other blacks.

    Now, South Africa is clearly a basket case. But really, if your assessment is that black corruption oppressing other black people is apatheid then I think you have missed the essential point of apatheid, which was institutionalised white dominance.

    And if apatheid is black people oppressing other black people, its even harder to see how it supports your general arguement that the main problem for Aboriginals is that people in Australia are racist.

    This is the kind of absurdity that you get to with purely ideological thinking when the force of ones conviction, or in this case the length of ones posts, is taken as validation of ones committement to the cause.

    Try logic. It works better and, even better, it was invented by greeks so you don’t have to worry about it being a tool of racist oppression.

  41. Pamela

    It seems to me too easy to say – go and look at the rest of the world etc. We know racism exists world wide but that does not excuse us. It should compel us to redouble our efforts to stamp it out and do better
    We do not accept these arguments ” others do it so why shouldnt we”- “everyone else does it” from our children so why are we put them forward in an adult intellectual argument?
    Is it so hard to acknowledge our short-comings?

  42. nix80

    The bigger question about the responses here is what I’m confused about.

    I just want to know why discussion on historical and continuing racism in Australia seems to create such a cringe amongst white Australia?

    Please allow me to generalise for the sake of another defective internet post that only a small world of people will read, but quick skim here seems to suggest 2 types of response:

    1. History is over, discussion has nothing to offer: Expressed by comments like less talk just do something. Aboriginal outrage offends, it is not how a polite society works. Or other places are worse, so that makes Australia good.

    2. That racism never existed: Amuses that some people are just inherently bad and that’s why they are over represented in the states prisons. Its the individual parents fault. It’s indigenous culture that has always been that way. Or Other places are worse so that makes us good.

    Why do a lot of people get so worked up trying to deflecting it?

  43. Altakoi

    What confuses me is how the racism of Australians in general produces high rates of incarceration?

  44. James Bennett

    What confuses me is the term ‘aboriginal culture’ ?

    Just because some dopes want to attribute some mythical status to what was only ever a very basic hunter gatherer society, we now have present day indigenous people pressured to keep looking to the past as some sort of Utopia.

    People will change the way they live when they are sick of how they are living now. What can hold them back is a forced attachement to a crap lifestyle that others may have an historical or emotional investment in.

    If people want to live and talk like cavemen then thats ok but they can also choose to live a modern lifestyle if they want to and the reason they can choose is because they are people. It’s up to them.

    So there – problem solved !

    Whats next ?

  45. Liz45

    James Bennett – After all this discussion, you still come out with such ignorance? Amazing!
    Aboriginal people were on this land at least 40-60,000 years prior to white colonisation. They had laws, procedures, environmental practices etc that kept them in good stead all that time. We come along and in usual arrogant form believe our way of life is superior – must be musn’t it? It’s us superior white people. Quite frankly, look at the death, misery, wars, genocides etc perpetrated by us superior people? Imagine what we’d learn if we listened to how aboriginal culture protects the environment, copes with bushfires etc. We’re too ignorant and arrogant to even ask. I don’t know the exact stats, but we rid the planet of at least one treasured creature every day through our selfish pollution, chemicals, nuclear waste, phosphorus bombs, mining, tree felling etc. Us superior? I don’t think so!

    There was an article in the Sun Herald last weekend, how the indigenous peoples in Peru and other places are literally waging a war against those who want to rape and destroy their land, their food availability and pollute their waters etc. This has been done in this country up until now, and will probably only get worse – more uranium mines, gas in WA, a proposed nuclear waste dump in the NT(read up on the 4?proposed different sites – a national disgrace if it happens)to name just a few. I’m old enough to recall the court case over Nabalco(bauxite – read how that stuff pollutes) in the NT? Aboriginal culture kept this country in pristine condition – we’ve raped it in just over 200 years. I can’t understand why people can’t see the inate injustice in indigenous people having their land stolen(violently, sometimes after a 100 yr old war/s) and then having to spend up to 10 years in some cases, with all sorts of conditions and ‘areas’ of proof required to get a bit of it back? Amazing!

    I’m proud to live in a country where the indigenous peoples’ culture is the oldest on the planet – ever! I try to educate myself about it on a constant basis. I wish that govts would involve those elders and others who have so much knowledge and wisdom about this land and how to protect and enjoy it. We’re too damned ignorant!
    Why don’t you complain or query the Italian or Greek or Chinese culture? Could it be, that while there’s racist attitudes about these people, the worst racist attitudes are kept for the indigenous people of this land?

    ALTAKOI – Watch some documentaries that are available on line – War on Democracy; Palestine is still the issue(many similarities to aboriginal people of Aust.)The Fourth World War; Unconstitutional-the war on Civil Liberties in the US(PATRIOT Act/after 9/11 etc). You can relate other peoples’ oppression to aboriginal people in this country – same reasons, same outcomes? Read Demons at Dusk by Peter Stewart(about the massacre at Myall Creek); Henry Reynolds’ books; There’s a video about MABO I got from my library. Most public libraries have a large section on aboriginal people, customs, history etc/Biographies.

  46. Jon Hunt

    James, I am a little afraid you are displaying your naivety here, or perhaps it is ignorance.

    Define “very basic hunter gatherer”.

    It appears that you have never known an Aboriginal person.

    If so, can you explain to me why they are often mute and avoid eye contact?

    What do you know about hand signals? (Have you seen Samson and Delilah?)

    Why can you not say the name of deceased person? Even if yours is the same. If so, what does your name then become?

    Why do they have to blame someone for something going wrong, often assaulting them. (again, see Samson and Delilah).

    Sorry mate, at least they do not appear to judge people when they clearly know nothing about them. If you think you are smarter than they you have just done a good job of demonstrating that you are not.

    What’s next?

  47. James Bennett

    Hey Jon,

    I’m not sure what seeing movies has got to do with my ignorance of ‘aboriginal culture ‘ but if you think hand signals, shyness and superstitions about the dead are somehow positive virtues then i think you may have been born 200 years too late.

    I draw your attention to my prev post-
    ‘Just because some dopes want to attribute some mythical status to what was only ever a very basic hunter gatherer society, we now have present day indigenous people pressured to keep looking to the past as some sort of Utopia.’

    People believe in all sorts of rubbish , which we ( as a society ) tolerate, deny, or support depending on where you live or what movies you’ve seen but it’s still rubbish.

    I’m not smarter than anyone mate but the things you find cute in your ideal movie abo would also be traits of a cartoon character or a puppy.

    Why not let these people join our way of life instead of always pushing them back to the past.

  48. Bob the builder

    @James Bennett

    “Why not let these people join our way of life instead of always pushing them back to the past.”

    Are you serious?!? This is so stupid it doesn’t even need rebutting.

    “…what was only ever a very basic hunter gatherer society”

    This is also moronic and shouldn’t need rebutting, but….. What do you know about (so-called traditional) Indigenous society? If you think it was basic that can only be based on (wilful?) ignorance. The basics of kinship are too complex for most non-Indigenous people, even though a 5 y/old Indigenous kid has mastered them. Materially basic certainly, but are you so shallow that you can’t see beyond that? There are many aspects of Indigenous society far more complex than non-Indigenous society (and vice-versa, naturally), and not just kinship. If you’d take the time to dip in those deep waters you couldn’t fail to be awed.

    This is not to romanticise, blah blah, it’s just that it’s a DIFFERENT culture and as much as you don’t want to be/couldn’t be Japanese, Russian, Nigerian….. join the dots.

    And no-one’s stopping ‘them’ joining ‘us’ (why do you assume ‘they’ don’t read Crikey?), but there’s lots of people making it very hard to be ‘them’, so why don’t we all have some respect and let us all be ‘us’, whoever that is?

  49. James Bennett

    So now we can add ‘a complex non-material kinship culture that whitey’s can’t understand ‘ to the shyness,hand signals and death superstitions put forward by Jon.

    And they have to learn all this by the time they are 5 years old !

    So Bob as far as dipping my toe , just because people sit around and talk bullshit about the past it doesn’t mean it actually happened or that it was any better than it is today.

    And Liz – Yes i can see how living in bark huts and hunting and fishing every day to feed myself is so much better than what we do now.Those aboriginals really knew what they were doing by not building anything or writing anything down or growing anything.

    Still i guess they always had that ‘strong kinship thing’ going for them. It’s served them well.

    Now i refute i am saying i am superior to any living person but i’m pretty sure the way most of us choose to live today will stand favorable comparison with any 20,000 year old lifestyle.

  50. Bob the builder

    Dear Jimbo,

    thank you for providing our Anthropology 101 class with this excellent satirical article. Despite its excellent send-up of the archetypal frightened, self-hating Anglo-Australian, we do think that you go too far – surely no-one could believe in such a gross caricature?

    It’s almost rascist to portray Anglo-Australians as so wilfully ignorant and reflexively un-selfreflective. Regardless of some unfortunate past actions by a small minority in generations long since gone, the great majority of Anglo-Australians are open-minded, intelligent and compassionate people who are able to not only tolerate, but accept, diversity, both of opinion and worldview. They are also able to think and discuss rationally and politely without being befogged by their own personal opinions or national-ethnic myths.

    We think you are most unfair to suggest that Anglo-Australians are mired in the same old mean attitudes of days long gone and that any mention of Indigenous – non-Indigenous issues will result in a tidal wave of bilious hate and stereotyping.

    Thank you again for this article, which has greatly assisted us in our studies of Anglo-Australian society and culture, but could we suggest that in future you create a character with a little more realism and subtlety,


    Anthro 101, class of 1972

  51. Liz45

    Bob the builder – James Bennett – Just look at the history! It tells the story! Ango-Australians and Angl people in general are wilfully ignorant? Why are we having the current problems if they always acted justly, prudently and didn’t think they had a divine right to rape and pillage?

  52. Jon Hunt

    Hi James,

    I would be interested in your opinion about their culture being primitive.

    I’m really not sure that this is true. You see, the Murray is now stuffed. Global warming might be happening. We will run out of oil in 10, 20, 100, 200, 300 or 100 years depending on how much denial people seem to have. This must happen mustn’t it? Or are there unlimited supplies?

    I guess we will in fact run out of everything we dig out of the ground sooner or later, unless we can come up with a renewable substitute.

    Our civilisation depends on these things. So what will our civilisation be like in 30 to 60,000 years?

    Compare this to the simple, primitive black persons existence in Australia for 30-60,000 years where they seemed to have lived sustainably as far as we know. At least they seemed to have lived the same way for that long.

    Does that mean they are smarter than us, because they realised it’s dumb to piss in your rainwater tank (an interesting metaphor isn’t it?) and we haven’t? Does this mean we will be living a primitive hunter gatherer existence in 100, 200, 300 or 1000 years because it is the only sustainable way of living?

    What do you think?

  53. Jon Hunt

    Just thinking some more, does not having invented (or is that needed?) napalm, Hydrogen bombs, ICBMs, cluster bombs, land mines (got a spare leg for any of those kids?) or any of these things we more advanced people seem to find so crucial to our existence make them more stupid than us? If think it must, seeing as we are so superior technologically.

    I’m wondering what you think?

  54. James Bennett

    Thanks Bob,

    But i’m not really full of self-hate nor frightened. I couldn’t really understand the rest of your post so i’ll reply in the traditional indigenous manner by averting my eyes and remaining mute.

    Jon , so your view is – civilisation as we know it is inferior to the alternative original aboriginal model of do nothing sustainability.

    You’re probably right, i’ll send my next post by message stick.

    I don’t really know how people lived back then but i’d be suprised if there was much sustainability planning going on. I think it may have been more of the ‘find food, keep warm ,don’t get killed’ protocol.

    Don’t forget , indigenous culture isn’t unique to Australia. Lots of countries peoples lived like that 2000 years ago but most of them have since foolishly moved on.
    It’s mostly only hero’s like your good selves who can still see the benefit of promoting that caveman like lifestyle .

  55. Jon Hunt


    You keep missing the point entirely. Moving cultures is not an option. It seems that why this is so goes well over your head.

  56. Bob the builder

    Poor James (or should I say Bloke Rundle, ’cause I know it’s you, who else could be so brilliant?),

    you don’t understand: –

    * simple (low-grade) satire

    * how people lived back then

    * that keeping warm wasn’t/isn’t a huge priority for many Indigenous people (where I am in northern Australia at 8:30 at night in July it’s 24 degrees, so I’m not quite shivering yet)

    * simple punctuation (it’s heroes, not hero’s, Jimbo)

    * that it’s outcomes (i.e. major river systems completely fucked, huge areas salinated, mass-scale deforestation, almost universal water pollution) rather than pretty planning that matters – two centuries of ‘superior’ management vs. many millenia of ‘primitive’ living that had far less toxic and chronic effects

    … and yet – despite all this – you feel qualified to air your opinions, Dutch oven-style. Give us a break, learn to think, perchance read, then come back and talk to normal people.

    Once you’ve done that, come to the NT and sit at the feet of far superior intellects (and hearts) and learn something. After a few years you might consider passing on some of your own wisdom, such as it is, but first just have some sense and observe and learn.

  57. James Bennett

    Wow Bob – all that wisdom ( and good weather ) in the NT.

    The black fellas up there must be living the dream.

    btw What’s a dutch oven style opinion ? It sounds good.

  58. Bob the builder

    Yeah Jimbo, it’s great for Indigenous people here – don’t you read about it every day?

    As the only statistical non-outlier I’ve ever met (blond, blue eyed, urban-born, middle-class) I sit in utter envy of how good they’ve got it.

    Well, Jimmy, a Dutch oven is when you fart under a blanket. It benefits no-one, even the do-er eventually regrets it. Or, it’s when you smoke a bong in the back of a panel van – more fun, but resultant reasoning fairly suspect.

  59. Jon Hunt

    Actually it’s kind of 6 degrees here, so staying warm might be an issue.

    I don’t think that James gets the point that although we are better off, it’s only at the expense of most of the world. And even then this is only going to be for blink of an eye in the overall scheme of things, after which the world will be completely stuffed and we will be back were we started. But I guess he must think it is worth it.

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